The First World War (Hew Strachan) pdf, epub, doc

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World War I is the runty little sibling of a cooler, better-known big brother, World War II. The perception of World War I's sheer meaningless, along with World War II's historical impact, has continued for long these many years, despite constant reappraisals, including Niall Ferguson's recent theory that it was all one big war, with a little break in the middle. For whatever reason, movies, books (aside from some great novels, such as "All Quiet on the Western Front"), and the History Channel are in love with World War II, while World War I gets the shaft.

This is too bad, because I think WWI has the preeminent place in 20th C. history. Not only did it lead to the rise of the Soviet Union, the fall of the French and British empires, and the global dominance of the United States, but the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, to punish Turkey, created the modern Middle East. And we all know how well that turned out.

I've nibbled at the edges of World War I. I read John Keegan's slim one-volume history, "The First World War." I read "Dreadnought" and "Castles at Sea" by Robert Massey, detailing the naval arms race leading to WWI and the naval battles of WWI respectively. I read Tuchman's "The Guns of August" and Ferguson's "The Pity of War." Once I had the basic chronology, I started looking for a multi-volume work to let it all cohere in my mind.

Strachan's "To Arms," the first in a proposed trilogy (which will never be finished, unless he lives forever), came highly recommended. I hate it. In the memorable words of "The Critic": it stinks.

Apparently, in order to be a serious historian, you have to be boring. For this book is boring. I mean, really boring. It's not that I didn't understand the entire chapter devoted to the loan structures of every beligerent nation, it's that I didn't care. Funnily enough, Strachan writes at one point that he feels the cause of the war had a great deal to do with the personalities involves. He then goes on to say absolutely nothing about any of the personaliies. Indeed, all humanity is drained from this book, as a thief (such as myself) might siphon the gasoline from your automobile late at night, while you are watching "Let's Make a Deal." I don't think there's a single person mentioned in the whole book. I didn't know that. I didn't know that WWI started, was fought, and ended, without human participation.

The descriptions of battles are frustrating. Fine, I get it, you're not a narrative historian, so you aren't going to use anecdotes from the people who fought it, or even the people who were in command. You're just going to explain the troop movements. I'm okay with that. JUST PUT IN SOME FRACKING MAPS! Honestly, you telling me that the 25th Battalion went East while the 142nd Regiment marched Southwest and Company A of the 18th Regiment of Lancers played pinochle on an alluvial plain 45 miles south by southeast of Paris really doesn't help me without a battle map. Oh, he has these wonderfully helpful topographical maps, but there are no troop movements. In order to make even the slightest sense of Strachen's incoherent and dry-as-old-toast retelling of von Moltke's execution of the Schlieffen Plan, I had to look up maps on the Internet. That was fun. Reading a book that is the size of a fat baby while simultaneously scrolling through battle maps online.

I finished it, though. If millions of men could live and die in the trenches, I figure the least I could do is read an incredibly boring and un-insightful account of their sacrifice.

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Book info

  • Author:
  • Publisher:OUP Oxford
  • File: 6.3 Mb
  • Ganre: History
  • Release: 06.02.2003
  • ISBN: 9780199261918
  • Pages 1248
  • Rating: 4.61 (54 votes)


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