World War I Non-Fiction

PoppyThe media is full of information on WWI leading up to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that ‘war to end all wars’ and the New York Times Book Review is no exception with author Adam Hochschild recently issuing a list of non-fiction relating to WWI. I would like to point out, dear readers, that I have been focused on WWI for several years now!

Below is Hochschild’s list. [All synopses, except for WORLD WAR ONE, sourced from Goodreads.]

CATASTROPHE 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings – “a magisterial chronicle of the calamity that befell Europe in 1914 as the continent shifted from the glamour of the Edwardian era to the tragedy of total war.”

THE GUNS OF AUGUST by Barbara Tuchman – “With attention to fascinating detail, and an intense knowledge of her subject and its characters, Ms. Tuchman reveals, for the first time, just how the war started, why, and why it could have been stopped but wasn’t.” [Also listed on WWI Books – Readers Offer Their Choices.]

THE WAR THAT ENDED PEACE: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan – “The First World War followed a period of sustained peace in Europe during which people talked with confidence of prosperity, progress, and hope. But in 1914, Europe walked into a catastrophic conflict that killed millions, bled its economies dry, shook empires and societies to pieces, and fatally undermined Europe’s dominance of the world. It was a war that could have been avoided up to the last moment—so why did it happen?”

THE PITY OF WAR: Explaining World War I by Niall Ferguson – “In The Pity of War, Niall Ferguson makes a simple and provocative argument: that the human atrocity known as the Great War was entirely England’s fault.” Now that’s a dramatic assertion.

JULY 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin – “As acclaimed historian Sean McMeekin reveals in July 1914, World War I might have been avoided entirely had it not been for a small group of statesmen who, in the month after the assassination, plotted to use Ferdinand’s murder as the trigger for a long-awaited showdown in Europe … draws on surprising new evidence from archives across Europe to show that the worst offenders were actually to be found in Russia and France, whose belligerence and duplicity ensured that war was inevitable.” McMeekin and Ferguson seem to have different points of view.

THE FIRST WORLD WAR by John Keegan – “With The First World War, John Keegan, one of our most eminent military historians, fulfills a lifelong ambition to write the definitive account of the Great War for our generation.”

THE FACE OF BATTLE by John Keegan – “The Face of Battle is military history from the battlefield: a look at the direct experience of individuals at ‘the point of maximum danger’. It examines the physical conditions of fighting, the particular emotions and behaviour generated by battle, as well as the motives that impel soldiers to stand and fight rather than run away.”

WORLD WAR ONE: A Short History by Norman Stone – “In World War One, Norman Stone, one of the world’s greatest historians, has achieved the almost impossible task of writing a terse and witty short history of the war. A captivating, brisk narrative, World War One is Stone’s masterful effort to make sense of one of the twentieth century’s pivotal conflicts.” [description from Amazon]

Looks like I could read about WWI all year – and still not fully understand it.





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5 Responses

  1. Most people don’t know this but the Pulitzer Prize committee wanted to award “The Guns of August” with the Pulitzer Prize for history, but they couldn’t because the book was not specifically about American history. This created a huge problem because they believed she deserved the award, so instead they awarded her the general non-fiction award. That was the first of 2 Pulitzers for Barbara Tuchman.

  2. A comment via email courtesy of my friend Hart: “Margaret MacMillan’s book “Paris 1919” is a nice book-end to her earlier book and provides an excellent counterpoint to these books by looking backwards at the war after it ended—and puts much of the information in the books you mention—into some type of context!” Thanks Hart!

    1. I’ve never read Sean McMeekin, but I’m surprised that any historian these days places the burden more on Russia and France than on the other participants. Most say the war was made in Berlin. I found Ferguson’s argument about England more provocative than persuasive (especially his dismissal of German plans for Belgium), but he’s worth reading on other counts.

      1. I imagine like most highly charged political situations, there is no right answer to this topic. McMeekin’s quote refers to ‘statesmen’, however there was nothing statesmanlike about what went on 100 years ago. Thanks for your comment, Larry.

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