The First World War by John Keegan

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Synopsis

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
 

About John Keegan

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John Keegan was for many years senior lecturer in military history at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and has been a fellow at Princeton University and a visiting professor of history at Vassar College. He is the author of twenty books, including the acclaimed The Face of Battle and The Second World War. He is the defense editor of The Daily Telegraph (London). He lives in Wiltshire, England.From the Hardcover edition.
 
Published November 21, 2012 by Vintage. 528 pages
Genres: History, War, Travel, Self Help. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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In this sterling account of the tragic and unnecessary conflict that inaugurated a century of horror, British military historian Keegan (Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America, 1996, etc.) ranges from Olympian assessments of leaders to searing depictions of suffering common soldiers.

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Publishers Weekly

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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

May 03 1999 | Read Full Review of The First World War

Publishers Weekly

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The text of this work is essentially a stripped-down version of Keegan's 1999 The First World War, with the text complemented by superb visuals.

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Publishers Weekly

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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 ...

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The Millions

McEwan’s vivid description of the grim realities of a small and somewhat forgotten event inspired me to read about World War II in search of more small, somewhat forgotten events.

Jul 21 2004 | Read Full Review of The First World War

HistoryNet

Instead, says Keegan, World War I inaugurated the manufacture of modern mass destruction that World War II brought to a pitiless consummation.

Aug 12 2001 | Read Full Review of The First World War

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