The Greatest Day in History: How, on the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month, the First World War Finally Came to an End

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Unlike 1945, the First World War did not end neatly with the unconditional surrender of the Germans. After a dramatic week of negotiations, military offensives and the beginning of a Communist revolution, the German Imperial regime collapsed. The Allies eventually granted an armistice to a new German government, and at eleventh hour on the 11th of November, the guns officially ceased fire, but only after 11,000 casualties had been sustained—almost as many as on D-Day.

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The Greatest Day in History: How, on the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month, the First World War Finally Cam

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Overview


Unlike 1945, the First World War did not end neatly with the unconditional surrender of the Germans. After a dramatic week of negotiations, military offensives and the beginning of a Communist revolution, the German Imperial regime collapsed. The Allies eventually granted an armistice to a new German government, and at eleventh hour on the 11th of November, the guns officially ceased fire, but only after 11,000 casualties had been sustained—almost as many as on D-Day.

Nicholas Best tells the story in sweeping, cinematic style, revealing that events were far from pre-ordained. From the generals’ headquarters to the frontline trenches, from the factories to the farms, he reveals the twists and turns that led to the end of the Great War.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Historian and novelist Best, former fiction critic for the Financial Times, offers a sophisticated presentation of the effects of the Great War's final week on its military and civilian participants. Day by day, he presents firsthand accounts from a spectrum of familiar and unfamiliar sources. On November 5, 1918, Scots Guards Pvt. Stephen Graham took part in an attack with an elite British division, while American artillery Capt. Harry Truman picked flowers to send his fiancée and contemplated running for Congress when-and if-he got home. On November 8, Evelyn Blücher, an Englishwoman married to a German prince, feared an outbreak of riots or revolution in Germany. And on November 11, Armistice Day, a crowd of Australians celebrated by storming Boulogne's red light district to the battle cry of "let's fuck 'em free!" What might have been merely a kaleidoscopic series of vignettes is given shape and focus by Best's skill at paraphrasing the narratives and synergizing the experiences of those who lived through "the greatest day in history," knowing they had survived the deadliest war up to then-and suddenly asking, "What happens now?" 16 pages of b&w photos. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The end of World War I was a time filled with joy, despair, anger, sadness, and confusion. Here, Best (former fiction critic, Financial Times; Trafalgar: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sea Battle in History) weaves personal accounts from the time into a broader narrative of events. All sides are represented, as are both contemporary and future leaders, e.g., the Kaiser, Churchill, Truman, and Hitler, whose histories are already well known. The value of this book comes from its detailed account of what ordinary men and women were thinking and experiencing at the time. Some were working for revolution in Germany, others were trying to imagine what peace would bring, and the soldiers were trying not to get killed before the Armistice, set for the time referred to by the subtitle. Few of these people could foresee how briefly this fragile peace was to last. Adding a new dimension to our understanding of World War I, this book can sit alongside Stanley Weintraub's A Stillness Heard Round the World: The End of the Great War, November 1918 and Joseph Persico's Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918, World War I and Its Violent Climax. For all libraries. (Illustrations not seen.)
—Daniel K. Blewett

Kirkus Reviews
Comprehensive account of the military and diplomatic events immediately leading up to Armistice Day. British critic and historian Best (Trafalgar, 2006, etc.) describes the major happenings during this seminal week in fairly formulaic prose. While he covers all the historical bases and a great deal of information, in his hands the material doesn't sparkle as it might have if Doris Kearns Goodwin or Stephen Ambrose had tackled the subject. But Best conveys a good sense of the thoughts and feelings of rank-and-file soldiers, including future President Harry Truman and Serbian Sgt. Maj. Flora Sandes, one of the war's few female combatants. The author quotes frequently from primary and secondary sources, sometimes for several paragraphs, and often appears reluctant to inject himself into the narrative. Best's descriptions of military events are evocative, and he provides considerable descriptive detail but avoids an actual blow-by-blow account in most cases: "One of the grenades had exploded against Flora's revolver, which had shielded her from the full force of the blast . . . But Flora survived, albeit with 'half a blacksmith's shop' still inside her." The portions dealing with diplomatic maneuvers are less compelling. While he quotes from biographies and memoirs of key leaders and diplomats, he fails to vivify their behind-the-scenes maneuverings. However, he effectively shows how the treatment of Germany sowed seeds for the resentment that culminated in World War II. Overall, the text is capably organized, but additional analysis and a more personal voice would have made this a better book. Though it breaks little new ground, this thorough synthesis of existing material is likely to be awidely consulted primer on the end of World War I. Agent: Andrew Lownie/Andrew Lownie Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586487720
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author


Nicholas Best is the former fiction critic for the Financial Times and the author of a number of novels, travel and history books. He lives in Cambridge, England.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Ch. 1 Monday, 4 November 1918 1

Ch. 2 Tuesday, 5 November 1918 23

Ch. 3 Wednesday, 6 November 1918 40

Ch. 4 Thursday, 7 November 1918 57

Ch. 5 Friday, 8 November 1918 80

Ch. 6 Saturday, 9 November 1918 105

Ch. 7 Sunday, 10 November 1918 133

Ch. 8 Monday, 11 November 1918, the early hours 162

Ch. 9 Monday, 11 November 1918, 11 a.m 191

Ch. 10 Monday, 11 November 1918, afternoon 225

Ch. 11 Monday, 11 November 1918, evening 256

Bibliography 289

Index 295

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