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Great War

ProssPross Posts: 29,596
edited January 2014 in The cake stop
With the 100th anniversary of the start of the war coming up next year I'd like to read up more on it as I'm aware my knowledge is limited. I've read bits on the western front including quite a weighty book on Passchendaele but know nothing at all about the other fronts. It seems to have been overlooked a lot by film makers over the years (although this will no doubt change as they look to cash in on the centenary with lots of tales about how the good old US of A saved the day). Can anyone recommend some good factual books that are relatively easy to read to help me fill in the gaps?
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  • arran77arran77 Posts: 9,260
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  • Castles of Steel by Robert Massie is a good overview of the war at sea (unfortunately no stickers)
  • dabberdabber Posts: 1,737
    For a more controversial view of the war I can recommend Mud, Blood and Poppycock by Gordon Corrigan.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mud-Blood-Poppycock-MILITARY-PAPERBACKS/dp/0304366595/ref=la_B001HPLB9G_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387812286&sr=1-2

    He challenges a lot of the popularly held views of how the war was conducted.
    “You may think that; I couldn’t possibly comment!”

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  • Warrior Race: A History of The British at War by Lawrence James, although not specifically about WW1, has some very good chapters on that period.
  • bartimaeusbartimaeus Posts: 1,812
    "The Guns of August" by Barabara Tuchman for the origins and first month of the the war - it has a couple of chapters on the Eastern Front up to Tannenberg.
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  • I have watched a few episodes about WW1 on discovery channel. Made some time ago, has interviews with some of the old fellas who fought in it. Real memories from real soldiers in their words with footage can make compelling viewing...
  • oldbazzaoldbazza Posts: 646
    Two about the Somme(courtesy of the better halfs' collection);

    The Somme-Peter Hart

    The First Day On The Somme-Martin Midlebrook
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  • vitesse169 wrote:
    I have watched a few episodes about WW1 on discovery channel. Made some time ago, has interviews with some of the old fellas who fought in it. Real memories from real soldiers in their words with footage can make compelling viewing...
    Good programme, though would be ripped apart by today's critics for its uncredited use of real footage and scenes taken from movies to illustrate the narrative. I also got a little weary of the relentless sound effects added to the soundtrack. Still worth watching though.
  • Read All Quiet on the Western Front. Its fiction but I like it that its from a German perspective seems to make it all the more disturbing. No wonder the Nazis banned it.
  • pinnopinno Posts: 42,737
    Simon Scharna: A History of Britain but is a little heavy going at times.
    The late Kenneth Clarke wrote a superb book called 'The donkeys', a detailed account of the diaries of the British Generals which puts the brutality of French and Earl Haig in full perspective. AJP Taylor is excellent but is better regarding the 2nd world war.
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  • bartimaeusbartimaeus Posts: 1,812
    Fiction: "A Long Long Way" by Sebastian Barry
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  • RDWRDW Posts: 1,900
    Just got this from Amazon (recently a Kindle daily deal):

    The Soldier's War: The Great War Through Veterans' Eyes (Richard Van Emden)
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Soldiers-Wa ... 0747598738

    There are short overviews of each stage of the war, but the bulk of the text comes from the soldiers themselves, eyewitness accounts of the war from the front line.

    If you're interested in the war in the air :

    Tumult in the Clouds: British Experience of War in the Air, 1914-18 (Nigel Steel & Peter Hart)
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tumult-Clouds-B ... 34063846X/

    which also uses a lot of first hand accounts. Seems to be out of print, but well getting hold of a secondhand copy.
  • mamba80mamba80 Posts: 5,032
    Have a look on the imperial war museum site.

    Funnily enough the humour in BlackAdder does show the futility of war
  • RDWRDW Posts: 1,900
    Just noticed the Amazon '12 Days of Kindle' Christmas promotion has a couple of highly discounted WWI books. Haven't read either, but can't really go wrong for a pound or so (until Jan 5th):

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-First-World ... B00CPMTJNA
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-Front-Line-W ... B00D2VJZ4G
  • Max Hastings does good military history and has a new one out:

    http://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/catas ... 0007398577
  • Forgotten Voices of the Great War is pretty good. Second-hand copies are easy to find.
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  • For a very good overview look here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/
    also worth a look is The Great War triple DVD available everywhere.
    or the BBC version, but it's expensive.
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  • ProssPross Posts: 29,596
    Thanks all. Some food for thought should I receive any iTunes vouchers over Christmas. I'd like to see a Band of Brothers style TV programme come out following a group of friends from the start of the war right the way through. If I had the writing ability I would love to write a set of novels on that theme.
  • mamba80mamba80 Posts: 5,032
    Pross wrote:
    Thanks all. Some food for thought should I receive any iTunes vouchers over Christmas. I'd like to see a Band of Brothers style TV programme come out following a group of friends from the start of the war right the way through. If I had the writing ability I would love to write a set of novels on that theme.


    i suspect that maybe a very short series :(
  • finchyfinchy Posts: 6,686
    Pross wrote:
    Thanks all. Some food for thought should I receive any iTunes vouchers over Christmas. I'd like to see a Band of Brothers style TV programme come out following a group of friends from the start of the war right the way through. If I had the writing ability I would love to write a set of novels on that theme.

    Why let a lack of ability stand in your way? You might be the next Dan Brown.
  • rick_chaseyrick_chasey Posts: 57,346 Lives Here
    Personally it would make sense to avoid the pure military history and focus more on the human element.

    The collective memory focuses more on the collective experience of it, as the first war to have the vast majority of the country involved on foreign shores. The ins and outs of the battle are broadly irrelevant when considering the wider cultural impact and significance today.


    Richard Ward recently released a good collection of unedited letters from the period.
  • soslowsoslow Posts: 46
    I can recommend John Keegan
    The first world war and illustrated history

    Mud blood and poppycock is a revealing read as well as already suggested
  • The novel Birdsong is a briiliant intro to WW1, very well researched and some amazing info e.g. on the
    role of Enlish miners in digging tunnels to plant explosives under German lines; etc.
  • mm1mm1 Posts: 1,063
    Pross, you say that you want to know more about the other fronts The White War by Mark Thomas is an account of the war on the Italian Austrian Front (where Hemmingway was an ambulance driver, which experience forms the basis of A Farewell to Arms). Arguably Italy never recovered from this disastrous engagement, which was as costly as the war on the western front, paving the way for fascism and the political shambles Italians endure today.
  • mm1 wrote:
    Pross, you say that you want to know more about the other fronts The White War by Mark Thomas is an account of the war on the Italian Austrian Front (where Hemmingway was an ambulance driver, which experience forms the basis of A Farewell to Arms). Arguably Italy never recovered from this disastrous engagement, which was as costly as the war on the western front, paving the way for fascism and the political shambles Italians endure today.

    I only found out about the African front after reading William Boyd's novel An Ice Cream War a few years ago, another area of the war that gets little coverage.
  • +1 to John Keegan's history and to Mud,blood & poppycock.

    Hew Strachan's history is also excellent and very readable - he gives a strong focus on the global aspect as well.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-First-World-War-History/dp/074323961X

    John Stephenson's book has been well received

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/1914-1918-The-History-First-World/dp/071819795X/ref=pd_sim_b_3

    I think it is also important to read something that focuses on the final 100 day period - this is arguably the greatest achievement in the history of the British Army - I can't remember who said it, but it is the only time it took on the main weight of a continental army and won. There was a lot of horror and waste of life in the process, but it is also worth remembering that the daily casualty rate for the British infantry in the period afterD-Day was similar to WWI battles - just in WWII it was the Russians who took the brunt. Arguably, the British tend to over emphasise the futility of WWI on one hand and the glory of WWII on the other.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/100-Days-Victory-Great-Fought/dp/1444763350/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388078164&sr=1-8&keywords=victory+1918

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Our-Backs-Wall-Victory-Defeat/dp/0141020792/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388078164&sr=1-1&keywords=victory+1918
  • A lot of "popular" books tend to the stereotype of complete futility of the war and as such tend to trivialise the whole thing. In my view Alan Clark's Donkeys falls pretty squarely into this camp in its selective use of sources to reinforce the simplistic, populist view we've all been fed through school history and poetry. Real life is never that simple, how else would Britain and the Empire have managed to mobilise, support and operate an army of nearly five million men.

    For a more balanced view that looks at the context of the whole war and not just casualty numbers of the first day of the Somme I would suggest "V is for Victory" by Gary Sheffield which looks in some depth at the key forgotten phases, the battles of 1914 itself that effectively stopped the Germans and the development of the tactics, organisation and technology that led to the Hundred Days and the German surrender.

    "Tommy" by Richard Holmes is another very good read and it looks in detail at some of the phenomenal organisation that supported the men on the front and how they really lived.

    +1 for "Castles of Steel" which looks at the relationship between Britain and Germany and the causes of the war.

    I would also suggest " Douglas Haig, Architect of Victory" by Walter Reid, not as easy a read as the others but puts a lot of the selective Haig correspondence used in books like "Donkeys" into proper perspective and paints a much more balanced view of the man who in spite of his major faults in the end beat the German army in the field. Possibly the greatest feat of arms in British history, certainly in the 20th century with only Slim in Burma approaching him.
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  • ^. Dreadnought (Robert Massie) is the one your thinking of. Probably more of a academic history book than castles of steel, it's excellent.

    Lyn Mcdonalds 'to the last man: spring 1918' is a good read.
  • floreriderflorerider Posts: 1,112
    I was given a copy of "Der Kline Frieden I'm Grossen Krieg" by a German friend . This translates as "the small peace in the Great War" and is largely the story of the Christmas truce in 1914.

    What is intriguing is reading about how the German troops saw the British ones. The chapter on burial ceremonies and respect for the fallen ones is very poignant. Brought up in the UK it never struck me as odd, but it appears not all armies do this.

    I do not know if it has been translated, but if so well worth a read.

    My grandfather was there at Christmas 1914 so it had a real meaning to me.
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