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From the much-debated causes to the blood baths to the collapse of empires and Victorian Europe, John Keegan explores and communicates the details, themes, and mind-numbing horror of the First World War with clarity, authority, and compassion. Central to his thesis is the assertion that the war was avoidable; a tragic consequence of missed opportunities, failed communications, hubris, and, perhaps most importantly, the absence of good will.
He re-creates nightmare engagements like First Ypres, Verdun, Gallipoli, and the Somme and sheds new light on the strategies and tactics employed, particularly on the impact of geography and technology. At First Ypres--which left 24,000 British and 50,000 Germans dead--the British riflemen fired, reloaded, and fired again so quickly that the Germans mistakenly thought it was machine-gun fire. It was now the era of mechanized warfare and mass death.
Along with penetrating analysis of the military conflict, Keegan's narrative evokes the personalities of the "great," like Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Foch, and Haig. But Keegan reserves his most affecting personal sympathy for the masses of men killed and never recovered, "the anonymous millions, indistinguishably drab, undiferentially deprived of any scrap of the glories."
Praise for The First World War:
"It takes a disciplined and enormously well-read scholar to bring order and meaning to the complexity of the Great War. It takes the artistry of a gifted storyteller to craft such technical detail into a page turner. Mr. Keegan does exactly that. His story moves smoothly among kings, field marshals and eighteen-year-old riflemen. He interprets familiar facts to arrive at new insights." —John Lehman, The Wall Street Journal
"An enormously readable and learned narrative history charting the folly and bloodshed of the Great War--and how a conflict whose origins no one can explain gave us the modern world." —Jon Meacham, Newsweek
"Keegan [is] perhaps the best military historian of our day, and his new history of the war exemplifies his many strengths. It is elegantly written, clear, detailed and omniscient. As a narrative it is outstanding, telling the story of how the war began, how it was fought, why it was won by the allies. Above all, Keegan conveys how it felt." —Tony Judt, The New York Times