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The First World War: A Complete History

The First World War: A Complete History

Martin Gilbert


A thoroughly readable narrative history of the First World War and its aftermath. I think the strongest parts are the beginning and end: there's an unavoidable tedium in the middle that reflects the statis of trench warfare.

Churchill comes out well, perhaps unsurprisingly in a book by one of his biographers. Later authors place more of the blame for Gallipoli at his door. The American army also comes out well; Pershing, its commender, somewhat less so, as his insistence on having a solely American field army delayed their deployment and in many ways invited disaster in 1918. The Kaiser cuts a sorry figure throughout, belligerent and indecisive and blind to reality right up until the end.

Gilbert is also very strong on the often-overlooked mior allies of both sides. The complexities of Polish and Finnish independence movements, allied to the Central Powers largely in order to defeat Russia, get a lot of exploration, as does the eventual breakup of the Habsburg Empire. The Middle East and the Ottoman Empire are less well-covered. In each case there are clear lines drawn to the peace treaties and the grievances that later gave rise to the Second World War.

4/5. Finished 04 January 2023.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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