Despair at Gallipoli. Victory at Vimy Ridge. A European generation lost, an American spirit found. The First World War, the deadly herald of a new era, continues to captivate readers. In this lively book, Michael Neiberg offers a concise history based on the latest research and insights into the soldiers, commanders, battles, and legacies of the Great War.
Tracing the war from Verdun to Salonika to Baghdad to German East Africa, Neiberg illuminates the global nature of the conflict. More than four years of mindless slaughter in the trenches on the western front, World War I was the first fought in three dimensions: in the air, at sea, and through mechanized ground warfare. New weapons systems--tanks, bomber aircraft, and long-range artillery--all shaped the battle environment. Moving beyond the standard portrayal of the war's generals as "butchers and bunglers," Neiberg offers a nuanced discussion of officers constrained by the monumental scale of complex events. Diaries and letters of men serving on the front lines capture the personal stories and brutal conditions--from Alpine snows to Mesopotamian sands--under which these soldiers lived, fought, and died.
Generously illustrated, with many never-before-published photographs, this book is an impressive blend of analysis and narrative. Anyone interested in understanding the twentieth century must begin with its first global conflict, and there is no better place to start than with Fighting the Great War.
In recounting the events of WWI with skill and clarity, Neiberg does not break new ground for serious students of the conflict but achieves a fine balance of narrative and analyses - no easy feat in a one-volume study. And Neiberg also goes considerably further afield than do many one-volume accounts. A larger-than-usual share of responsibility is laid on the Germans, particularly for their diplomacy before the war and in its opening stages. Neiberg's analyses of military incompetence do not bog down (along with the armies) on the Western Front - the Italian campaign is noted, where the Italian army distinguished itself in spite of being nearly extinguished. Even in the battle narratives, one finds choice revelations, such as how the French African troops' khaki uniforms (which were designed for warfare in dusty Africa) helped the French to abandon their conspicuous prewar garb. The illustrations (89 duotones and 10 maps) are particularly well chosen. Compare this book with Hew Strachan's The First World War; it ranks above entries by Martin Gilbert and John Keegan in readability and value for a wider audience. (Apr.)
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Harvard University Press
September 29, 2006
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