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The First World War [Kindle Edition]

John Keegan
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (328 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
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Book Description

The First World War created the modern world. A conflict of unprecedented ferocity, it abruptly ended the relative peace and prosperity of the Victorian era, unleashing such demons of the twentieth century as mechanized warfare and mass death. It also helped to usher in the ideas that have shaped our times--modernism in the arts, new approaches to psychology and medicine, radical thoughts about economics and society--and in so doing shattered the faith in rationalism and liberalism that had prevailed in Europe since the Enlightenment. With The First World War, John Keegan, one of our most eminent military historians, fulfills a lifelong ambition to write the definitive account of the Great War for our generation.

Probing the mystery of how a civilization at the height of its achievement could have propelled itself into such a ruinous conflict, Keegan takes us behind the scenes of the negotiations among Europe's crowned heads (all of them related to one another by blood) and ministers, and their doomed efforts to defuse the crisis. He reveals how, by an astonishing failure of diplomacy and communication, a bilateral dispute grew to engulf an entire continent.

But the heart of Keegan's superb narrative is, of course, his analysis of the military conflict. With unequalled authority and insight, he recreates the nightmarish engagements whose names have become legend--Verdun, the Somme and Gallipoli among them--and sheds new light on the strategies and tactics employed, particularly the contributions of geography and technology. No less central to Keegan's account is the human aspect. He acquaints us with the thoughts of the intriguing personalities who oversaw the tragically unnecessary catastrophe--from heads of state like Russia's hapless tsar, Nicholas II, to renowned warmakers such as Haig, Hindenburg and Joffre. But Keegan reserves his most affecting personal sympathy for those whose individual efforts history has not recorded--"the anonymous millions, indistinguishably drab, undifferentially deprived of any scrap of the glories that by tradition made the life of the man-at-arms tolerable."

By the end of the war, three great empires--the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian and the Ottoman--had collapsed. But as Keegan shows, the devastation ex-tended over the entirety of Europe, and still profoundly informs the politics and culture of the continent today. His brilliant, panoramic account of this vast and terrible conflict is destined to take its place among the classics of world history.

With 24 pages of photographs, 2 endpaper maps, and 15 maps in text

Editorial Reviews Review

Despite the avalanche of books written about the First World War in recent years, there have been comparatively few books that deliver a comprehensive account of the war and its campaigns from start to finish. The First World War fills the gap superbly. As readers familiar with Keegan's previous books (including The Second World War and Six Armies in Normandy) know, he's a historian of the old school. He has no earth-shattering new theories to challenge the status quo, no first-person accounts to tug on the emotions--what he does have, though, is a gift for talking the lay person through the twists and turns of a complex narrative in a way that is never less than accessible or engaging.

Keegan never tries to ram his learning down your throat. Where other authors have struggled to explain how Britain could ever allow itself to be dragged into such a war in 1914, Keegan keeps his account practical. The level of communications that we enjoy today just didn't exist then, and so it was much harder to keep track of what was going on. By the time a message had finally reached the person in question, the situation may have changed out of all recognition. Keegan applies this same "cock-up" theory of history to the rest of the war, principally the three great disasters at Gallipoli, the Somme, and Passchendaele. The generals didn't send all those troops to their deaths deliberately, Keegan argues; they did it out of incompetence and ineptitude, and because they had no idea of what was actually going on at the front.

While The First World War is not afraid to point the finger at those generals who deserve it, even Keegan has to admit he doesn't have all the answers. If it all seems so obviously futile and such a massive waste of life now, he asks, how could it have seemed worthwhile back then? Why did so many people carry on, knowing they would die? Why, indeed. --John Crace,

From Publishers Weekly

In a riveting narrative that puts diaries, letters and action reports to good use, British military historian Keegan (The Face of Battle, etc.) delivers a stunningly vivid history of the Great War. He is equally at easeAand equally generous and sympatheticAprobing the hearts and minds of lowly soldiers in the trenches or examining the thoughts and motivations of leaders (such as Joffre, Haig and Hindenburg) who directed the maelstrom. In the end, Keegan leaves us with a brilliant, panoramic portrait of an epic struggle that was at once noble and futile, world-shaking and pathetic. The war was unnecessary, Keegan writes, because the train of events that led to it could have been derailed at any time, "had prudence or common goodwill found a voice." And it was tragic, consigning 10 million to their graves, destroying "the benevolent and optimistic culture" of Europe and sowing the seeds of WWII. While Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War (Forecasts, Mar. 8) offers a revisionist, economic interpretation of the causes of WWI, Keegan stands impressively mute before the unanswerable question he poses: "Why did a prosperous continent, at the height of its success as a source and agent of global wealth and power and at one of the peaks of its intellectual and cultural achievement, choose to risk all it had won for itself and all it offered to the world in the lottery of a vicious and local internecine conflict?" Photos not seen by PW. 75,000-copy first printing; simultaneous Random House audio. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 13035 KB
  • Print Length: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 21, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009Y4I744
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,536 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
105 of 107 people found the following review helpful
John Keegan' "The First World War" is one of those rare books which combine the thoroughly researched descriptions of history, technology and means of warfare with nuances of psychology and mystery of the Great War. Keegan starts with the overview of diplomatic positions of the Great powers involved in the war (although his analysis of origins is on his own admission is just a summary of prior work), then proceeds to the breakout of the conflict. In subsequent chapters Keegan covers every year of the Great War on the Western, Eastern, Middle Eastern, Italian and Mediterranean theatres of war in a thorough and scholarly fashion. Very soon a pattern emerges - a static trench warfare on the Western front, in-conclusive war of movement on the Eastern front with untold unaccounted casualties, diversionary operations on the secondary theatres costing significant resource drain, and pointless war of heroics, despotism and bravery on the Italian front.
What I like particularly about the book is the analysis of military strategy and tactics of the main participant in the manner which somebody without training in military science can easily comprehend. Keegan points out how lack of communication, rigid bureaucratic organization and the lack of appreciation of the tactical variability of the war caused British failures to command a decision at Somme in 1916 and Ypres and Flanders in 1917; how ill-prepared was French army for defensive operations due to its romantic "esprit de corpes"; how Russian lack of coordination, material supply and organization lead to horrendous losses on the Western front. Germans came out as good fighters, allowing their field commanders high degree of freedom, yet weak strategically, unable to concentrate the efforts on a single point of the decisive breakthrough.
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142 of 150 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for what it is July 22, 2006
As a one-volume narrative outlining the major events of the First World War, this book succeeds. It is a great introduction to the war. I wish, however, to state my reservations about the book.

One oddity is that the first three chapters cover the events leading to the war, but the last chapter ends abruptly with the armistice. It would have been nice to have a chapter on the Treaty of Versailles.

The book incorporates two previously published articles, as the acknowledgements acknowledge. This leads to the repetition of certain data, as it appears that they were not sufficiently edited to fit in with the rest of the book.

Keegan is British, and it is obvious. He emphasizes repeatedly how the British army was never defeated by the Germans except in one campaign. The Australians are praised as the world's greatest soldiers without further elaboration. He explicitly blames Germany's naval construction campaign preceding the war for the war itself, presumably because it challenged Britain's benign supremacy. The deaths of British soldiers are lamented with poignancy that overflows into sentimentality.

To be fair, the book was written for a British audience, and these excesses are much more modest than they might have been. Keegan seems to have tried hard to be evenhanded, and these excesses are largely superficial and forgivable.

Lastly, Keegan admits that this book does not break new ground. A glance at the endnotes reveals that most of the material from this book was taken from secondary sources. Each chapter seems to have come from three or so books. Thus, this is not a work of history so much as a gloss on history written by others.
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74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A readable text book! December 13, 2000
By Paul H.
Keegan does it well! This book illuminates the war to end all wars and captures the sweep of the first global conflict. Keegan details the primary causes and the primary instigators of the conflict. You really come to understand how about 15 individuals and a lot of national pride led to the deaths of millions. While not a truly "modern" war, many of the instruments of death were well hoaned (e.g. the rifle, the machine gun and artillery). This book describes the horror of trench warfare, details the attacks and defenses, the general's attempts to break the stalemate, the mathematics of attrition, the political motivations, and most importantly, the effect on nations that established the groundwork for the second world war. No modern history, military history, or the 20th century history collection is complete with out a text such as this! Keegans book is dense and detailed, well researched, and yet understandable and a pleasure to read!
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant But Flawed May 20, 2007
One of the best known military historians writing today is Sir John Keegan. A former faculty member at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, Keegan is now the defense editor for "The Daily Telegraph." He made a name for himself as a historian with "The Face of Battle."

It is hardly surprising then that Keegan decided to write a general account of World War I. During this conflict, the British Army grew to its largest size ever, but the four years of this war initiated the decline of the United Kingdom as a power in world affairs. The book presents the Great War in the elegant prose that readers have come to expect from Keegan.

The author brings his expertise to bear in many important ways. He shows that the von Schliefen Plan was intellectually flawed from the get go. It could never have worked. Technological limitations, primarily those in communication, made it almost impossible for commanders to exert the type of control they had had in the past, or would have again in the future. At the same time, weapons with heavy firepower and the wealth of industrial nations allowed the combatants to put huge armies into the field on a scale larger than ever before.

Keegan focuses primarily on the experiences of the British Army. The Germans receive second billing. The French get much less attention even though they had more divisions in the field than their allies on the other side of the English Channel. Western Europe is the main area that Keegan discusses. Naval warfare, the Eastern Front and operations in Africa and Asia get far less attention.

According to Keegan, the ultimate factor in the allied victory was the sheer number of American troops that began arriving in France in 1918.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
A little dry, but informative.
Published 17 hours ago by WILLIAM T WEST
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent book by John Keegan
Another excellent book by John Keegan. This book is especially interesting because it not only covers the Western Front, with which most readers are probably familiar, but also... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Gines Pasamonte
2.0 out of 5 stars Read only if you like long winded narratives with little substance
The book, although nicely structured, takes on a ride so convoluted, you forget why you started reading it in the first place. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
John Keegan's scholarship is unparralleled His writing is pure pleasure.
Published 25 days ago by John I. Halloran
4.0 out of 5 stars good read
Good information of the mamy causes of WW1
Published 1 month ago by Tony
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Introduction to the First World War
As someone who has not read extensively on the First World War, this was a great introduction and general history of the overall conflict. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Chase Trautwein
5.0 out of 5 stars Book purchase
Easy download
Published 1 month ago by Tony S. San Martin
2.0 out of 5 stars Textbook vs. Entertainment
Informative and accurate but not engaging. Often repetitive and non-linear. I would like more personal stories from soldiers and politicians about there experiences.
Published 1 month ago by David Howard
4.0 out of 5 stars What about Versailles?
I had a hard time decided what overall rating to give the book. Keegan pack an incredible amount of detail in one volume and it appears to be well documented. Read more
Published 1 month ago by April Fool
3.0 out of 5 stars In my opinion, a readable, insightful history of ...
In my opinion, a readable, insightful history of WWI has yet to be written. As a military history, Keegan's book likely is factually accurate, and I find Keegan's prose style... Read more
Published 2 months ago by William L. Bryant
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More About the Author

John Keegan's books include The Iraq War, Intelligence in War, The First World War, The Battle for History, The Face of Battle, War and Our World, The Masks of Command, Fields of Battle, and A History of Warfare. He is the defense editor of The Daily Telegraph (London). He lives in Wiltshire, England.

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