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Old 02-24-2003, 09:31 AM
gallows fodder is offline
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Need book on World War One


I'm interested in finding a book that gives a solid background on WWI. If you could recommend a book that fits the following criteria, well, I would kiss you if I could.
  • Is well-written (read: attention-keeping)
  • Has a thorough explanation of the events leading up to the war
  • Discusses in detail combat strategy, tactics, weapons, equipment, etc., including much info on gas warfare
  • States accurate casualty statistics (as best as known)
  • Discusses PTSD/shell-shock/combat trauma in reasonable detail for a book of this scope
  • Is under 450 pages

I'm particularly interested in the war from a British perspective, or at the very least, not from a US perspective. If the book is completely neutral, that's fine, but I don't want something that focuses on the US's efforts.

Also, in the recesses of my memory is an image of a book (owned by my history teacher) that was nothing but photographs of WWI war wounds. If you have come across such a book and could relay its title, that would be fantastic.

Thanks in advance.
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Old 02-24-2003, 09:34 AM
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Two good books about the start of the war are "Dreadnought" by Robert Massie and "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman.
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Old 02-24-2003, 10:47 AM
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I looked up "The Guns of August" on amazon.com....it sounds great. Into the shopping basket it goes. Thanks for the recommendation!

What about books on the war itself?
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Old 02-24-2003, 11:31 AM
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For your purposes I would also recommend The Guns of August and add The First World War by Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson. If you'd also like to get a feel for what life was like in the trenches from a British perspective read Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (nonfiction) and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.

When I started researching the First World War, I began with a video series made by PBS called The Great War, and the shaping of the 20th century. It is 8 video tapes (very well done) - an engaging overview to get you going. Good luck.
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Old 02-24-2003, 11:35 AM
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Sorry, forgot to add that Birdsong is fiction.
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Old 02-24-2003, 12:35 PM
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John Keegan's award-winning 1999 history THE FIRST WORLD WAR is under 450 pages, if you don't count the index and appendices.

I was also going to recommend Leon Wolff's 1959 IN FLANDERS FIELDS, but I just realized that, while it's a fascinating and moving read, it's limited in scope to the Passchendaele campaign.

General Vincent Esposito's CONCISE HISTORY OF WORLD WAR I is a good, short, comprehensive volume, but it is so out of print that Amazon.com doesn't even list it.

Paul Fussell's THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY is a great classic, but is really a sociological study (of how the war ushered in the modern era and changed our worldview) rather than a military history.
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Old 02-24-2003, 12:55 PM
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Haven't read Keegan's TFFW, but the other books I have read of his are excellent.

If you want something controversial to really spark your interest, you could do worse than Alan Clark's "The Donkeys". It's probably the most famous (or infamous, depending on your POV) British book about the war, and focusses on FM Haig's performance as chief of the British forces in France in 1915. Amazon's UK site has 5 5-star reviews ("Brilliant! Moving! Powerful! This will fill you with anger!") and 1 1-star review ("A dated and discredited approach"), which is a good indication of how much passion this book can still stir up, 40 years after its publication.

Plus, Clark's prose is a work of art.
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Old 02-24-2003, 01:02 PM
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Glad you liked the Guns of August recomendation. Tuchman's great.

Other good fiction on the toll of the war:

Johnny got his Gun and All Quiet on the Western Front
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Old 02-24-2003, 02:14 PM
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Re: Need book on World War One


Quote:
Originally posted by gallows fodder
I'm interested in finding a book that gives a solid background on WWI. If you could recommend a book that fits the following criteria, well, I...

Has a thorough explanation of the events leading up to the war
Do not forget Barbara Tuchman's "The Proud Tower" For a very concise book on events leading up to the War. A great read and not at all just the USA perspective.

There is a good book on the same subject, It's at home, can't remember the Author, google does not help. It's titled "The Fall of the Dynasties".
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Old 02-24-2003, 02:26 PM
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Another is AJP Taylor's First World War: An Illustrated History, which is a very quick read.
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Old 02-24-2003, 02:42 PM
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How about Fritz Fischer's Thesis... A little heavy but boy did it stir up a controversy at home the book is called "Germany's Aims in World War I" in which he was the first to say that World War I was the result of German agression.
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Old 02-24-2003, 03:16 PM
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Thanks very much for all of your recommendations!

I went a bit mad and just ordered the following online:
  • Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August
  • Robert Graves' Good-bye to All That (I've read his Greek myths and The White Goddess...I had no idea he had written about his war-time experiences. This should be interesting!)
  • John Keegan's The First World War
  • Wilfred Owen's Collected Poems
  • Margaret Higonnet's Nurses at the Front (for the women's voices)

Thank goodness for used books!

koeeoaddi, I will check my local video store and library for the series you mentioned.

I tend to get obsessed with a topic for several months before moving on, so after I've devoured this lot of purchases, I'll look for the other books you guys have mentioned.


My interest in this topic was sparked by having read Pat Barker's WWI trilogy (fiction) -- Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road -- which in part concerns Siegfried Sassoon's and Wilfred Owen's stays at Craiglockart Hospital in Scotland during the war. The main character, William Rivers, was a real-life anthropologist/psychoanalyst who worked at Craiglockart and helped treat men with shell-shock. They're good books: I recommend them to you.

(Regeneration was also recently (~1998) made into an equally good movie starring Jonathan Pryce, which you can rent either under its proper (UK) title or the US title of Behind the Lines. I've seen both UK and US versions, and the US version inexplicably cuts out a few important scenes, so beware.)
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Old 02-24-2003, 03:36 PM
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Save yourself piles of money, Gallows and try your local library for the video series. That's where I found it. You might even be able to get it through an inter-library loan.

If you liked the Regeneration trilogy you really shouldn't miss Birdsong, as well as A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin. It's a sprawling, riveting, funny, harrowing book.
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Old 02-24-2003, 03:52 PM
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Short History of World War I, by James L. Stokesbury is in print.

He has done five short histories of wars. I've read three or four and found them to be excellent. I don't know if any short book will meet all your criteria, but Stokesbury is Canadian so his perspective is more neutral than most U.S.-based authors.
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Old 02-24-2003, 04:48 PM
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John Keegan is pretty good... I'll second or third that recommendation.
For a good first person account of the trenches try Over The Top by Arthur Guy Empey
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Old 02-25-2003, 07:46 AM
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koeeoaddi, I just wanted to say that I actually have the Prior/Wilson The First World War -- I had bought it the night before last but never looked at the authors' names. It caught my eye by being small and full of good maps.

My next wave of reading will probably be focused on first-person accounts. I need to get a sense of the big picture and the politics of the time before I do that, though.


On a personal note, I learned something interesting about my family from looking at the maps in the First World War. My father is from the Italian region of Friuli (it's the northeastern-most corner) and his father fought in WWI in the Italian army and died when my father was very young. Well, I learned that Friuli had been completely overrun by the Austro-Hungarian army at one point in the war....I wonder if my grandfather had fought on that front. I don't think I could ever find out for sure, knowing how well-organized the Italian government's records are , but it would be neat to know.
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Old 02-25-2003, 10:16 AM
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As noted it's fiction, but All Quiet on the Western Front is a must read. Really.
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Old 02-25-2003, 11:48 AM
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Quote:
On a personal note, I learned something interesting about my family from looking at the maps in the First World War.
Gallows, my interest began as a personal one. My grandfather spent 30 years, until his death, confined to a Veterans Administration hospital. The diagnoses that was always explained to me as a child was "shell shock." He was a Saddler, who was most likely in the Muse-Argonne Offensive, from what I can tell from his hospital admission papers. He was tending horses in a tent when a shell exploded and threw him several yards. When he came to in a dressing station he was completely paralyzed, but had no actual injuries. He was sent back to his unit 24 hours later where he served until his honorable discharge at the end of the war. He died when I was 14, I was never permitted to meet him and saw him only once - at his funeral.

Though I've done some reading on the politics and strategies of the war, my primary interest is in the experience of the line soldier and in what is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Good luck with your research. I think some of the very best literature I've read came out of that awful war.
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Old 02-25-2003, 02:45 PM
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Two recent histories of the Great War that I haven't seen mentioned here are

The Pity of War: Explaining World War I by Niall Ferguson (Basic Books, 2000).

and

The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I by John Mosier (HarperCollins, 2001).


I found these books interesting and thought-provoking, but I am not a WWI scholar, and I understand that both of these are considered somewhat controversial. Perhaps a more "mainstream" history like Keegan's (with it's heavy emphasis on the strictly military aspects of the war) should be read first?
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