WW1 Documentaries and Books
August 14, 2012 3:38 AM   Subscribe

Care to recommend some in-depth documentaries (and books, or anything online) about World War One?

I'm looking to get a list of documentaries (and books, websites etc) about World War 1, I'm happy to make the terms of reference rather elastic - anything encompassing the earlier history of Europe circa the belle époque and the period leading into the war, perhaps examining earlier colonial tensions, ethnic/nationalist and other political movements or more broadly anything which leads to a more in depth understanding of the conflict.

Bonus points for material which takes a look at the war from the point of view of class interests and / or examines the social effects on participant nations. Obviously I'm interested in anything covering the war itself also. My interest stretches out past the war also: the revolution in Russia, post-war chaos, the seeds of further conflict.

Fwiw my knowledge of the war (from school) is pretty tightly wound up with Irish home-rule, rebellion and independence so I have that angle covered.

As I'm already buried under a pile of books to read so I'd really love if there were some documentaries which checked the boxes, but books and other resources are fine.
posted by nfg to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman won the Pulitzer Prize.
posted by bookmammal at 3:46 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Great War and Modern Memory is a classic.

Gallipoli is fiction, but rooted in fact and tells the story from an unusual (Australian) perspective. The later film of the same name is a documentary of the same battle told from both sides.
posted by googly at 5:27 AM on August 14, 2012

Best answer: Les Carlyon's The Great War is brilliant. A tome, but very good. His Gallipoli (not a novel) is meant to be good. Haven't read it.
posted by mattoxic at 5:49 AM on August 14, 2012

Best answer: I've only seen bits of it, and it's rather dated now, but the 1960s documentary "The Great War" is often reccomended because of its use of archive footage and interviews.
posted by Coobeastie at 7:03 AM on August 14, 2012

Best answer: Apologies about not having much in the way of multimedia solutions, but most of what I've appreciated on this subject have been books. Just to start with commentary on some of the (good) recommendations made so far, for further context.

The Guns of August mentioned above is an excellent primer to how the war started, and the way various nations and their intertwined dynasties went into it with delusional visions of how quickly the fight would go. It ends after the First Battle of the Marne and the "race to the sea" where basically all the powers realized that the swift, decisive victories that were being envisioned weren't going to happen and they started to settle in to the long hard grind of trench warfare. So from a belle epoque -> lead-up + class interests, Guns of August is excellent. Limited utility past that period.

The Great War and Modern Memory is useful as an exploration of the way European culture was changed by and reflected the Great War; and provides a really visceral sense of what it was like to have endured that period; but it's mostly a literary/cultural survey rather than pure history.

If you want a more standard historical narrative, then my favorite single volume history is John Keegan's The First World War That should set you up with all of the major battles and changes in leadership, as well as political ramifications as various empires went through their death throes.

It was a side theatre in the fight, but if you're interested in how the the modern Middle East was shaped by both the Ottoman Imperial collapse and the colonial rush that filled in following that collapse, then you can also pick up A Peace to End All Peace.
posted by bl1nk at 7:16 AM on August 14, 2012

Thirding Guns of August. Reading it right now and I can't put it down.

For post-war depth, I'd also recommend Paris 1919, which goes into depth about all the actors at the post-war peace conference, including the politics and positioning of lesser powers like Poland, and how the negotiations at the conference created the poison pills that led to the rise of the Third Reich and WWII. The book was also the basis for a documentary.
posted by dry white toast at 8:14 AM on August 14, 2012

In terms of scale, the First World War could probably be described as an Eastern war with a secondary Western front- the Russian side of things is often downplayed in English-language accounts. Though fictionalized, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Red Wheel, is a very dense, but very compelling multi-voiced narrative of events in Russia leading up to the war, and major events during the war itself.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:54 AM on August 14, 2012

Best answer: > If you want a more standard historical narrative, then my favorite single volume history is John Keegan's The First World War

I like Keegan but my own favorite one-volume history is Hew Strachan's The First World War; it's got great maps and photos (including a section of color photos) and a well-balanced approach (including the Middle East and Africa). It doesn't have enough on Russia for my (admittedly Russia-centric) taste, so I join TheWhiteSkull in recommending The Red Wheel and, for a historical account, W. Bruce Lincoln's In War's Dark Shadow: The Russians before the Great War and Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians in War and Revolution, 1914-1918. (All of Lincoln's books are excellent, well written and detailed.)

Also, there was a multi-part television history that was linked on the blue sometime in the last few years; I don't have time to search for it now, but maybe somebody else will remember it.
posted by languagehat at 9:02 AM on August 14, 2012

Covering only the Naval aspects of WWI is Robert Mackie's "Castles of Steel." It's a direct followup to his book "Dreadnaught," which covers the 19th century relations between England, France, Germany, Russia and other interested parties, and the completion of the transition from wooden navy to steel navy, including the beginnings of the switch from coal to fuel-oil for the steel navy. The first book climaxes (if a history book can do so) with the launch of the HMS Dreadnaught, the world's first true Battleship.

"Castles of Steel" covers in detail the major naval engagements of WWI, and the impact of radio on the world's Navies, and the impact of smaller faster battlecruisers, and how they were best (and most ill-)used during the various battles of WWI. It also covers the flight of Admiral Graf von Spee from Tsingtao to South America, including the two major engagements in which that fleet met the British in force. Also covered was Germany's trade-harassment efforts in the Indian Ocean. There's also a great bit that details the history of restricted, and then unrestricted submarine warfare, which Germany carried out in WWI before it did so again in WWII. Likewise, the Brits invented the Q-ship in WWI.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:54 AM on August 14, 2012

Response by poster: Everyone! Huge apologies for my extremely late reply, the answers have proven excellent - I am currently engrossed in Strachan's First World War. Many thanks for all suggestions!
posted by nfg at 4:36 AM on September 10, 2012

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