• Help me learn new things in 2018 – World War I! (What should I read?)

    I’m going to spend September learning about the history of World War I. You’ve already given me some great ideas. I want to post them here, so you can help me prioritize what to read. If you think I’m missing something, please tell me. I’m opening comments, or you can tweet me. I can probably do 4-5.

    1. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, by Adam Hochschild
    2. Thunder at Twilight, by Frederic Morton
    3. Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain
    4. The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman
    5. The Great War, by Peter Hart
    6. The Fall of the Ottomans, by Eugene Rogan
    7. A World at Arms, by Gerhard Weinberg
    8. The First World War, by John Keegan
    9. Sleepwalkers, by Christopher Clark
    10. The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell
    11. The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, by Adam Tooze
    12. The War that Ended Peace, by Margaret MacMillan

    What do you all think? Any thoughts on the order?


    • The Guns of August is definitely must-read. You should also check out Dan Carlin’s podcast, Hardcore History. He did an awesome series on WWI called Blueprint for Armageddon. If nothing else, he always has great citations for the references he uses and suggestions for further reading. It’s always great.

    • Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark was a great book that examined the historical events leading up to the conflict and how the conditions were primed for war. Recommended!


    • A little old, but still a good summary from an American perspective

    • You do not have “Goodbye to All That” by Robert Graves on your list!
      You do not have any of the war poets on your list.
      The books you have are all very fine, and they will teach you about WW1, but only Testament of Youth is a contemporary document.
      Plus, I would read All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms, even though they are fiction. And I would read the poetry written in the trenches, beginning with Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sassoon.
      Finally, if you want to see the connection between WW1 and our world, read Keynes, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace.”
      So, really a different reading list, Sorry I missed the first go-around.

      • Thanks for adding this – its the one I would recommend. Also, consider reading some of the literature of the WWI era, e.g. “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Mrs. Dalloway”.

    • The Guns of August is terrific narrative, but Sleepwalkers is brilliantly conceived and written diplomatic history. I would read Tuchman first, for the verve, flavor, and conventional wisdom, and then Clark, for a look at the real forces in play. (Sleepwalkers is really a misnomer; mediocrities in powerful ministries all across Europe actively sought war.) I would put the pair at the top of your list. Keegan is also very good; he conveys the sense of military decision making on the ground very well.

    • This list is heavily weighted toward histories, and toward the western front.

      I’d suggest adding:
      Something by T.E. Lawrence: Revolt in the Desert is probably a good balance between length and depth. (If it’s still too much, the Britannica article on Guerrilla Warfare he wrote is well worth reading.)

      Something about the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Leftism: from de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse discusses it extensively, but is not focused on the topic.

    • What a coincidence–this is the third mention of The Guns of August that I have seen since Sunday! And all in different contexts, too. I have a copy of it on my bookshelf, alongside the John Keegan book, and they are both well worth reading. I have also heard many references and quotes from Testament of Youth, but I haven’t read it myself.

      (If you have the time, there is an excellent ten-part miniseries just titled The First World War that I’ve watched on YouTube and can highly recommend. It has episode titles such as To Arms, Under the Eagle, and Jihad. It does a good job of illustrating the “world” aspects of the war, going out to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, as well as Russia and Europe.)

    • Not sure if you’re open to non-book sources, but Dan Carlin’s (immense)) WWI Blueprint for Armageddon podcast series is my gold star source on WWI history.


    • I’d simply recommend that Thunder at Twilight make the list (I think I was one of the people who suggested it). It’s relatively short and packed with insights into how the war started. I’m not a Tuchman fan—good writer, sloppy historian. Nothing by Margaret MacMillan, noted WWI historian and great-granddaughter of PM David Lloyd George?

    • You could also just watch “The Great War” Youtube channel.

      It’s been going since 2014 and consists of a 100 years ago today week by week update. (As of August 2018, this means 230 videos). In addition, there are specials about specific countries, specific people, technologies, movements….

      It’s by far the best way.

      Also, watching the week by week updates gives a very good sense of what living the war was like. It gives the feeling of possible progress and disappointment.

    • Check out “Europe’s Last Summer” and “The Origins of World War II”

    • John Keegan is perhaps the greatest modern historian of the modern era. The First World War should be required reading for all. While this seems to be histories, everyone should also be required to read “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and “Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man.” Both are vital in understanding the battered pysches of the men who had to risk life and limb for such a purposeless encounter.

    • Yikes, no other comments yet? Well, I’d simply recommend that “Thunder at Twilight” make the list (I think I was one of the people who suggested it). It’s relatively short and packed with insights into how the war started. It went out of print briefly but was brought back, so it seems a fair number of people value it.

      I’d put Margaret MacMillan, noted WWI historian and great-granddaughter of PM David Lloyd George, over Tuchman. That’s as good as I can do. Looking forward to your report!

    • So happy you are reading Testament of Youth to balance history with memoir. I think you should include some fiction or poetry about the war. How can you really understand a historic event without absorbing the artistic responses to it? Great article on poetry. https://www.iwm.org.uk/learning/resources/british-art-of-the-first-world-war

      Also an overview of visual art, from the British POV, is here.

    • Guns of August; The Sleepwalkers; First World War are good choices

      Other good choices — A World Undone by G.J. Meyer;
      July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin (he also wrote “The Russian Origins of the First World War”)

      *if nterested in Middle East — Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East by Roger Ford

    • I would very much recommend “The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War” by Peter Englund. It’s history from below at its best, following twenty unknown people through the war years, giving plenty of room to their journals. It could potentially be read first since it provides enough context to understand what happens to the protagonists, but its focus is very much on the individual.

    • The recently published Pandora’s Box has a lot of good insight, especially on the origins of the war, although I’m finding it a bit of a slog.

      Alistair Horne’s The Price of Glory on Verdun is one of the best military history books I have read, not just one of the best on WWI. His views of the upper echelons of military leadership are a bit dated by today’s standards, but I still think it’s a brilliant book.

      I must be one of the few to find both Fussell and and Graves overrated.

      I’m sure this will be too far afield, but perhaps the most important sequelae of the war is brilliantly covered in Fige’s A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution.