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A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 Paperback – May 29, 2007


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A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 + The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic About the Outbreak of World War I + The First World War
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; Reprint edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553382403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553382402
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (223 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Meyer sets out to integrate the war's discrete elements into a single work of popular history and delivers a worthy counterpoint to Hew Strachan's magisterial three-volume scholarly project, The First World War. A journalist and author (Executive Blues), Meyer doesn't offer original synthesis or analysis, but he does bring a clear, economical style to the war's beginnings; the gridlock produced by the successes and failures of both sides; the divided military and political counsels that hobbled efforts at resolving operational and diplomatic stalemates; and above all the constant carnage, on a scale that staggers the imagination. Meyer provides brief, useful background on subjects from the Armenian genocide to the Alsace-Lorraine question—topics he considers crucial to an understanding of the war, but too cursorily explained in most popular histories. Correspondingly, he blends "foreground, background, and sidelights" to highlight the complex interactions of apparently unconnected events behind the four-year catastrophic war that destroyed a world and defined a century. Constructing a readable, coherent text in that format is a demanding challenge, accomplished with brio. (May 30)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

One only has to look at a few of today's "hotspots" (the Balkans and the Middle East) to realize that World War I's effects remain a determining factor in international relations. It may seem impossible to write an "intimate" account of such a global catastrophe, but Meyer has succeeded in doing just that: a masterful narrative history that eloquently conveys the sense of a civilization engaged in massive self-destruction, while its leaders, blinded by hubris, nationalism, or outright ignorance, led the charge. Although Meyer pays ample attention to the broad themes of causation and military strategies, he consistently reminds us that the war was a compilation of millions of individual tragedies. He captures the horror and futility of trench warfare, the slaughter at Gallipoli, and the genocide of Armenians as experienced by those who were there. Meyer also offers interesting and controversial insights into the motivations of many of the key participants. This is an outstanding survey of a cataclysm that still casts a shadow over world affairs. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

G. J. Meyer is a former Woodrow Wilson Fellow with an M.A. in English literature from the University of Minnesota, a onetime journalist, and holder of Harvard University's Neiman Fellowship in Journalism. He has taught at colleges and universities in Des Moines, St. Louis, and New York. His books include A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, Executive Blues, and The Memphis Murders, winner of an Edgar Award for nonfiction from the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Goring-on-Thames, England.

Customer Reviews

I found helpful the many background chapters included in the book.
C. M Mills
I just completed reading G.J. Meyer's book "A World Undone: The Great War 1914-1918".
Wade Young
A difficult and complex story to tell, and this book does a very good job.
Julie K. Olson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

353 of 363 people found the following review helpful By J. Watts on July 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The causes of World War I were so diverse and complex, and the military strategies so intricate, that the war becomes a historian's ultimate dilemma: Write about it comprehensively and lose all but the most earnest readers, or skim the surface and don't do it justice? Mr. Meyer has found the perfect balance and tone to describe a war that was complicated, not at all glorious, and a proximate or ancillary cause of every major trouble the world has seen since. His journalistic skills serve the reader with startling immediacy, never forgetting to include the human effects of the war, so that rather than becoming an endless parade of statistics, the book is a riveting parable about a four-year train wreck of human miscalculation and arrogance in leadership, balanced by unbelievable heroism in the ranks. As I write this, the American nation is still embroiled in a seven year war in Iraq and Afghanistan that has killed 5,000 American soldiers so far. That was a typical DAY in World War I. Our modern 24 hour cable news cycle will (thankfully) just not permit the kind of carnage that the generals in World War I so casually created. Also of great interest are Mr. Meyer's short background articles, on subjects like Kaiser Wilhelm, the Junkers, the Cossacks, etc, which give the reader a real grounding in the flavor of the times, and are fascinating in their own right.

Our leaders today are, like Tom Brokaw, agog over World War II, and the generation that won it. A shame. The war they really need to take lessons from is World War I, and Meyer's book is what they should read. This book is a triumph of history with the narrative pace of a novel. Don't miss it.

I suggest readers who want to go deeper into World War I book-end this volume with The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, and Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, by Margaret Macmillan.
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54 of 54 people found the following review helpful By brentmark on February 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
The first chapter of the book "A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918" by G.J. Meyer begins with a detailed narrative of that fateful date in Sarejevo when an Austrian archduke and his wife are gunned down by a nineteen year-old Serbian nationalist. I was alarmed when I realized that this entire chapter was strikingly identical to the first chapter of Edmond Taylor's "The Fall of the Dynasties, 1905-1922", which is one of my favorite but an oft-overlooked work of the time period. Thus, I was not surprised when I turned to Meyer's bibliography and found Taylor's work cited as a source for this chapter. At that point, I was fearful that "A World Undone" was going to be nothing more than a pitiful mashing of previous historical works relating to the time period (similar to Joseph Persico's "Eleventh Hour, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Month.")

Despite the frequency of texts throughout Meyer's book with stark similarity to existing literature, "A World Undone" does have several redeeming qualities. The author does provide some analyses that deviate from the status quo, such as depicting Moltke the younger as the executor of an impossibly doomed Schleiffen Plan rather than the meddler who transformed an intrinsic path towards victory into defeat. Meyer also balances the traditional views of the Great War with contemporary accounts that have emerged in the last decade, such as his acknowledgement of the Entente's self-delusion that Germany's casualties were substantially greater than their own, when in fact the opposite was true (as cited by John Mosier's "The Myth of the Great War").
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80 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Cap Garland on February 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If only every history book was written by G.J. Meyer! 'A World Undone' is a fantastic read; I could not have imagined a single book could paint such a thorough picture of the Great War. I could not put this book down.

I have read other volumes, including 'The First World War', 'The Guns of August', even 'World War One For Dummies'! But this is the absolute best of the lot, providing background history on the major players and combatants, and numerous glimpses into the personal lives of the leaders and soldiers of the day. It is these 'background essays' that make this history so much more enjoyable, so much more readable, that I was very disappointed when I came to the end. Most history books leave you needing a break, but 'A World Undone' left me wishing for a second volume.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Philip J. Kinsler VINE VOICE on February 7, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
G. W. Meyer takes on an enormous task in this book. He tries to tell not just what happened leading up to and through WWI, but the important historical background to give the events context. He pairs a Background chapter with what we can call each 'Events' chapter. This is an extremely creative way to write about what is already a huge tableau. It provides the unfamiliar reader some context, but is inevitably frustrating to those who have gone deeper. By the structure of the work, Meyer has taken on the task, for example, of summarizing the over 1000 year history of the Hapsburg Empire in ten or fifteen pages. So, over-generalizations and the occasional plain error creep in. For an example, at one point Meyer states that Russia had never been made to compromise with other European states--apparently glossing over their defeats by Napoleon and the entire Crimean War. These grate on the reader who has read more on each of these Background chapters.

That being said, in a book for a general audience for whom this is perhaps their first introduction to European history of the period, this is an enormous achievement. Meyer takes a lens from far above what is happening, attempting to show the over-arching reasons why certain things happened. He is more likely to discuss the idea of Ludendorff creating a flexible defense, rather than having troops in a rigid and fixed front line, than he is to talk about what happened at a certain hill or dale. You get the overview--why were the Germans almost successful in 1918 after years of stalemate--rather than they took this town or this fort. When a city is mentioned, he tells you why this place was important.
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