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A good general book on World War 1 for a beginner


Brusilov
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Hi!

I have had a long interest in the history of World War 1, but my knowledge is still very shaky.

I recently, I borrowed from my local library the first volume of Cambridge History of World War 1. It seems to me to be a good choice as Cambridge usually publishes highly authoritative accounts. Such was my impression when I read Cambridge History of China.

What do you think of Cambridge series?

And other books that provide a comprehensive overview of the conflict and have in them few critical errors?

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The Cambridge histories are very good but some views in the chapters are contested by other historians. 

For a general histories of the Great War:

C.R.MF. Crutwell A History of the Great War 1914- 1918. Oxford At Carrendon Press 1934. 

Cyril Falls The Great War 1914-1918. Peregree Books 1959. 

John Terraine The Great War 1914-1918. Arrow Books 1967. Good overview of the war.

Correlli Barnet The Great War. Putnam 1980

The above books are old but give a good narrative of the war on all fronts.  Start with one of those and then look at the following for good studies that are not simply military/ naval narratives:

David Stevenson 1914 1918 The History of the Great War. Allen Lane 2004. A good modern study the covers economic, armaments, and social issues as well as military and  naval.

John Terraine White Heat. The New Warfare 1914-1918. Leo Cooper 1992. Not so much a narrative but a good analytical study of the way in which technology changed the conduct of the war. Set within a broad narrative of the war.

Regards

Chris

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I would also recommend Stevenson, but as an introduction it's a bit intimidating given it's a bit of a doorstop.

John Keegan's 'The First World War' (1998) is of the same generation as cited above but in my opinion a very readable account.

For an introduction to the 'revisionists' I would recommend Gary Sheffield's 'Forgotten Victory' (2001) which recently appeared on his Twitter feed so guessing it's been reprinted recently.  He has also written 'A Short History of the First World War' which given his reputation has received very positive reviews though I've not read it.

The GWF is based in the UK and all listed so far have a tendency to reflect that in spite of the universal nature of their titles.  I know Chris is in Australia but other fronts; the naval and air war in these general histories perhaps do not receive the attention they deserve given their impact on the conflict.

 

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I am reading the Cambridge History right now and I have to say I only focus on "The Origin" of Volker R.Berghahn, "Eastern Front" by Holger Afflerbach. The military portion of the book doesn't receive enough focus.

I have to say I find the shift in the Academia from political and military History into social and cultural History a bit annoying. If the book devoted a whole volume on the overview on military aspects, then 3 chapters could be devoted to other aspects. This shift is reflected in the title: "The Global War" (why choose this title), "The State", "Civil Society".

I guess the global trend is becoming more and more pacifist and another Great War is still not in sight, so historians now choose to de-emphasize political and military history.

What I want to understand, principally, from a heap of books on World War 1 is the mentality of commoners when they went to war.

World War II was famous because it served as an allegory between God and Angels on his side and Satan and Fallen Angels on the other. The Nazi and the Japanese were naturally portraited as villains, while the Soviet, the US, the British and their allies were viewed as freedom fighters.

What was the predominant view of war during World War I? Did the Germans thought that they ought to go to war in order to protect their homeland, because it was encircled by the enemy, and that they (the enemies) were trying to destroy the achievements of the Unification?

Did the French go to war because they thought that they could eliminate the ignominious defeat during the Franco-Prussian War?

Why did the British go to war? What were her attitudes?

What about the Russians? Why were they enthusiastic about a war that could turn against them?

And the Austrian-Hungarians?

Perhaps Keegan could explain these themes.

I couldn't find these answers in the Cambridge History.

Edited by Brusilov
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Norman Stone’s ‘World War One : A Short History’ is well worth taking a look at. Published just over 10 years ago, it’s under 200 pages long. Opinionated and somewhat controversial it received excellent reviews when it first came out.

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Some of the above recommendations are available online for free, so you can easily check them out.

A History of the Great War 1914-1918 by CRMF Cruttwell 1934 2nd Edition, with additions and corrections, 1940/(1936) Index Archive.org. 

Also The Role Of British Strategy In The Great War by CRMF Cruttwell 1936 Archive.org

The Great War by Correlli Barnett 1979. 2003 edition with a new introduction by John Terraine. Both Archive.org Books to Borrow/Lending Library.

The First World War by John Keegan 1999. Archive.org Books to Borrow/Lending Library. 

Cataclysm : the First World War as Political Tragedy by David Stevenson 2004. This is the USA title: also published as 1914-1918: the History of the First World War. Archive.org Books to Borrow/Lending Library. David Stevenson (historian) Wikipedia.

World War One : a Short History by Norman Stone 2008, first published 2007. Archive.org Books to Borrow/Lending Library.

More online books are linked from the FIBIS Fibiwiki page First World War https://wiki.fibis.org/w/First_World_War#Historical_books_online_2

Maureen

Edited by MaureenE
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4 hours ago, Dust Jacket Collector said:

Norman Stone’s ‘World War One : A Short History’ is well worth taking a look at. Published just over 10 years ago, it’s under 200 pages long. Opinionated and somewhat controversial it received excellent reviews when it first came out.

Even now, there has not been a book that could surpass Norman Stone's book "Eastern Front". He consulted so many Russian sources that David Stone's "The Russian army in the Great War" paled in comparison.

 

I have been able to compile and discover lots of Russian works on World War 1 because of Norman Stone.

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23 hours ago, Brusilov said:

Perhaps Keegan could explain these themes.

He does, although Stevenson has a deeper analysis of the issues.

However probably the best, or most accessible book on why the nations went to war (which is not what you asked for originally) is, Chrisopher Clark 'The Sleepwalkers'.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleepwalkers-How-Europe-Went-1914/dp/0141027827

Also recommended is Margaret Macmillan's, 'The War That ended Peace'.  Again, like Stevenson a prodigous doorstop of a book but well worth reading from a respected and insightful historian of the war

https://www.amazon.co.uk/War-that-Ended-Peace-abandoned/dp/1846682738/ref=pd_sbs_2/260-2586889-8126248?pd_rd_w=733Uz&pf_rd_p=b3232d54-1e37-435b-b370-81046eef630a&pf_rd_r=37YF2BDZMP0RP6S74F1S&pd_rd_r=52eb0313-c2d9-44f3-8b02-14bb6cbe1be3&pd_rd_wg=ilHGH&pd_rd_i=1846682738&psc=1

Why did the British go to war? What were her attitudes

As far as Britain was concerned war was not inevitable, and right up until the 4th August there was a movement for peace, and little support in the popular press which we may assume reflected public opinion of the time.  Even, as Stevenson points out the treaty with Belgium did not mean the British would intervene in a continental war, a minor incursion into Belgian territory may not have triggered war.  The fact Germany invaded the country meant an obligation to honour the terms of the treaty by Britain became an imperative.  Prior to that there had been little enthusiasm for intervention in a Balkan war.  Throughout July editorials declaimed against war, for example on 28 July one newspaper declared, 'British interests in the current dispute (between continental powers) are negligible'. 

On the 2 August 1914 there was a socialist and Labour anti-war demonstration in London attended by an estimate 100,000 people, similar demonstrations occurred in other major cities.  Once war was declared on the 4th August the mood changed, but anti war sentiment was still strong.  Th major propaganda coup, 'The Rape of Belgium'  was to come a month or so later and resulted in the peak period for voluntary enlistment.

 

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15 minutes ago, kenf48 said:

Why did the British go to war? What were her attitudes

As far as Britain was concerned war was not inevitable, and right up until the 4th August there was a movement for peace, and little support in the popular press which we may assume reflected public opinion of the time.  Even, as Stevenson points out the treaty with Belgium did not mean the British would intervene in a continental war, a minor incursion into Belgian territory may not have triggered war.  The fact Germany invaded the country meant an obligation to honour the terms of the treaty by Britain became an imperative.  Prior to that there had been little enthusiasm for intervention in a Balkan war.  Throughout July editorials declaimed against war, for example on 28 July one newspaper declared, 'British interests in the current dispute (between continental powers) are negligible'. 

On the 2 August 1914 there was a socialist and Labour anti-war demonstration in London attended by an estimate 100,000 people, similar demonstrations occurred in other major cities.  Once war was declared on the 4th August the mood changed, but anti war sentiment was still strong.  Th major propaganda coup, 'The Rape of Belgium'  was to come a month or so later and resulted in the peak period for voluntary enlistment.

 

When I was young, I was taught by my teacher that any invasion of Belgium would trigger strong reaction, including war, from the British. They viewed it as a key strategic point that could not be left in the hands of the enemy. I don't remember exactly which battles, but Britain fought France during the reign of Louis XIV and Napoleon I. My knowledge is now quite shaky so I couldn't remember correctly all the necessary details to bring about a cohesive exposition of this thesis.

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22 hours ago, Brusilov said:

When I was young, I was taught by my teacher that any invasion of Belgium would trigger strong reaction, including war, from the British. They viewed it as a key strategic point that could not be left in the hands of the enemy. I don't remember exactly which battles, but Britain fought France during the reign of Louis XIV and Napoleon I.

The Treaty of London 1839 guaranteed the existence of Belgium, following its break from the Netherlands. 

However, the view of the British Foreign Office was that a minor incursion into Belgium could be resolved by diplomatic means.  Germany's de facto invasion meant the Asquith Government had a  legitimate cause to intervene.  The government was prepared for war, Britain in 1914 was a naval power and therefore could not allow Germany to have hegemony over Continental Europe, and more importantly the Channel ports on the European mainland.  As previously noted Great War studies which ignore the naval war and its strategic importance are painting a one dimensional picture.  The other, deeper causes of the war did not have the same resonance in public opinion as the immediacy and justification for intervention as the German advance through Belgium. 

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On 18/09/2021 at 05:53, Brusilov said:

 

What I want to understand, principally, from a heap of books on World War 1 is the mentality of commoners when they went to war.

World War II was famous because it served as an allegory between God and Angels on his side and Satan and Fallen Angels on the other. The Nazi and the Japanese were naturally portraited as villains, while the Soviet, the US, the British and their allies were viewed as freedom fighters.

What was the predominant view of war during World War I? Did the Germans thought that they ought to go to war in order to protect their homeland, because it was encircled by the enemy, and that they (the enemies) were trying to destroy the achievements of the Unification?

Did the French go to war because they thought that they could eliminate the ignominious defeat during the Franco-Prussian War?

Why did the British go to war? What were her attitudes?

What about the Russians? Why were they enthusiastic about a war that could turn against them?

And the Austrian-Hungarians?

Perhaps Keegan could explain these themes.

I couldn't find these answers in the Cambridge History.

If you wish to understand why the nations went to war, then it might be useful to read works that address those issues specifically. John Keegan gives an overview  in his chapter three The Crisis of 1914, but the issues are more complex than those he addresses. There are a good number of works addressing the matter including:

L.F.C. Turner The Origins of the First World War

Richard F Hamilton and Holger H Herwig Decisions for War 1914-17

Gordon Martel Origins of the First World War

Christopher Clark The Sleepwalkers: how Europe went to war in 1914

James Joll The Origins of the First World War

Annika Mombauer The Origins of the First World War: diplomatic and military documents

Douglas Newton The Darkest Days: The truth behind Britain's rush to war. 1914

H W Koch The Origins of the First World War: Great Power Rivalry and German War Aims

Ruth Henig The origins of the First World War

William Mulligan The Origins of the First World War

Of course in order to gain a good understanding, and to draw your own conclusions, you should read widely, rather than  focussing on one book which only gives a particular author's views.

Regards

Chris

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