The War To End All Wars: World War I, by Russell Freedman
Spoiler alert: World War I was not the war to end all wars. As someone who enjoys reading a lot of books relating to military history, there is always something both immensely fascinating as well as troubling about World War I and its impact on the world. Before World War I there was the illusion that European society was moving in a more peaceful manner, as there had been no massive wars between European powers for about a century. And after the war the European colonial empires were in question, the world was filled with people who viewed themselves as cheated out of the rewards commensurate with their sacrifices, and history took a far darker turn. In my own family two of my great-grandfathers were gassed with disastrous results in combat in France, and that has shaped my own view of the tragedy of that war. And because World War I was a mere warm-up act for the horrors of World War II, the war cannot even be remembered for being as horrific as it is because things would only get worse over the next twenty-five years. The author, unsurprisingly, finds it necessary to connect World War I to this larger context.
This book is between 150 and 200 pages long and is divided into fifteen relatively short chapters. The book begins with an introduction that discusses World War I as a great war (which would make World War II the Greater War, I suppose). After that the author begins with a discussion of the causus belli, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by some greater Serbia radicals (1) in Sarajevo as well as the way that both sets of European alliances were armed to the teeth (2). After that the author discusses the belief in victory that many nations had at the beginning of war (3) and the horrific slaughter that began the war (4) and the resulting stalemate that set in on all fronts (5). The author discusses the technology of death and destruction developed to try to break the stalemate (6), life and death in the trenches (7), as well as the experience in going over the top (8). After that comes a look at Verdun (9), the Somme (10), as well as the war at sea (11). After that the authors explore the collapse and mutiny that were faced by the warring powers starting in 1917 or so (12). The arrival of the Americans in the fight (13) gave the exhausted Western allies an advantage that led to the general collapse of empires (14), after which the author explores how it was that the victors of World War I predictably lost the peace (15) that followed, after which the book ends with notes, a bibliography, acknowledgements and picture credits, and an index.
If I did not think this was an amazing be-all and end-all book about World War I history, it certainly was a competent offering in the field. It is also a short book that is well-photographed and that certainly makes it an accessible one to those who want a basic introduction to World War I history and not something that is going to be too taxing about obscure matters that would be of interest to someone like me. I can see myself recommending this book to someone who can read it without finding it too lengthy and it provides a basic enough insight into the experience of soldiers as well as the course of the war that someone would certainly have a basic level of information about the war after reading and understanding it. If that is not an extremely high standard, it is certainly at least the sort of standard one could rightly expect from a book like this one, and the end result is not unpleasing even to those who are able to and enjoy reading books that are far more detailed in nature. This is a book that one can read with modest profit and enjoyment, if World War I is a subject you are interested in.