The First World War: A Complete History

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9780805047349: The First World War: A Complete History

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1994

It was to be the war to end all wars, and it began at 11:15 on the morning of June 28, 1914, in an outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire called Sarajevo. It would end officially almost five years later. Unofficially, it has never ended: the horrors we live with today were born in the First World War.

It left millions--civilians and soldiers--maimed or dead. And it left us with new technologies of death: tanks, planes and submarines; reliable rapid-fire machine guns and field artillery, poison gas and chemical warfare. It introduced us to U-boat packs and strategic bombing, to unrestricted war on civilians and maltreatment of prisoners. most of all, it changed our world. In its wake, empires toppled, monarchies fell, whole populations lost their national identities as political systems and geographic boundaries realigned. Instabilities were institutionalized, enmities enshrined. And the social order shifted seismically. Manners, mores, codes of behavior; literature and the arts; education and class distinctions--all underwent a vast sea change. In all these ways, the twentieth century can be said to have been born on the morning of June 28, 1914.

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About the Author:

One of Britain's most distinguished historians, Martin Gilbert was knighted in 1995. A fellow of Merton College, Oxford, he is also the official biographer of Winston Churchill. Among his books are The Holocaust, The Second World War, Churchill: A Life, Auschwitz and the Allies, The First World War, and Never Again.

From Kirkus Reviews:

There may be no event in this century that has been more written about than the First World War. There may be little new to uncover about it. But this splendid book shows that its lessons cannot be too often learned. This is by no means a complete history. Whole areas of the conflict are scanted or mentioned only in passing, in particular the war on the Eastern Front. Distinguished British historian Gilbert (The Second World War, 1989, etc.) gives a great deal of attention to the British, less to the French, and a good deal less to everyone else. Nor is he particularly interested in strategy. But the power and passion that he brings to the story, the vividness with which he recreates the scale of the conflict, the enormity of its suffering, feats of individual bravery and cowardice, of devotion and desertion, will be hard to emulate. What lingers in the mind is the sheer scale of the suffering. In the first five weeks of conflict at Verdun, German soldiers were killed at the rate of one every 45 seconds, and French death rates were even higher. In the five months during which the battles of Verdun and the Somme were waged in 1916, nearly a million men died, an average of 6,600 every day, more than 277 every minute, nearly 5 every second. This was not exceptional: As Gilbert points out, the 20,000 British soldiers killed on the first day of the Somme are often recalled with horror, yet on average, a similar number of soldiers died during every four-day period of the entire war. His searing descriptions of the carnage poignantly remind us of the terrible consequences that followed from the casualness with which European statesmen allowed their nations to drift into war. An incomparable record of how ordinary and extraordinary men and women endured the unendurable. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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