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The First World War by John Keegan
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The First World War (1998)

by John Keegan

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2,455353,882 (3.83)63
The First World War created the modern world. A conflict of unprecedented ferocity, it abruptly ended the relative peace and prosperity of the Victorian era, unleashing such demons of the twentieth century as mechanized warfare and mass death. It also helped to usher in the ideas that have shaped our times--modernism in the arts, new approaches to psychology and medicine, radical thoughts about economics and society--and in so doing shattered the faith in rationalism and liberalism that had prevailed in Europe since the Enlightenment. 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. Probing the mystery of how a civilization at the height of its achievement could have propelled itself into such a ruinous conflict, Keegan takes us behind the scenes of the negotiations among Europe's crowned heads (all of them related to one another by blood) and ministers, and their doomed efforts to defuse the crisis. He reveals how, by an astonishing failure of diplomacy and communication, a bilateral dispute grew to engulf an entire continent. But the heart of Keegan's superb narrative is, of course, his analysis of the military conflict. With unequalled authority and insight, he recreates the nightmarish engagements whose names have become legend--Verdun, the Somme and Gallipoli among them--and sheds new light on the strategies and tactics employed, particularly the contributions of geography and technology. No less central to Keegan's account is the human aspect. He acquaints us with the thoughts of the intriguing personalities who oversaw the tragically unnecessary catastrophe--from heads of state like Russia's hapless tsar, Nicholas II, to renowned warmakers such as Haig, Hindenburg and Joffre. But Keegan reserves his most affecting personal sympathy for those whose individual efforts history has not recorded--"the anonymous millions, indistinguishably drab, undifferentially deprived of any scrap of the glories that by tradition made the life of the man-at-arms tolerable." By the end of the war, three great empires--the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian and the Ottoman--had collapsed. But as Keegan shows, the devastation ex-tended over the entirety of Europe, and still profoundly informs the politics and culture of the continent today. His brilliant, panoramic account of this vast and terrible conflict is destined to take its place among the classics of world history.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
1) One shouldn't read compact one volume surveys of epic events. It is safe to assume that The First World War meets the criteria of epic event. Any single volume will only distort and compact events. This was no exception

2) John Keegan is vastly overrated as a writer and scholar. I think the latter was accidental. People projected authority, with his sober demeanor, who can blame them? Keegan routinely employs clumsy metaphors and speaks of terrifying events in terms of inefficiency. He also resorts to unflattering stereotypes which detract. Keegan uses little primary sources, instead he mines Alistair Horne's book on Verdun and similar secondary texts.

3)Daniel Haig is lambasted as the autistic author of the slaughter at the Somme. Keegan may be guilty of similar callousness though he is constantly reminding the reader of late 20th Century outcomes of nations and regions.

3.1) This is an interesting adaptation of the former. Keegan does point out the Great War activities of WWII leaders and innovators.

This is not a terrible book, nor one of questionable erudition. It is a survey and if one wants the barest of narratives arcs, one could possibly do far worse. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
John Keegan’s book provides a very thorough look at World War I. It details the politics, both international and internal to each of the primary countries, in addition to the military status, targets and goals. It also summarizes the affects the war had on the world while raising some interesting questions. It is an excellent way to learn about this war and how it affected the world, something that is being forgotten in our schools. ( )
  Nodosaurus | Aug 3, 2018 |
A very detailed book dealing primarily with the military history of World War I. I enjoyed reading this book and learned a lot. I had trouble with some of it (and this probably all on me as it is the end of the summer and my concentration level is low) as the author gives great details dealing with geography, leadership, and the number of specific armies and reserves fighting in battles. For me, having more detailed maps throughout the book would have been much more helpful as my limited knowledge of the geography made it tough to follow at times. With that said, it was not too hard to get past this, and I found the book to be comprehensive and fair to all sides. A recommended read to anyone looking for a military survey of the Great War. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Jan 2013):
- "Of the British Empire's million dead, most killed in France and Belgium, the bodies of over 500,000 were never to be found..."
- This book, for me, was 'concentrated learning' at its best. My previous reading on the Great War was Barbara Tuchman's exceptional The Guns of August, which, as the title implies, purposely focuses on the initial 30 or so days of the conflict. I sought out Keegan's one volume history to give me a comprehensive immersion into the whole grandiosity. I think I got it.
- [Keegan] was directly linked to the war - his father and I believe uncles fought in, and survived, the war. His angle is without any doubt a British one, as would be expected.
- ..the cost, the barely fathomable human cost, of this war is what sticks with me most when reviewing my thoughts. ..Austria lost 1.2 million from the ranks in 1914 alone, another 800,000 in 1915. In one single, indecisive push across a forgotten mountain range on the eastern front, 90,000 died. I imagine every death a slow bleeding away of the Habsburg Empire itself.
- The late Tony Judt, in his 1999 review of the book's initial publication, observed the deleterious effect of the war on France, noting the 630,000 widows there in 1918, "and many tens of thousands of single women who would never marry - they could still be seen as late as the 1960s, grown old, working at menial tasks in the public sector.."
- the author doesn't study the war's conclusive stages, or treaty negotiations, to much degree. But that's fine - leaves me another element to read up on elsewhere. I can't imagine a better one-shot education on the First World War than this. ( )
1 vote ThoughtPolice | Mar 1, 2018 |
This is an excellent single volume survey of the First World War. I'd recommend it for anyone trying to get a birds eye view of the great conflict.

Some reviewers have criticised Keegan for his brevity in his coverage of particular battlefields (e.g. Gallipoli or Passchendaele) but this is necessary for him to provide a truly global coverage of the War, and still come under 500 pages!

There are a few notable positions that Keegan takes:

* It was never inevitable for Britain to get involved in the conflict. He raises doubts in the readers mind about the need for Britain to honour her treaty to defend Belgium.

* He disagrees with the view that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was an army of lions who lived in squalor before dying pointless deaths, led by donkeys who lived in splendour and safety. He argues that new technology bound the hands of the generals and no tactical alternatives were feasible.

* Field Marshal Haig was an aloof, and unlikeable character.

If you're looking for a single volume survey of the First World War. Then I heartily recommend this volume to you.
( )
  gareth.russell | Jun 18, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Keeganprimary authorall editionscalculated
Forsman, LennartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olsson, Robert C.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the men of Kilmington who did not
return from the Great War, 1914-18
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The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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