Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Great War: A Christmas Pause

At the beginning of January, I decided to devote part of the year's reading to the Great War, in recognition of its 100-year anniversary. I created a list of books that would address some areas of the war I was wholly ignorant of, given that I tend to focus on not only the western front, but aeronautics.   Early this morning I finished Homefront, 1914-1918,  and with it, this year's Great War reading will be drawing to a close.   2015 will bring plenty of reading in this area -- a great many books were published this year and will be next year that I'm excited about -- though I don't know if I'll be doing as many as one per month.

On the whole, I'm generally pleased with how the year went; I covered some new ground, even if I didn't read two books I've had 'intentions' of reading for far too long now, La Feu and The Great War in Modern Memory.  Below are this year's and possibly next year's lists:

1. The Great War, John Keegan
    I started off with a survey of the war to set the big picture.

2. Forgotten Voices of the Great War, Max Arthur
Before getting distracted by all of the more detached histories, I wanted to encounter the soldiers speaking for themselves. Forgotten Voices uses the letters and diaries of British, American, and German soldiers and civilians to deliver a chronicle of the war as it unfolded.

3. An Ice Cream War, Max Boyd
The sole fictional entry, this was not an intended read;  I grabbed it just to fill some time. It does have the novelty of being set in southern Africa, on the border of British and German colonies.

4. Conscience, Louisa Thomas
Conscience is the story of a pacifist who resisted the war's fervor despite having brothers in uniform.

5. The White War, Mark Thompson

It wasn't until May that I started really learning about different theaters of the  conflict,  beginning with the commendable White War, a history of the Italian front.  Although depressing, considering how truly -- astonishingly -- purposeless each of the twelve major campaigns between Austria and Italy were, the book threw a lot of light on a dim area for me.

6. The Great War at Sea, A.A. Hoehling
Not the book I'd intended to read on the naval war, but it served well enough.

7. Castles of Steel, Phillip Massie
Another naval war survey, this massive tome focused on the British-German war and included some avitation to boot.

8. The Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen
Like An Ice Cream War, this was a case of my running out of time and just grabbing a smaller work from my home library.

9. Collision of Empires, Prit Buttar
Collision examines the first few months (ending in December 1914) of the war in the east. Its take on the preparedness of the major powers is quite thorough, but once the conflict starts there are precious few maps and a massive front being considered.

10. The Unknown War, Sir Winston Churchill
A more thorough survey of the Eastern Front,  Unknown War brings a lot of dramatic narrative (and some kid gloves) to the table.

11. Life, Death, and Growing Up on the Western Front,  Anthony Fletcher
A return to the soldiers, this is an intimate history of six men and their families through the war, taken from the letters and journals of the men and boys at the front.

12. Gallipoli, Alan Moorehead
The most narrowly-focused of the books I read, Gallipoli handily delivered a sense of the battle's potential and horrific waste.

13. Homefront 1914-1918, I.F.W. Beckett
This light pictorial history of the British homefront completes my reading for the year. The use of photos is lavish, the subjects being people, letters, and government notices.

As mentioned,  I will be continuing to read in this theme next year.   Here are some of the books which I have captured my attention...

1. Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria in WW1, Alexander Watson
2. A Box of Sand: the Italo-Ottoman  War 1911-1912, Charles Stephenson
3. The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, Eugene Rogan
4. Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire,  Joshua Sanborn
5. Pyramids and Fleshpots: The Egyptian, Senussi and Eastern Mediterranean Campaigns, 1914 - 16, Stuart Hadaway
6. The Other First World War: The Blood-soaked Eastern Front, Douglas Boyd
7. The First World War in the Middle East, Kristian Ulrichson
8. Prelude to the First World War: The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913, Edward  Robert Hooton

These are either new releases or will be published next year.


  1. An impressive list - both read and to be read. It's particularly interesting that the WW1 books I've got lined up (the next one 5 books away from being reviewed) don't appear in either of your lists so LOTS of books on WW1 out there!!

  2. The next few years are going to be AMAZING in terms of number of WW1-related books released, I suspect!

  3. Indeed they are. I've already read some excellent books on the subject. I suspect that both of us are going to become well versed in WW1 studies.


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