Friday, 5 September 2008

Book report: 1914-1918 History

I have never thought that the history of World War One was particularly interesting. Unbelievable slaughter, largely static, and a pre-cursor to the conflict in 1939. I have always been very keen on the history of the Second World War; reading this book has been a revelation.

When I studied history at school, I was lucky to have two really enthusiastic teachers - "Dippy" West and "Ma" Wade. Dippy taught me how to write a proper essay, and to argue a point. Ma Wade made characters old & fusty come alive.

This massive book about the "war to end wars" is brilliant. It is extremely well-written, and covers every imaginable aspect of the conflict and more. Of course it details the major battles which still bring shivers to the spine when you hear the words Ypres, Somme or Gallipoli. I saw one of the cemetaries at Vimy Ridge when I was a kid and have never forgotten it. I have a distant relative or two commemorated at the Menin Gate. This book is one I will read again. It is jam-packed with facts and analysis, not just of why a certain battle went one way or the other, but how the political moods of America affected the British & French economies and their production bottlenecks; how the disintegration of the Habsburg Empire set up future Balkan conflicts; why the Russians paid the Germans back so brutally in 1945.

The scope of this book is enormous - as was the war. It took me ages to read but I only put it down reluctantly. If I can remember a fraction of what I learnt reading it, I`ll have done well. What is quite obvious, unfortunately, was that it was not the war to end wars, and a generation of young men were slaughtered with ever increasing efficiency.