One-volume book about WWI
October 19, 2009 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Suggestions for a very good one-volume book about World War I.

Decided I wanted to know more abut this "war to end all wars," and so am looking for a single volume book. Did this for the AmericanCivil War and found The Battle Cry of Freedom splendid. Now on to WWI...hive: any good ideas?
posted by Postroad to Education (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" only covers the beginning of the war but remains pretty much universally acclaimed. Also, her "Zimmerman Telegram" is brilliant. You can get more dry information elsewhere (look under the alternatives Amazon lists for "Guns of August") but Tuchman tells such compelling, well-researched stories that she is my universal first recommendation in pretty much any field in which she cared to write.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 9:43 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I recommend reading Adam Gopnik's overview of recent publications (as of 2004) on the subject, then going with one of the books he discusses (perhaps Hew Strachan's The First World War).
posted by arco at 9:47 AM on October 19, 2009

Seconding The Guns of August, unless you're really mostly interested in troop movements.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:03 AM on October 19, 2009

The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell, and All Quiet on the Western Front, by an author whose name escapes me.
posted by dfriedman at 10:05 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

John Keegan: First World War. For fiction Ford Madox Ford's No Enemy and for memoirs Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That.
posted by TheRaven at 10:12 AM on October 19, 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front is by Erich Remarque, and tells the story from a soldier's perspective. nthing The Guns of August, which is frankly phenomenal. It does only cover the beginning of the war, but in such great detail with so much information about the decision makers that you get a picture of why and how the war turned into what it turned into.

Also, this: Forgotten Voices of the Great War, a compilation of stories told by people who lived through World War I.
posted by bedhead at 10:27 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Guns of August was an awesome read. Highly recommended.
posted by gushn at 10:30 AM on October 19, 2009

While you may receive many recommendations for The Guns of August, I would note that this probably is not the place to start if you want to understand what led to WWI. I found that this book, while extremely well written and researched (better than any others I have read) assumes a lot of previous knowledge of the main "characters" involved. Not that this wouldn't be a beneficial book, but you may find yourself doing a lot of side-reading to familiarize yourself with events/people referenced.
posted by jimmereeno at 10:35 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Europe's Last Summer by David Fromkin. He had access to materials that Tuchman did not. I've posted about this book several times.

H.P. Wilmott's World War I is a coffee-table book, but with stunning maps (best I've ever seen) and discusses the role of women in the war.
posted by jgirl at 11:07 AM on October 19, 2009

and All Quiet on the Western Front, by an author whose name escapes me.

Erich Maria Remarque
posted by jgirl at 11:09 AM on October 19, 2009

If, instead of dry facts, you want to know what it was like for the soldiers, then you should read "All Quiet on the Western Front".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:09 AM on October 19, 2009

++Europe's Last Summer. Fantastic.

Bear in mind most books about WW1 are about either events leading up to the war (some of the most dramatic moments in history) or about the fighting of the war. Both sorts are worth attention.
posted by dzot at 11:12 AM on October 19, 2009

This previous thread may be helpful.
posted by jgirl at 11:14 AM on October 19, 2009

thanks thus far. Oddly, I knew Fussell when he was at Rutgers and have read all of his books. Did also meet Tuchman, though have not read her widely regarded Guns. My concern is not so much feelings by individuals as major battles, strategies, use of gas etc--in sum: overall looking back on what took place, where, when, how--possibly elven why, though that is always fairly conjectural.
posted by Postroad at 11:15 AM on October 19, 2009

Well, then I'd probably say Keegan.
posted by jgirl at 11:19 AM on October 19, 2009

I've read all of the books discussed so far, and will nth "Guns of August". there is also a companion book called "The Proud Tower" which comprehensively fills in the background information that Guns might require.
I won't spoil your fun by giving away anything, suffice it to say that this is a period of massive social and geopolitical upheaval, rife with a host of larger-than-(any current)-life characters whose egos and aspirations reflect the by-gone era, but whose methods became the standard for warfare for a century to follow.
For a completely different, but equally awesome angle on it all, try Dreadnought by Robt. K Massie.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:25 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Myriad Faces of War by Trevor Wilson

Also, not what you're looking for since it's a memoir from the home front (in England), but Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth is an absolutely stunning book.

To nth what others have said, I loved The Guns of August and found it to be an excellent launching pad into the subject of WWI.
posted by littlecatfeet at 3:16 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm currently studying it in school and the two monographs I've been constantly referring to are the ones previously mentioned:

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
and the "fictional" WWI account All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.

However, I've heard nothing but good things for Keegan's First World War.
posted by seandq at 5:35 PM on October 19, 2009

World War One: A Short History by Norman Stone was published earlier this year and has gotten great reviews. It also has an excellent jacket image.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:45 PM on January 4, 2010

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