Looking for Books on WW1
January 12, 2013 7:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm finishing up The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman, and while it's a really good read, it does what it says, and covers the beginning of the war. I'm interested in other books on WW1. What do you recommend? I'd like to read both a good, solid overview of the whole war, then maybe later read more in-depth books on certain parts or phases of the war.

I saw this question in preview, but I'm looking more for history and books, not so interested in films, fiction, or documentaries.
posted by Ghidorah to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Keegan's The First World War is a pretty good survey history.

Castles of Steel by Massie is a good history of the naval aspects of the war. His earlier book Dreadnought covers the naval arms race between Germany and Britain that may have helped spark the conflict.
posted by chengjih at 7:26 PM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding Keegan. It's the best "introductory" text, especially if you've read Guns of August.
posted by Etrigan at 7:29 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thirding Keegan. I also highly recommend The Great War and Modern Memory, which is not an overview (it's actually a work of literary criticism), but does a hell of a job describing the trauma of trench warfare.
posted by gamera at 8:00 PM on January 12, 2013

Best answer: Try G J Meyer's A World Undone. It's a good general overview of the entirety of the war.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 8:04 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recently finished A World Undone and really enjoyed it.
posted by tricolourfree at 8:07 PM on January 12, 2013

A man who lived through it in the trenches and then wrote his harrowing experience: Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger. It's not an overview of the war, it's his experience of it.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:15 PM on January 12, 2013

The Great War and Modern Memory is great to nth that recommendation, and should the poetry (much of it raw and painful to read) that it recounts interest you further, it provides a great starting point for moving beyond Graves and Sassoon. If you're interested at all in the medical legacy of WWI, this article has an intriguing section on it with respects to the history of PTSD, along with additional references. I do not recommend reading the original medical reports unless you have an extremely strong stomach, but it's really fascinating stuff.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:23 PM on January 12, 2013

Best answer: Though it only really covers a part of WW1, I found The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 to be an absolutely astonishing and powerful book, and I can't recommend it enough.
posted by barnacles at 8:30 PM on January 12, 2013

Paris: 1919 is a fascinating description of the talks that concluded the war. It really highlights the flaws of the "Council of Four" that lead to the continuation of war twenty years later.
posted by bonehead at 8:38 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Robert Graves' biography Goodbye to All That covers his experiences during WWI. I found it most absorbing.

I know you said you weren't interested in fiction but Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is terrific if you want to get a feel for life in the trenches and learn about sapping enemy trenches.
posted by NailsTheCat at 9:07 PM on January 12, 2013

Came to recommend Keegan and Massie. Castles of Steel was absolutely fantastic. Keegan is always brilliant, though I haven't read much on WWI by him.

I read Castles of Steel before Dreadnought, out of order, and I don't think I lost anything; Dreadnought helps you understand the setting-up of the dominoes that Gavrilo Princip began to topple when he killed Archduke Ferdinand and his wife.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:38 PM on January 12, 2013

Les Carlyon's The Great War is very good
posted by mattoxic at 11:49 PM on January 12, 2013

I know you said you weren't interested in fiction but... Seriously - All Quiet on the Western Front is utterly brilliant
posted by mattoxic at 11:52 PM on January 12, 2013

Sorry to bang on... But we have this (First World War, The: A Photographic History) at home (been in the family for a long time). Available on amazon, and quite worthwhile. By American photographer Laurence Stallings
posted by mattoxic at 12:04 AM on January 13, 2013

"Letters from the Trenches: A Soldier of the Great War" by Bill Lamin --- it's an account of a single British soldier's experiences rather than a broad overview of the war, but it's fascinating.

A couple years ago, Lamin (a former UK history teacher) begin posting his grandfather's original WWI letters as a blog; readers followed things sort of "as it was happening" to the letter-writer, with each letter being posted exactly 90 years to the day after they were written. Eventually, he expanded the letters, numerous photos and additional information into this book. Very good account of the war from an actual foot-soldier's limited point of view.
posted by easily confused at 2:59 AM on January 13, 2013

It's a bit daunting in terms of length and sheer weight, but currently the best up-to-date scholarly account of the early part of the war is Hew Strachan, The First World War, Volume One: To Arms (2003).

More readable, and definitely worth looking at for its conciseness and basic good sense: Adrian Gregory, The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (2008).
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:50 AM on January 13, 2013

I just finished With our Backs to the Wall by David Stevenson. It's a fantastic story of how close the Germans came to victory in 1918, and how that quickly turned into defeat.

I also really enjoyed Massie's two books, Dreadnought and Castles of Steel as well.

Finally, I know you've just finished The Guns of August but Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers has in many ways a more in-depth coverage of the lead-up to World War I. It does a great job of addressing some of the social and cultural catalysts for the war, e.g. Serbian society in the 20 years pre-WW1.
posted by techrep at 4:30 AM on January 13, 2013

Best answer: AskHistorians on Reddit has drawn up a very in-depth list
posted by 1f2frfbf at 5:44 AM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Europe's Last Summer by Fromkin. He had access to sources that Tuchman did not.
posted by jgirl at 6:05 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Robert Graves Goodbye To All That is fantastic. He was 19 when he found himself an officer in the trenches.
"The title may also point to the passing of an old order following the cataclysm of the First World War; the inadequacies of patriotism, the rise of atheism, feminism, socialism and pacifism, the changes to traditional married life, and not least the emergence of new styles of literary expression, are all treated in the work, bearing as they did directly on Graves's life." (Wikipedia.)

Also, a bit left of field, is Richard Hillyer's autobiography A Country Boy. He never served - the war ended just before he was due to be called up - but his family had a conscript billeted on them and his memoir is quietly devastating about the preparations for war.
posted by glasseyes at 3:44 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Surprised nobody's mentioned Hew Strachan's The First World War, a general history (as opposed to the more detailed work Sonny Jim recommends) with different emphases than Keegan's and well worth having alongside it. See my comment here for more.

> Europe's Last Summer by Fromkin. He had access to sources that Tuchman did not.

It's very readable and stimulating, but he has a very strong point of view (it was all Germany's fault!) that is by no means universally accepted, so bear that in mind.
posted by languagehat at 4:26 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's very readable and stimulating, but he has a very strong point of view (it was all Germany's fault!)

Moltke did it!
posted by jgirl at 4:52 PM on January 13, 2013

Seconding Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger. This is one of my favourite books about any modern war.
posted by Deodand at 10:06 PM on January 13, 2013

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