The First World War: A Complete History

Book review by Deane Barker
Martin Gilbert
★★★★★ (+20.19%) 🛈
This Review | This Book

A magisterial history of The Great War. Nothing is left out. The book proceeds down a strict timeline, battle by battle, event by event, mutiny by mutiny. It starts just before, and ends just after.

The numbers are staggering – all the numbers. The dead, the wounded, the costs, the number of shells, ships and bullets, the starving, the civilian collateral damage. It’s absolutely numbing.

World War 1 was the first mechanized, industrial war. It was the first war where we got really good at killing each other. Machines guns, planes, tanks, modern artillery, submarines, poison gas – the weapons of war took massive leaps forward and humanity was simply mowed down in its wake. The suffering was massive in scale.

I can only imagine what it took to write this book. The author has thousands of anecdotes. How did he keep track of them all? He manages to insert them at just the right time, so there’s a human aspect amid the chaos. Armies moved, and countries scheme, but in among that were human stories.

The author also pays special attention to two people: (1) a private in the Austria-Hungary army named Adolf Hitler, and (2) a Lt. Colonel named Winston Churchill. The epilogue describes how those two men went on to meet in another war 20 years later.

In the end, civilians bought an end to the war. Revolution in Russia, and civilian revolts, riots, and mutinies in German brought the war to an uneasy close. The Treaty of Versailles was signed, but the Germans hated it, and used it as a reason to go back to war.

An incredible book. A commitment, for sure, but I’m prepared to call this the definitive history of World War 1.

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