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A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918

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The First World War is one of history's greatest tragedies. In this remarkable and intimate account, author G. J. Meyer draws on exhaustive research to bring to life the story of how the Great War reduced Europe’s mightiest empires to rubble, killed twenty million people, and cracked the foundations of the world we live in today.


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The First World War is one of history's greatest tragedies. In this remarkable and intimate account, author G. J. Meyer draws on exhaustive research to bring to life the story of how the Great War reduced Europe’s mightiest empires to rubble, killed twenty million people, and cracked the foundations of the world we live in today.

30 review for A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    My wife and I are expecting a baby any day now. Any moment, really. And I thought about that as I finished this book: how it might be the last book I ever read. Ever. At least the last book that doesn’t involve talking bears or talking cows or talking bean-pods or whatever talking creature populates the books that babies read these days. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with World War I. A few weeks ago, while at Barnes & Noble, I was looking for a good book on World War I, fully acknowledging that Wo My wife and I are expecting a baby any day now. Any moment, really. And I thought about that as I finished this book: how it might be the last book I ever read. Ever. At least the last book that doesn’t involve talking bears or talking cows or talking bean-pods or whatever talking creature populates the books that babies read these days. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with World War I. A few weeks ago, while at Barnes & Noble, I was looking for a good book on World War I, fully acknowledging that World War I might be the last frivolous historical obsession I ever have. Ever. Other than an obsession with the last years of my carefree youth. So there I was, in the book aisle, facing my reality, pondering my last historical obsession, and the last book with which to indulge it. I chose G.J. Meyer’s A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918. At first glance, it doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. For one, I’d never heard of it before, in any mention of single-volume histories of the war (well-known entries include books by John Keegan, SLA Marshall, and Martin Gilbert). The author, too, was mysterious to me, an enigma veiled by initials. Furthermore, one of the cover blurbs proudly states that this book is a top-choice of the “resident historian” of the History Channel. I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean. What exactly does the resident historian do? Does he find the ice roads for each season of Ice Road Truckers? The last time I tried to watch the History Channel, they served up an all-day marathon of Pawn Stars, which not only has nothing to do with history, but actually works against it (pawn shops are to history what Wal-Mart developments are to Civil War Battlefields). In short, I was about to put the book down and go about my merry way. But then, obviously, I bought it instead. The story behind that isn’t important (in short: it involves me talking my wife out of a B&N gift card in exchange for cleaning the bathtub). It was a fortunate choice. I do not want this to be the last book I read on World War I. I do not want this to be the last book I read on any subject. However, it is a great first book to read on World War I. I should know, since this is my second one-volume history of WWI in a row, and it is far more enjoyable than the first. (No offense, John Keegan). Being on Goodreads, I’ve gotten some really good recommendations on WWI books. Books that cover everything from battlefields to economics to cultural repercussions. Many of them, though, seem really intimidating. And the thing about the Great War is that it’s already an intimidating subject. It’s easy to get turned off before you get started, and move on to the relatively simpler milieu of World War II: Germans = bad; Americans = good; and Russians = shrug. A World Undone is a book for the masses. It is expansive, yet accessible; detailed, but clear; and entertaining as hell. It doesn’t come with Keegan’s pedigree. It does not bog down in detailed analyses. If you already know a lot about the subject, you probably don’t need to read this book; it does not require heavy mental lifting. It is, first and foremost, a narrative rooted in humanity. A major appeal to this book is its structure. Any one-volume history of World War I must deal with a crucial calculation: scope verses space. A great many things happened during the war, to a great many people, in places all over the globe and under the sea. Moreover, many of these things were happening simultaneously. An author facing such a calculation usually chooses between two options: maintaining a chronological narrative; or compartmentalizing the narrative (e.g., a chapter on the Western Front, a chapter on naval battles, etc.). Meyer utilizes a hybrid approach. For the most part, he tells the story of World War I, from Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s murder to the Armistice of November, 11, 1918, in chronological fashion. While this could potentially be confusing, he pays incredibly close attention to shifting smoothly from theater to theater. By doing this, he is able to draw important connections between the Western Front and Eastern Front, and how the distribution of manpower and materiel dictated strategy. The war formed a huge web, and pulling on one strand inevitably caused all other strands to tremble. (It also helps that Meyer mostly ignores lesser theaters, such as the battles in Africa. The areas of concentration are the Western and Eastern Fronts, and the Dardanelles, which is how it should be in a book for the vox populi). After each narrative chapter, Meyer inserts a Background chapter, complete with its own font (sans-serif). These sections cover topics that can’t easily be inserted into the main narrative, or that add depth and dimension to the overall story. There are Background sections on the Serbs, the Junkers, the Ottoman Empire, war poetry, airplanes and tanks, Lawrence of Arabia, and the Armenian Genocide. These short chapters tended to be among the most fascinating and lively in the book. For instance, in writing about the Ottoman Turks, Meyer relates how Prince Mustafa, son of Suleiman the Magnificent, was executed by five assassins “whose tongues had been slit and eardrums broken so that they would hear no secrets and could never speak of what they saw.” (Though one wonders how they were given their commands to kill). Meyer did not set out to break new ground. He does not attempt to reinterpret World War I. He has no particular axe to grind. He is not like John Mosier, arguing that the Americans won the war, or like Niall Ferguson, arguing that the British started it. To the contrary, he stays on the beaten path. Further, this is not a scholarly work. If you look in the notes, you will see a heavy reliance on secondary sources. This is not a criticism. In his introduction, Meyer’s stated intent to is write a user-friendly history of the war. He accomplishes this. His writing style is not elegant, yet it is admirably clean and readable, especially after all the trouble I had with Keegan’s clause-ridden, stuttering sentences. He does a good job segueing between the god’s-eye-view and the recollections of the common soldiers (though I wish he’d used block-quotes when excerpting long passages; I’ve always been a believer that three or more excerpted sentences deserve a block-quote). In describing battles, Meyer avoids getting drowned in the Roman numeral soup of Armies and Corps and Divisions. For the most part, with some important exceptions, he doesn’t try to detail the individual movements of particular armed bodies of troops. Instead, he takes a macro approach, describing the cumulative effect of a particular offensive, rather than attempting to parse its component parts. When reading Keegan, I decried the lack of maps. Here, there are even less maps, and they are only nominally more helpful. But since Meyer doesn’t base his narrative on exhaustive recitations of the order of battle, more and better maps aren’t really required. In a book like this, for example, a competent presentation of the purpose of the Somme offensive (its strategic value; its tactical value; its psychological value) is far more important than a meticulous recounting of which regiment attacked across which farmer’s field. I’m wary of overselling this book, simply because it came to me out of the blue, and since it enters a literary field studded with famous titles. On the other hand, I don’t want to undersell it either. A World Undone isn’t exactly Trench Warfare for Dummies. And even though I admittedly don’t know a whole lot about World War I, I do read a whole lot of history. This is a great primer on the subject. Most people can get through life without reading any books on the First World War. But if you want to read just one, and you want that experience to be painless, nay, to be enjoyable, I present to you this book, which comes with the completely worthless imprimatur of me, and the more worthless imprimatur of the History Channel. Further, if you are one of those people who have had an awakening – if you have, like me, woken up and said to yourself, I must know everything about World War I – then this is a wonderful place to start, a book to help you get your footing. Having read this, and yes, John Keegan’s book as well, I feel like I have the roadmap to journey deeper into the cataclysm of the Great War. That is, if I ever have the time, which I probably won’t. The only journey I’ll be taking will be into the cataclysm of diapers and not sleeping, but that is beside the point, and in no way is meant to compare babies to world wars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    I keep reading WWI books, not necessarily to learn anything new but to get the perspective of the authors....and of course because I love them. This book jumps to the top of my list as a direct, unbiased look at the war and all that made it so horrific. And the author uses a device which I found quite novel. At the beginning of each chapter he places a "background" of two or three pages to discuss issues that would not usually get much attention in an overall history of the Great War. They range I keep reading WWI books, not necessarily to learn anything new but to get the perspective of the authors....and of course because I love them. This book jumps to the top of my list as a direct, unbiased look at the war and all that made it so horrific. And the author uses a device which I found quite novel. At the beginning of each chapter he places a "background" of two or three pages to discuss issues that would not usually get much attention in an overall history of the Great War. They range from the Serbs to the development of artillery to the Junkers to War and Poetry. All these things apply to the war but are somewhat sidelights to the bigger picture. He takes us from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to the Versailles fiasco and although he covers the major battles, he keeps the narrative moving without intricate plans of how each battle was fought. He is not shy about pointing fingers at the huge errors made by the military leadership on both sides but also praises those who needed praise. I felt that he was fair in his assessments; some extremely obvious (utilizing mounted cavalry against machine guns) and some are more subtle (the initial refusal to make modifications to the Schlieffen Plan). This is a well researched book which will hold your attention throughout. Very highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    The one hundred year anniversary of the end of World War I recently occurred, and I decided if I didn’t tackle this book at this time I never would. I’ve had my eyes on it for some time while dreading the investment of time required to get through it. It’s worth the time and is well written with a narrative that provides an easily understood description of a complicated series of events. Chapters dedicated to background information are interspersed throughout the book which provide frequent reli The one hundred year anniversary of the end of World War I recently occurred, and I decided if I didn’t tackle this book at this time I never would. I’ve had my eyes on it for some time while dreading the investment of time required to get through it. It’s worth the time and is well written with a narrative that provides an easily understood description of a complicated series of events. Chapters dedicated to background information are interspersed throughout the book which provide frequent relief from the other chapters filled with accounts of unbelievable suffering and death. I also found these “background” chapters to be the most interesting parts of the book. Most of the excerpts included at the end of this review are taken from these chapters. The irony of WWI is that it was unnecessary but yet inevitable. It was made inevitable by a combination of personalities of those in power, an arms race utilizing new technology, dissatisfaction with recent negotiated settlements, multinational mutual defense treaties, and complicated mobilization plans. The traditional initiating cause of the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The real cause (IMHO) was the ultimatum issued by the Austro-Hungarian government to Serbia in response to the assassination. The impossible nature of the ultimatum was prompted by their fear of losing parts of their empire in the Balkans. The failure of Germany to restrain the Austro-Hungarian government at that point can be traced to Kaiser Wilhelm’s immature bluster. Then the tangled combination of mutual defense treaties converted the local Balkan conflict into a world war. Many other factors made the magnitude of death and destruction worse than anyone anticipated. The first three military mobilizations were by Austro-Hungary, Russia, and Germany. It interesting to note that in all three instances the possibility of a limited mobilization was explored, but in all three cases the military officials insisted that narrowing the focus of military action was impossible. In Austro-Hungary the possibility of advancing to Belgrade and no further was explored. The Russian Czar wanted to mobilize for war against Austro-Hungary but not Germany. And the German Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to mobilize against Russia but not France. Military officers in all three cases and in three different nations said that it could not be done. The Chief of the German General Staff said, “If his majesty insisted on leading the army eastwards, he would have a confused mass of disorderly armed men.” The Schlieffen Plan called for mobilization against both Russia and France—there was no alternative. It is hard to understand how some generals maintained their optimistic belief that their next offensive would achieve a "break through" even after trying the same tactics over and over and failing to achieve meaningful results. One could make the case that some evil spirit must have caused various people to make stupid blunders and mistakes such that it was impossible for either side to achieve victory for four years assuring that maximum slaughter would occur. And then when the war did end, conditions were such that WWII happened twenty years later. The following are some excerpts from the book that I found interesting. Before each excerpt I've included my introductory comments: The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is famous in history as being the cause of WWI. This book provides a personal story about Franz which carries with it a bit romance. Franz had married for love, against the preference of his uncle the Emperor, and consequently his wife had to live in humiliating disregard from others in the royal court. But the couple were looking forward to their trip to Bosnia because they were free of the royal court and could be seen in public together:"[Franz Ferdinand] was also the eldest nephew of the Hapsburg emperor Franz Joseph and therefore—the emperor's only son having committed suicide—heir to the imperial crown. He had come to Bosnia in his capacity as inspector general of the Austro-Hungarian armies, to observe the summer military exercises, and he had brought his wife, Sophie, with him. The two would be observing their fourteenth wedding anniversary later in the week, and Franz Ferdinand was using this visit to put Sophie at the center of things, to give her a little of the recognition she was usually denied. "Back in the Hapsburg capital of Vienna, Sophie was, for the wife of a prospective emperor, improbably close to being a non-person. At the turn of the century the emperor had forbidden Franz Ferdinand to marry her. She was not of royal lineage, was in fact a mere countess, the daughter of a noble but impoverished Czech family. As a young woman, she had been reduced by financial need to accepting employment as lady-in-waiting to an Austrian archduchess who entertained hopes of marrying her own daughter to Franz Ferdinand. All these things made Sophie, according to the rigid protocols of the Hapsburg court, unworthy to be an emperor's consort or a progenitor of future rulers. "The accidental discovery that she and Franz Ferdinand were conducting a secret if chaste romance—that he had been regularly visiting the archduchess's palace not to court her daughter but to see a lowly and thirtyish member of the household staff—sparked outrage, and Sophie had to leave her post. But Franz Ferdinand continued to pursue her. In his youth he had had a long struggle with tuberculosis, and perhaps his survival had left him determined to live his private on his own terms. Uninterested in any of the young women who possessed the credentials to become his bride, he had remained single into his late thirties. The last two years of his bachelorhood turned into a battle of wills with his uncle the emperor over the subject of Sophie Chotek. "Franz Joseph finally tired of the deadlock and gave his consent. What he consented to, however, was a morganatic marriage, one that would exclude Sophie's descendants from the succession. And so on June 28, 1900, fourteen years to the day before his visit to Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand appeared as ordered in the Hapsburg monarchy's Secret Council Chamber. In the presence of the emperor, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, the Primate of Hungary, all the government's principal ministers, and all the other Hapsburg archdukes, he solemnly renounced the Austro-Hungarian throne on behalf of any children that he and Sophie might have and any descendants of those children. (Sophie was thirty-two, which in those days made her an all but hopeless spinster.) "When the wedding took place three days later, only Franz Ferdinand's mother and sister, out of the whole huge Hapsburg family, attended. Even Franz Ferdinand's brothers, the eldest of whom was a notorious libertine, self-righteously stayed away. The marriage turned out to be a happy one all the same, in short order producing a daughter and two sons whom the usually stiff Franz Ferdinand loved so unreservedly that he would play with them on the floor in the presence of astonished visitors. But at court Sophie was relentlessly snubbed. She was not permitted to ride with her husband in royal processions or to sit near him at state dinners. She could not even join him in his box at the opera. When he, as heir, led the procession at court balls, she was kept far back, behind the lowest ranking of the truly royal ladies. "But here in Bosnia, a turbulent border province, the rules of Vienna could be set aside. Here in Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie could appear together in public as royal husband and wife." (pg 3-5)The size of the mobilization for war exceeded anything that had happened before in history:"Russia's general mobilization ... called up the Russian reserves — a staggering total of four million men, enough to frighten any nation on earth. ... (pg 74) "This was war on a truly new scale; the army with which Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo had totaled sixty thousand men. ... (pg 77)The guns were also bigger than anything the world had previously seen:"The Germans ... hauled into Belgium ... two new kinds of monster artillery: 305 Skoda siege mortars ... plus an almost unimaginably huge 420 howitzer ... produced by Germany's Krupp steelworks, [that] weighed seventy-five tons and had to be transported by rail in five sections and set in concrete before going into action. (pg 127)Early in the war many were enthusiastic. The young Winston Churchill is a prime example."Among the holders of high office, one man at least did not share the sense of glum foreboding: the ebullient ... young Winston Churchill ... he wrote to Prime Minister Asquith's wife ... 'I love this war. I know it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment, and yet — I can't help it — I enjoy every second of it.' " (pg 133) War may be hell, but trench warfare surely must be hell on steroids. The conventional image that comes to mind about WWI is one of machine guns cutting down waves of charging soldiers. But in terms of numbers killed, the machine gun was NOT the most devastating weapon used in WWI.But in fact it was artillery that dominated the battlefields. World War I was the first major war, and it would also be the last, in which more men were killed by artillery than by small arms or aerial bombardment or any other method of destruction. Until late in the war artillery was the only weapon that, when used to maximum advantage, could neutralize the machine gun. It was the one weapon without which infantry, both when attacking and when defending, had almost no chance. (pg 273)The stress of anticipation of incoming artillery while hunkered down in the trenches probably caused the prevalence of a condition given the name of “shell shock.” Now we call it PTSD. It was a condition that apparently hadn’t been observed in previous wars. "By 1916, the armies of Britain, France, and Germany were being diminished not just by the numbers of men killed and wounded but by something so new to human experience that the English had to coin a name for it: shell shock. By the thousands and then the tens of thousands, soldiers on the Western Front were being turned into zombies and freaks without suffering physical injuries of any kind. "The phenomenon appeared in 1914, and at first no one knew what to make of it. The medical services on both sides found themselves confronted with bizarre symptoms: men in a trancelike state, men shaking uncontrollably, men frozen in weird postures, or partly paralyzed, or (though unwounded) unable to see or hear or speak. By December British doctors were reporting that between three and four percent of the British Expeditionary Force's enlisted men and up to ten percent of its officers were displaying symptoms of this kind. Their German counterparts would record almost twelve thousand such cases in the first year of the war. "The victims got little sympathy. Career officers were accustomed to separating soldiers into four groups: the healthy, the sick, the wounded, and the cowards. They were predisposed to put men with nervous and mental disorders into the last category, to order them back to duty and to mete out harsh punishment to any who failed to obey. But the number of men who failed to obey became too big to be ignored or to be put in front of firing squads; it has been estimated that twenty four thousand had been sent home to Britain by 1916. "... Gradually, it became clear that ... the troops were cracking because they could not absorb what was happening to them, because they knew themselves to be utterly powerless (bravery had little survival value when one was on the receiving end of a bombardment), and because they had no confidence that the generals who had put them in danger knew what they were doing. Men whose courage was beyond challenge could and did break down if subjected to enough strain of this kind." (pg 339-342) On the subject of despair induced by war, it's interesting to note times when a leader begins to crack under its pressure. During the final years of World War I, Erich Ludendorff, a protege of Otto von Bismarck himself, was the commanding general of all German armies. He had presided over ten million casualties, and in 1918 his forces had begun to rapidly disintegrate. His staff begin to notice unusual behavior on his part:"Things had never gone so badly for Eric Ludendorff, or gone badly in so many ways over such a long period, as they did in 1918. As his problems mounted, he grew visibly fragile. "All his life he had displayed an insatiable appetite for work, but now his staff noticed him slipping away from headquarters without explanation. A member of the medical staff, writing of Ludendorff, would recall that at this juncture 'there were reports of occasional crying episodes.' "Everyone was on pins and needles the day Hocheimer arrived, wondering how he was going to approach Ludendorff and how the general was going to react. Ludendorff was a stiff, distant man with no visible sense of humor and firm control over all emotion except the rage that could break out in moments of intense stress. An ugly explosion was by no means out of the question. What happened was more unexpected than that. It revealed the depth of Ludendorff's neediness. "He was predictably impatient at being interrupted but consented to see the doctor. 'I talked earnestly, urgently and warmly, and said that I had noticed with great sadness that for years he had given no consideration to one matter — his own spirit,' Hocheimer recalled afterward. 'Always only work, worry, straining his body and mind. No recreation, no joy, rushing his food, not breathing, not laughing, not seeing anything of nature and art, not hearing the rustle of the forest nor the splashing of the brook.' "Ludendorff sat for a long time without answering. 'You're right in everything,' he said at last. 'I've felt it for a long time. But what shall I do?' "Hocheimer urged a move from Ludendorff's cramped quarters at Avesnes back to the more pleasant accommodations at Spa in Belgium. He recommended walks, breathing exercises, and a change in routine calculated to induce relaxation and the ability to sleep. Ludendorff followed these instructions conscientiously, even eagerly. As long as he continued to do so, his torments eased. He and Hocheimer continued to confer. The doctor's ultimate diagnosis: 'The man is utterly lonely.' ... "Ludendorff was especially close to the youngest of his stepsons, who happened to share his first name. In March 1918 he received word that young Erich, still a teenager, had been shot down behind British lines, his fate uncertain. Not long afterward, with German troops advancing across France in the Michael offensive, Ludendorff was told of the discovery of a fresh grave. Its marker said, in English, 'Here rest two German pilots.' He went to the grave and had the bodies dug up. One was Erich's. It was temporarily reburied at Avesnes while arrangements were made for its transfer to Berlin. "That was where Ludendorff was going when he began to disappear from headquarters: to brood at Erich's grave. That was when an army doctor heard 'reports of occasional crying.' Nothing could ever be the same. [His wife] Margarethe was broken, permanently in the grip of depression, grief, and fear. Ludendorff, in his own words, felt that the war had taken everything." (pg 644-648) The following is a link to some more quotations from this book: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    G. J. Meyer set out to write this book to fill a gap in the available literature on the First World War: a popular, holistic account that covered every phase and every front, without presupposing much knowledge from the reader. In this, he was undeniably successful. A World Undone begins at the beginning, with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, and ends at the end, with the Treaty of Versailles—signed five years to the day of the assassination of the infamous archduke. Meyer’s scheme is simp G. J. Meyer set out to write this book to fill a gap in the available literature on the First World War: a popular, holistic account that covered every phase and every front, without presupposing much knowledge from the reader. In this, he was undeniably successful. A World Undone begins at the beginning, with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, and ends at the end, with the Treaty of Versailles—signed five years to the day of the assassination of the infamous archduke. Meyer’s scheme is simple but effective: interspersing “background” chapters between his main, military account of the war. These background chapters were inevitably more interesting for me, and provided much-needed relief from the seemingly endless string of battles, divisions, battalions, generals, troop movements, and so on that composed the military history. In these auxiliary sections, Meyer introduces us to war literature, major personalities, political traditions, economic crises, military technology, shell shock, and much else. The wealth of both historical backdrop and military history makes this book an ideal, if somewhat long, introduction to the “Great War.” Meyer himself is an able and diligent writer, who steers a middle course between rhetorical excess and crass simplicity, keeping his prose lean and tasteful. He has the quintessential skills of the popularizer: the ability to compress information into a tight space, and to explain complex phenomenon without overwhelming the reader. He also wisely avoids speculation himself, leaving the analysis to the reader or the historian, keeping his eye focused on the surface-level events—which is desirable in an introductory text, I believe. Even with a guide as competent as Meyer, however, the Great War is depressing and deadening. Meyer’s account, perhaps unintentionally, confirmed many stereotypes I had previously imbibed. In his telling, the beginning of the war was due to a combination of poor planning and reckless and incompetent advisors. That Germany could not mobilize its forces without invading Belgium, for example, or that Russia could not choose to mobilize only half of its troops, thus unintentionally threatening Germany—consequences of carefully-drawn plans, an arrangement that virtually guaranteed war—is difficult to believe or forgive. As for the fighting, the impression one is left with is of remarkably courageous troops heedlessly wasted by monomaniacal generals. Offensive after ineffective offensive, with general after general trying the same tactics and achieving the same failures—leading to endless butchery. One quickly draws the conclusion that the leaders of Europe in this epoch were dim and shortsighted men. It is this dreary and dreadful aspect that partially accounts for the First World War being overshadowed by its younger brother. The conflict was strikingly non-ideological. There are no Nazis, no Communists, no Fascists, no racial purges (except in Armenia), no freedom fighters, no Resistance—only obsolete Empires fighting for spheres of influence. The fighting, too, has none of the cinematic drama of the Second World War: only interminable shelling campaigns, repeated advances and retreats through no-man’s land, stagnant stalemates and antiquated tactics—there is nothing even vaguely romantic about the bloodshed, despite what Ernst Jünger may have thought. But even if it is less compelling to learn about than the Second World War, the First World War arguably has even more valuable lessons to teach us. The logic of naked power confrontation is, after all, more historically common than ideological conflict. The comparatively colorless, and often incompetent, quality of the war’s leadership invites us to see the conflict in all its bare, barbaric brutality, without the distorting effects of charismatic chiefs. The manufactured hatred of whole populaces for one another—engineered through strict censorship, outright lies, and strident propaganda—is a case-study in how patriotism can be exploited for deeply cynical ends. And most important, unlike the Second World War—a sad story that at least ends with the defeat of a genocidal maniac—the First World War has no silver lining, no comforting achievement to offset the millions of lives lost. As the vindictiveness of the victors proved, the winning side wasn’t on a clearly higher moral level than the losers; and in any case, the war didn’t even achieve a resolution to the conflicts brewing within Europe, only a partial deferment. In sum, the First World War is worth learning about because it was a calamitous, unnecessary tragedy that stubbornly resists romanticization or justification—and that is war.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    The passage of time has, for most of us, petrified our knowledge of World War I into an amalgam of abstractions. First there are the memorial markers standing as solemn tributes, the centerpiece, perhaps, of annual ceremonies commemorating this or that horrific battle. The result is at best a kind of static communion between observer and marker. It is impossible to process the multiple perspectives and emotional tenor that fueled the dynamic of World War I. Even the questions which seek to affix The passage of time has, for most of us, petrified our knowledge of World War I into an amalgam of abstractions. First there are the memorial markers standing as solemn tributes, the centerpiece, perhaps, of annual ceremonies commemorating this or that horrific battle. The result is at best a kind of static communion between observer and marker. It is impossible to process the multiple perspectives and emotional tenor that fueled the dynamic of World War I. Even the questions which seek to affix blame for the start of the war, the catastrophic losses, the missed opportunities to halt the war, and the strategic blunders have a disconnected feel from the actual events. Meyer avoids the over-simplifications that are often proposed to address these questions. He fills in a historical context that includes Bismark's balancing act, both domestically and abroad, and the gradual dissolution of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires which precipitated a succession of geopolitical crises. Meyer sustains his narrative of connectedness in his account of the battles and troop movements that occurred on several fronts. His writing invokes the insecurities, paranoia, greed, jealousy, resentment and fear that predisposed the decisions of political and military leaders of the time. Meyer brings many of the key figures to life. Of Count Leopold von Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian Empire's foreign minister he says, “He had become, in short, dangerous: a weak man determined to appear strong.” (p.17) Of Maurice Paléologue, France's ambassador to Russia, he states: “Thanks to the scheming of Ambassador Paléologue, Paris had only limited knowledge of what was happeining in St. Petersburg, and the Russians had no reason to think that the French government was not enthusiastic about their mobilization.” (p.104) Russia and Germany were nominally ruled by autocrats. It was therefore shocking for me to learn how little both the Tsar and the Kaiser knew about their own military plans. Meyer describes Kaiser Wilhelm II: “Not surprisingly, many of the men who were sworn to serve him regarded him not just as immature but as mentally unstable.” (p.39) Of Tsar Nicholas II, he writes: “What neither Sazonov [Russia's foreign minister] nor Nicholas understood was that Russia's mobilization would arouse in Germany's generals a panic indistinguishable from the fears driving the Russians.” (p.65) Against a background of frantic but futile “Nicky/Willie” correspondence, the generals were taking over. Meyer emphacizes the logistic burden that dogged all troop movements in this war. “A mass of infantry on the move is like nothing else in the world, but it may usefully be thought of as an immensely long and cumbersome caterpillar with the head of a near-sighted tiger....An advancing army's worst vulnerability lies in the long caterpillar body behind the head.” (p.115) The bulk of Meyer's book is concerned with the many catastrophic battles that occurred between 1914 and 1917. It is impossible to process the statistics Meyer includes. The carnage was appalling. By the end of the 1914 section, it was difficult for me to read this book except in small sections. By the Battle of the Somme I had become numb to the mounting casualty figures. By the end of the war, civilian deaths from starvation and disease and infant mortality figures further assault the mind. However, Meyer intersperses fascinating sketches as background and these interludes are the real strength of the book. Geopolitical calculations determined Turkey and Italy's involvement in the war as well as their alliances. America had a significant economic stake in the fortunes of the Entente. Anti-Semitism was pervasive throughout Europe, despite the significant number of Jews inducted into all of the armies. The rush to meet munitions quotas caused significant quality control problems in British factories. These digressions illuminate the profound dysfunction that both prolonged the war and structured an aftermath that continues to haunt us. This was a thought-provoking book based on a convincing quantity of scholarship. I recommend it to everyone. It is an antidote to any complacency about the so-called lessons we have learned from World War I, particularly as commemorative events marking the war's centennial are staged. NOTES: Photographs of many of the commemorative monuments to World War I: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sweetwilliam

    I typically prefer books that are written about a single battle or campaign and I tend to gravitate towards the ones written from the soldier’s point of view. For a World Undone, I’ll make an exception. This is probably the finest comprehensive book that I have ever read about any war. Maybe it was the perfect book for my level of understanding and I am sure the timing was ripe. You see, I was inspired by a recent visit to Ypres where I witnessed the playing of the Last Post at the Menin Gate. I I typically prefer books that are written about a single battle or campaign and I tend to gravitate towards the ones written from the soldier’s point of view. For a World Undone, I’ll make an exception. This is probably the finest comprehensive book that I have ever read about any war. Maybe it was the perfect book for my level of understanding and I am sure the timing was ripe. You see, I was inspired by a recent visit to Ypres where I witnessed the playing of the Last Post at the Menin Gate. I futilely tried to read all the names of the missing inscribed on that gate which of course was impossible. I was moved by the personal story of Pte. George W. Short who died there at age 18 and 2 months. I was moved and at the same time enthralled and I threw myself into learning about The Great War during the year of the 100th anniversary of the armistice. This was the perfect book for me to tie everything together and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Shelby Foote’s masterpiece, The Civil War; McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, Samuel Eliot Morison’s Two Ocean War, and the first two books of Ian Toll’s Trilogy of the Pacific War. I found it far more entertaining and insightful than John Keegan’s The First World War and the preamble of a World Undone was far more effective and less drawn out than The War that Ended Peace. This book is different. Meyers is able to effectively blend the lead up to war, the strategy, the battles, issues on the home front while leaving plenty of room for enough of the gory details that give the reader the flavor of trench warfare. Meyer likens trench warfare to a great siege extending across Western Europe. Throughout the book Meyer strategically scatters small chapters he calls background chapters. These short chapters are fascinating and usually tie into the subsequent chapter. I found this formula unique and very entertaining. There are short background chapters on the Hohenzollerns, the Habsburgs, the Romanovs, and WWI weaponry,etc. For example, I especially liked the background chapter about the Ottoman Empire. I had no idea that the Sultan would sit on a wall with a rifle and indiscriminately shoot passers-by just because he could. Meyer claims that the roots of the downfall of the great Ottoman Empire can be traced back to a red-headed harem girl of Polish origin who was able to manipulate the Sultan to murder his own son and rightful heir so that their drunken slovenly son could become the new heir which would lead to the slow implosion of the empire. Meyer's argues that the whole-scale slaughter could have been stopped at several times throughout the war. Oh, how the world could have could have used a man like Otto Von Bismarck. This kind of man didn’t exist in Germany. As in the war that followed, Germany would produce one dimensional leaders like Ludendorff: Masterful tacticians that really didn’t understand grand strategy. Meyer argues that the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was punitive and required the Germans to occupy and garrison territory. This robbed the Western Front of 1.5 MM German soldiers. I also was able to admire some of the capable commanders such as France’s Petain, Australia’s Monash and Russia’s Alexi Brusilov. These were men that understood the necessity to change tactics and employ more appropriate strategies that were a much better match for the deadly weaponry of the 20th century. Men like Ludendorff were early adopters and understood that tactics and strategies needed to be modified. In contrast, there were men like Foch, Haig and Joffre that did not completely grasp the killing power of the contemporary technologies fast enough. At first, too many French officers clung to the cult of the offensive. French infantry couldn’t crawl on the ground like worms. This is one of the reasons that France suffered so much during the war. Haig dreamed of a breakthrough that would make possible a dashing cavalry charge that would finally break the siege. Men like Foch continued to cram front line trenches with infantry and would have secondary line to close to the front line and in reach of the enemies guns. This would cause too much wastage due to the pummeling of artillery which was responsible for upwards of 70% of all WWI fatalities. There is all kinds of interesting and useful information included in the audio book. For example, anti-semitism was prevalent throughout Europe and nowhere were the Jews as persecuted as they were in Russia. Also, the author presents some of the events that would later be used to rationalize for the victimization of the Jews during WW2. I was also stunned by how many parallels that could be drawn between WWI and WWII. The Michael offensive on the Western front created a huge Salient that would be cut off and encircled reminded me of the Battle of the Bulge. Czarist Russia issued an order very similar to Stalin's order 270. The Poles and the Jews of suffered nearly as bad as they did in WWII. Yes, history repeats itself. I think that you need to read one book to tie everything together. For WWI, this is the book. In the final month of the 100th anniversary of the first war to end all wars, make this your last read for 2018. Pay homage to the men in the trenches that suffered so much in what the author describes as siege warfare on a grand scale.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    I admittedly read very little non-fiction, I unfortunately get bogged down in the detail and lack of story and thus restrict myself to specific subjects that I find fascinating. WWI is one of those. I didn't realize that I knew so little about WWI until I read this book. It seems impossible to understand WWII without knowing this war and the politics that started and ended it. For a war that had and has so many repercussions for Europe, it amazes me that I didn't know more. The author did a fantas I admittedly read very little non-fiction, I unfortunately get bogged down in the detail and lack of story and thus restrict myself to specific subjects that I find fascinating. WWI is one of those. I didn't realize that I knew so little about WWI until I read this book. It seems impossible to understand WWII without knowing this war and the politics that started and ended it. For a war that had and has so many repercussions for Europe, it amazes me that I didn't know more. The author did a fantastic job of creating an overall history of WWI. While I'm sure the history of this war could only be fully and comprehensively told in a minimum 6 volume set of 800 page books, this one is a very good option for a shorter version.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nadia

    "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." - sir Edward Grey. No matter how many books you read about the Great War, it will always perplexe you with its utter and sheer monstrosity. In addition to this, you also become aware of how vital the four years it lasted were to shaping the course of modern history. That is part of what makes it so fascinating. Even today, more than a hundred years later, historians are still discussing and analyzing its "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." - sir Edward Grey. No matter how many books you read about the Great War, it will always perplexe you with its utter and sheer monstrosity. In addition to this, you also become aware of how vital the four years it lasted were to shaping the course of modern history. That is part of what makes it so fascinating. Even today, more than a hundred years later, historians are still discussing and analyzing its causes and aftermath. How could a war that the Germans calculated would last no more than a few months go on for four whole years, each year dragging the world deeper into darkness? A World Undone is a straight-forward, detailed and very accessible one-volume history of the Great War. Structured quite uniquely, it covers all sides of this terrible war of attrition. Each chapter is preceded by a shorter 'background' chapter that provides further context on various interesting subjects that do not fit into the main narrative (this ranges from chapters on royal dynasties to war poetry to the political climate in major cities at the outbreak of the war). G.J Meyer balances battle, politics and personal experiences from the people involved and does this without any bias. All fronts and all major battles are covered and the overall narrative flows nicely and while being detailed, doesn't get dry or too heavy. A great book both for the beginner and the more seasoned history buff, it manages to illustrate the dreadful conditions not only of the soldiers but also society in general as these great nations pumped out every last penny into the war machine. Overall, I loved this book and thought it was a very compelling, well-written and well-structured overview of WWI and I very much enjoyed the discussions about the tactics of different generals (Haig who continuously insisted on using cavalry against heavy artillery, certain French generals' reluctance to abandon the offensive à l'outrance etc), the background chapters and the politics of war. G.J. Meyer makes it very clear that the Great War symbolized the fall of the Old World and the entry of the New. It was the war where the first tanks were introduced and these were four years that would forever change modern warfare, and the course of history.

  9. 4 out of 5

    The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)

    This is a great one volume history of The Great War. The author takes the time to fill in the background and uses quotes from soldiers on both sides that tell what life was really like in the trenches. If War is Hell, then this war, World War One, is the biggest hell of the mall. It started as a dysfunctional royal family feud and ended with millions dead. As I listened to the numbers on the butcher's bill I remembered Carl Sandburg's "The Grass." The Grass by Carl Sandburg "Pile the bodies high a This is a great one volume history of The Great War. The author takes the time to fill in the background and uses quotes from soldiers on both sides that tell what life was really like in the trenches. If War is Hell, then this war, World War One, is the biggest hell of the mall. It started as a dysfunctional royal family feud and ended with millions dead. As I listened to the numbers on the butcher's bill I remembered Carl Sandburg's "The Grass." The Grass by Carl Sandburg "Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work-- I am the grass; I cover all. And pile them high at Gettysburg And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work. Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor: What place is this? Where are we now? I am the grass. Let me work. I remember hearing this poem and reading it. I never understoos where all of these places were and wondered at the odd sounds of Ypres and Verdun. Now I know how horrible these battles were. Not battles that were over in a day, but battles that took weeks to end, with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands. I had never realized how savage no man's land was and the battlefield at Antwerp after the rains. There was a role for everyone in the war and Meyer tells everyones part. The deception behind the scenes, betrayal and murder that starts the war. Amazing stories of heroism both senseless in it's cost and miraculous in the results, and always a story of wasted blood and guts. Meyer paints the story in blood and numbers. Anyone who studies war, or writes about it, either in fiction or truth should read a book like this. Meyer tells the tragic tails on both sides, supported by actual excerpts from letters and diaries. He shares the people's stories, the politician's stories, the soldiers stories and the thousands of women who serve as nurses in field surgical units that rivaled the gates of hell in their decor of bones and severed limbs. We learn about the tens of thousands who suffered PTSD, called shell shocked who were simply allowed to return to combat with their unit or be called a deserter. One of the more touching stories, that adds to a tableau of madness is stories from the German side of the front where the German General turned dictator is heard crying in his tent by his officers in 1918. Later they learned that the tent had been built close to the grave of his youngest son, a flyer who was shot down and killed. It is likely that kingdom or country has ever seen the likes of death and destruction such as this, since the Roman 2nd Legions defeated Boudicca's army of 50,000 celts. Yet even those are small numbers in comparison. If you are going to write about war, or want a theme in your sci-fi-space-opera of technology outstretching our good sense to use it, this is a good book for you. Five Stars He may not tell every story, but he doesn't miss many, and for a one book volume of this era, this book is very good.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andy Gavin

    Doing research for the sequel to my novel I started reading a number of histories of World War I. This is simply put: an amazing single volume history of the war, its causes, and course of events (but not the post-treaty fallout). I've read hundreds (or more) of history books, and as single volume war histories go -- this is excellent. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the world we live in, because the modern political arena was forged in World War I (far more than WWII). The of Doing research for the sequel to my novel I started reading a number of histories of World War I. This is simply put: an amazing single volume history of the war, its causes, and course of events (but not the post-treaty fallout). I've read hundreds (or more) of history books, and as single volume war histories go -- this is excellent. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the world we live in, because the modern political arena was forged in World War I (far more than WWII). The often autocratic (or at least Imperialist) regiems of Europe were not prepared for what it really meant to bring the full might of post industrial powers into conflict. The last real shakeup of Europe had been a hundred years earlier with the Napoleonic wars, but the 19th century had remade the economies of the world. The clash, cataclysmic in terms of everything, ended the old world order. All of the big old autocratic states collapsed (Prussia, Russia, the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans) and even the winners were left unable to hold onto their empires. Meyer does a great job introducing the players gradually so as to not overburden the story of the war's origins with background. It reads like a taut horror novel -- and that's pretty much what it is.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Craig

    The best general one-volume history of WWI that I have read. It is more Euro-centric, but Meyer does delve into battle fronts in the Middle East and the east. I love his background segments at the end of each chapter that drills down on a particular topic. The book stays on strategy and when he gets into battles, it hits the right tone as Meyer doesn't get bogged down in long battle details. You really get a sense of the vast tragedy and waste this war placed on the earth. Highly recommend.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    If you're looking for an excellent history of The Great War or simply a great non-fiction book you've found it. In a nutshell what makes this book work is its balance, not necessarily in its handling of events and personalities - the author has no problem critiquing policies, people and decisions - but in the flow of the narrative. Meyer does an excellent job jockeying among the battlefields, world capitals, politicians, civilians, soldiers and generals, economies, technologies and much more wit If you're looking for an excellent history of The Great War or simply a great non-fiction book you've found it. In a nutshell what makes this book work is its balance, not necessarily in its handling of events and personalities - the author has no problem critiquing policies, people and decisions - but in the flow of the narrative. Meyer does an excellent job jockeying among the battlefields, world capitals, politicians, civilians, soldiers and generals, economies, technologies and much more with excellent writing, using long and short chapters, (the latter used almost as footnotes to elucidate a point), without becoming bogged down in details or losing track of the narrative. (Just trying to describe how well the author succeeds in doing this is proving difficult.) Without getting too carried away I found the writing and this book very Catton-esque. Highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    Straight forward, very readable summary of WW1, focusing on the big picture. The author handles it all well, seamlessly switching between theatres without it all getting too confusing. Every other chapter is a short "background" section covering topics that might otherwise get overlooked - the royal families, new technology, poetry, women in the war, etc. which I thought worked really well. The evolution of infantry tactics is also well explained. This would probably make a good first book on WW Straight forward, very readable summary of WW1, focusing on the big picture. The author handles it all well, seamlessly switching between theatres without it all getting too confusing. Every other chapter is a short "background" section covering topics that might otherwise get overlooked - the royal families, new technology, poetry, women in the war, etc. which I thought worked really well. The evolution of infantry tactics is also well explained. This would probably make a good first book on WW1. I really wanted to love this book. But for me though there just wasn't enough detail (major battles are dealt with in a few pages, Jutland in a few paragraphs) or enough eye witness accounts to give a sense of what life was like. (Yes, it may be unfair to criticise a single volume history for not being detailed enough - but it's my review so I can do what I want.) And it really would benefit from a few more maps. 3.5 stars, rounded up.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    World War I, keeps drawing readers back to texts and stories that cover this period, because it could have been easily prevented if only Europe hadn't bee ruled by so many unsuited, disengaged and self serving rulers trying desperately to keep hold of of a world view when the the entire world had already shifted. This was an excellent read because of the scope of the undertaking and the efforts to tell the backstory of not only the history of the countries and those who ruled them, but the backs World War I, keeps drawing readers back to texts and stories that cover this period, because it could have been easily prevented if only Europe hadn't bee ruled by so many unsuited, disengaged and self serving rulers trying desperately to keep hold of of a world view when the the entire world had already shifted. This was an excellent read because of the scope of the undertaking and the efforts to tell the backstory of not only the history of the countries and those who ruled them, but the backstories of the military men who waged a war of such unspeakable carnage. Militaries are flawed always, in as much as most general staff are made up of the men who are the most adept politically, not those who are the best commanders in the field, the most adaptable to shifts in the enemies tactics...and they are generally those men who had some success in a previous war and are over confident in their theories and themselves. Meyer paints very clearly the stubborn way that the Entente commanders clung to theories that each battle disproved, and were filled with so much hubris and confidence that no amount of reality on the ground, no number of failures could dissuade them from their belief. The commander who epitomized this the most was General Haig, who planned the same assault over and over and over, tweaking slightly the amount of and duration of the bombardment prior to sending his infantry over the the lip of the trench into no-man's land. After the first offensive he didn't notice that the German defenses were so well designed that his bombardments never accomplished what he intended them to accomplish, so his men walked and ran into heavy machine gun fire and were mowed down, and with total optimism he would plan his next assault to be exactly like the last just with longer bombardment and more soldiers. He also loved his Calvary, believed deep within his soul that machine guns could be subdued by a Calvary charge following an infantry assault. He tried this several times and each time the German machine guns cut down horse and rider alike, but that reality couldn't persuade him of his folly. The French were no better at the War College they bought into a theory of Grandmaison's known as the cult of the offensive, a belief that men wielding bayonets could overcome anything. Not yet embracing the lethal power of artillery, not yet understanding that the machine gun would always win over men with bayonets. The real tragedy of this war is that young men were fed into its maw to gain nothing but for a few yards of meaningless territory. With every book I pick up I find the unexpected heroes, those who rose in the ranks much to the dismay of all of their fellow officers who felt they were far beneath them, who made adjustments to what experience was teaching them and were willing to discard failed theories. So in this book I came to know something of General Monash an Australian who was the first Australian to lead Anzac troops and Lt.General Sir Arthur Currie the first Canadian to lead Canadian troops. These rarely covered men succeeded where everyone else had failed, who always managed to take their objective and to hold it in spite of all odds. They were so extraordinary compared to their peers, and willing to adjust their tactics while other clung to failed theory. G.J. Meyer has a writing style that carries you along though most battles, and while if you have read a lot about this war, you are aware of the outcome, you keep reading in some strange hope that that battle will no be as disastrous as you know it was. I was glad that I came to this war through other books, who dealt with specific battles, and individuals before I picked up this book. I definitely recommend it as an excellent read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Clem

    If one is looking for a detailed, yet concise and easy to understand book on World War I, look no further than G.J. Meyer’s comprehensive account. I use the word ‘concise’ with a bit of apprehension. This book is over 800 pages. Yet World War I was a long, brutal war with many tales to be told – the who, the why, the what, etc. So yes, it’s a thick detailed book, but very easy to read and appreciate. I’ve read many history books, and many authors might be experts on their subject matter, but sim If one is looking for a detailed, yet concise and easy to understand book on World War I, look no further than G.J. Meyer’s comprehensive account. I use the word ‘concise’ with a bit of apprehension. This book is over 800 pages. Yet World War I was a long, brutal war with many tales to be told – the who, the why, the what, etc. So yes, it’s a thick detailed book, but very easy to read and appreciate. I’ve read many history books, and many authors might be experts on their subject matter, but simply don’t know how to hold a reader’s attention for a lengthy amount of time. You’ve experienced this as well I’m sure; maybe you had a college professor that was brilliant but never knew when to shut up when lecturing in the classroom. So, yes, in many ways you could argue that this is a ‘Cliffs Notes’ account of the first world war, but there’s plenty here to keep you enthralled. Notice I said ‘enthralled’ and not ‘enjoyed’. You’d have to be quite sadistic to ‘enjoy’ a book about an event with so much senseless carnage. But if learning history is your thing, this is a great introduction to what was then called, “The War to End All Wars”. Part of the appeal of this book is that the author does tell a strict linear account of the entire conflict, yet most of the chapters have an ‘extra section’ tacked on to the end that talks about the different elements that educate the reader on “how” and “why” the world got into such a tumultuous turmoil in the first place. These extra sections include everything from the backgrounds of each of the major countries involved to the introduction of chemical weapons. From newfangled gadgets called ‘airplanes’ to the role of women in the war. From the doomed Romanov family to Lawrence of Arabia. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, and it’s all quite fascinating and educational. Anytime I read a book about a war that gives details of battles, generals, political players, troop movements, and military jargon, I confess that it’s easy for me to get lost and tune out at times. When I read so many descriptions of ‘armies flanking west’ and ‘General Whosis who took the 4th army’s 6th division and counterattacked through some unpronounceable town etc.’ I simply get overwhelmed and lost. I never felt this way reading this book. Again, give the author credit. I felt as though he was purposely telling us a story (as the subtitle implies) rather than simply piling on fact after fact after fact. That’s not to say that this volume is 100% comprehensive. No, not even a ‘brief’ account of 800 pages can cover everything. We rarely read about the minor countries. (Side note: Did you know Japan fought in WWI also? Do you know who’s side they fought on?) I was hoping to read about (future U.S. President) Herbert Hoover’s philanthropic leadership providing aid towards the savaged nation of neutral Belgium, but as I recall, there’s nothing in here about those events. This isn’t a complaint, merely an observation. So if there are certain events of the first world war that you’re vaguely familiar with and want to learn more about, you might not find them here. But all of the major stuff is included. In conclusion, if you’re an astute student of World War I, I’m guessing there might not be that much that’s new for you here, but for the majority, this is a great book if you love to learn about the history. Even if it’s arguably the worst time in the history of the civilized world.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karmologyclinic

    A long time ago I went on a road trip around Holland and Belgium. In the time before GPS, we took the itineraries of the Dutch Automobile Association (or something like that, forgive me, I forget) and one of them was passing through all the major battlefields of WWI. Thus, the photo below, a french cemetery (among the 170 total cemeteries found at Ypres). It is an understatement to say that the whole region is a cemetery. I knew little about WWI then. I remember driving speechless and music-less A long time ago I went on a road trip around Holland and Belgium. In the time before GPS, we took the itineraries of the Dutch Automobile Association (or something like that, forgive me, I forget) and one of them was passing through all the major battlefields of WWI. Thus, the photo below, a french cemetery (among the 170 total cemeteries found at Ypres). It is an understatement to say that the whole region is a cemetery. I knew little about WWI then. I remember driving speechless and music-less for kilometers, feeling upset and depressed at the end of that day. I felt the same while reading this book (and after). It is an excellent book that combines all the aspects of the history of WWI in one tome, written with the average reader in mind. This doesn't mean that it is oversimplified, but that it assumes you are not a historian and every time it presents new data (places, events, people), it takes the time to give you some background, so you don't get lost. It has a background chapter in front of each chapter so that you get basic information for what's to come and elaborates in a variety of themes (from Hapsburg family history to women in the war to Lawrence of Arabia). It keeps a great balance between describing battles and tactics, politics, social-economic results and down to earth historic excerpts from diaries, poems, first-person narratives. Required reading to understand a historical event that its aftermath affects us still.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Susan O

    Excellent and very readable overview of World War I. I came in to this book with only bits and pieces of knowledge about the war which I had picked up from various other books such as biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and world history classes from many years ago. This was the perfect book to begin filling in those gaps. I think it lays a great foundation to build on in learning more about the war. Meyer has a very nice style of writing that made reading the book a pleasure. Excellent and very readable overview of World War I. I came in to this book with only bits and pieces of knowledge about the war which I had picked up from various other books such as biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and world history classes from many years ago. This was the perfect book to begin filling in those gaps. I think it lays a great foundation to build on in learning more about the war. Meyer has a very nice style of writing that made reading the book a pleasure. I highly recommend it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    My wife and I drove the Western Front last fall - a trip I heartily recommend. To prepare, we read a lot about the Great War. The past few years have offered a rich feast of books about the war and while I have made great progress, I still have a few to go. After reading a lot, I have become very impressed when I run across exceptional one volume treatments of the war in its entirety. This was not only a hugely complex chain of events, but also a seminal event that seems to have influenced nearl My wife and I drove the Western Front last fall - a trip I heartily recommend. To prepare, we read a lot about the Great War. The past few years have offered a rich feast of books about the war and while I have made great progress, I still have a few to go. After reading a lot, I have become very impressed when I run across exceptional one volume treatments of the war in its entirety. This was not only a hugely complex chain of events, but also a seminal event that seems to have influenced nearly everything that came afterwards. One only need look at today's top crises to see WW1's continuing influence - Greece, Russia-Ukraine, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Israel, and even the European Union. How can one expect an author to do this in one volume that non graduate students can get their hands around? G.J. Meyer has done this to produce a really good book. It covers the required territory and avoids wading into scholarly disputes or the findings from the latest exhaustive review of diplomatic dispatches. He clearly is aware of the research but is gifted at communicating this complex story. He does this a number of ways. First, when he is telling the story, he keeps in touch with what is going on is other theatres of war and in various countries. This way, it is not necessary to overuse your chronology of world events - although such volumes are helpful if you have them. Meyer also focuses on the narrative of decision making in the different parts of the war. How did various strategies develop? Who were the key players and what did they contribute? When did a given process reach a critical point? This helps to make sense out of the crazy multilevel diplomatic circus that led to the war, as well as the chaos of fighting battles with multiple competing commanders and armies - even on the same side. Third, Meyer is judicious in how and when he breaks to provide background information and allow the reader to digest what is going on. If you haven't worked through a one volume history, this is a good one to start with. If you have, you still might find something valuable out of this one.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Why read about WWI? It is amazingly complex and deeply disturbing. WWI transformed the world into the one we recognize today, but perhaps even more relevant is the way it exposed self-serving failed leadership that fed political, religious and national divisions; tactics and behavior that we also recognize today. Apparently while the map changed greatly with new boundaries and new countries, not much has changed with the human race and its leaders in the 100 years since. In 1914, the world’s vol Why read about WWI? It is amazingly complex and deeply disturbing. WWI transformed the world into the one we recognize today, but perhaps even more relevant is the way it exposed self-serving failed leadership that fed political, religious and national divisions; tactics and behavior that we also recognize today. Apparently while the map changed greatly with new boundaries and new countries, not much has changed with the human race and its leaders in the 100 years since. In 1914, the world’s volatile mix exploded into an inferno with little warning due to brinkmanship, miscalculation and unfortunate twists of fate. Stubbornness, arrogance, ignorance and an imperative to “win” at all costs made sure the fire burned until almost nothing was left. All these elements still exist. For example, as I write this similar brinksmanship is being used by some in the US Congress to shut down the federal government and threaten default to settle an unrelated dispute. As long as politicians and leaders keep the world on edge we will always be no more than a step away from catastrophe. Miscalculation and unforeseen events will inevitably tip some of these confrontations in unexpected ways. Looking at today’s world through the prism of WWI is enlightening and A World Undone is an excellent place to start. A World Undone is complex history made accessible to the casual reader. I particularly enjoyed the chronological approach that showed all events simultaneously. Many books will describe one event then move onto another. Meyer cuts back and forth between events as they occurred so you feel the impact of everything that was going on at the same time, the way it really happened. He strikes a good balance supplying enough detail to be meaningful without bogging the reader down in tedium. The book is written in a journalistic style that creates interest and feels like a story, albeit a very sad one. He adds depth by interspersing brief background sections. A World Undone is recommended highly both as a way to understand history and to understand the present.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jerry-Book

    Having read other books on WW I, I was familiar with the subject before reading this book. Nonetheless, I found this book to be the best introduction to WW I. The author presents excellent background for each topic. For example, he shows: the origins of Serbian unrest that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, why the War was not confined to just the Balkans, the antiquated British military system that created inept military leaders such as Generals French and Haig, the French mi Having read other books on WW I, I was familiar with the subject before reading this book. Nonetheless, I found this book to be the best introduction to WW I. The author presents excellent background for each topic. For example, he shows: the origins of Serbian unrest that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, why the War was not confined to just the Balkans, the antiquated British military system that created inept military leaders such as Generals French and Haig, the French military belief in offense when conditions dictated defense, why the initial German onslaught failed, the reason for the Armenian genocide, the ineptitude of Russian Generals, the disaster that was the Gallipoli campaign, the introduction of new weapons such as tanks, poison gas, and airplanes and why they were not decisive. My only criticism was a need for a few more maps.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Rollins

    Excellent in-depth look at the war to end all wars. I especially loved the background sections. Perhaps a little too detailed for a first look at the war but definitely one to read after you have the big picture.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Review of the audiobook narrated by Robin Sachs. Even though a war in Europe around the time of World War I is said to have been inevitable, I found the circumstances that started the war to be more sad than anything. WWI is nothing like WWII (where there was a clear "bad guy" with the Nazi party) in that nearly all of the participants in the war share some of the blame for why it started in the first place. Without those many mistakes and misunderstandings happening like dominoes the deaths of s Review of the audiobook narrated by Robin Sachs. Even though a war in Europe around the time of World War I is said to have been inevitable, I found the circumstances that started the war to be more sad than anything. WWI is nothing like WWII (where there was a clear "bad guy" with the Nazi party) in that nearly all of the participants in the war share some of the blame for why it started in the first place. Without those many mistakes and misunderstandings happening like dominoes the deaths of so many could have been avoided and the world would not have been so drastically shaped as it was by the war. This book does a great job at giving a comprehensive look at WWI, including background information on the nations involved and important individuals, strategies for both sides in every significant battle during the course of the war, and how it affected the participants both during and after the war. I only had a basic knowledge of WWI going in and this book was just what I was looking for so that I could be more aware of that piece of world history. The seemingly endless trench battles on the Western Front were the only thing that dragged a little (and just in the middle of the book). Other than that it held my attention throughout. This is the second book I've listened to with Robin Sachs as the narrator. I wasn't a fan of the first (a mystery fiction book) so I was a little hesitant to take on such a long one, but it ended up that I had nothing to worry about. He's great with pronouncing all of the names of foreign people and places and his voice is a good fit for this type of book. Final verdict: 5 star story, 4.5 star narration, 5 stars overall

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alla

    A world undone. There is no better title for this book. At the end of WWI four great empires ceased to exist. The war redrafted the map of Europe and left painful wounds and scars that hurt still. Let me start by saying that this book is the first non-fiction book that made me cry, that I couldn’t put down and one Friday evening I was reading it till 3am (btw I am an early sleeper). And… Now I feel that I knew nothing about that war. I didn’t have a huge gap, no. But my mind was full of illusions A world undone. There is no better title for this book. At the end of WWI four great empires ceased to exist. The war redrafted the map of Europe and left painful wounds and scars that hurt still. Let me start by saying that this book is the first non-fiction book that made me cry, that I couldn’t put down and one Friday evening I was reading it till 3am (btw I am an early sleeper). And… Now I feel that I knew nothing about that war. I didn’t have a huge gap, no. But my mind was full of illusions. First part is absolutely brilliant. It is fully dedicated to the beginning of the war, diplomacy and all events that made it inevitable. When you read chapters about exchange of notas, ultimatums and emotional telegrams of Nicky (widely known as the last Russian emperor Nicholas II) and Willy (Kaiser Wilhelm II, German emperor), who were not only better rivals during the war but also third cousins, you literally feel the electricity in the sky over Europe. The first part also provides historical overview of Serbs, Romanovs (Russia), Hapsburgs (Austria-Hungary) and Hohenzollerns (German Empire). What I’ve noticed from the first pages: all historical figures are not pale personages from school history books described by bare objective facts, but live fiction-style characters. I promise that you will feel empathy when you will read about shell shock of soldiers, Kaiser’s suffering and depression, stress and hysteria of German general Erich Ludendorff and short-sighted emotional sacrifice of Nicholas II. G.J. Meyer hadn’t forgotten anything and he dedicated small chapters and paragraphs of his book to suffering of Jews in Germany, ambitions of Ottoman Turks (yet another empire that was falling into pieces), battle of Gallipoli and support of Anzac troops, genocide of Armenians, first use of gas as a weapon, description of life in tranches of the Western Front, meat grinder in Verdun, Russian revolutions of 1917, death of Franz Joseph I of Austria and murder of a Russian mystic Rasputin, story of Lawrence of Arabia and even football games on the Western front between rivals before Christmas that I saw for the first time in Sainsbury's advert WWI is the beginning of the brave new modern world and it logically led to the WWII. This book will give you a lot of historical context to judge events of not only XX, but also XXI century. You will understand better the conflict in Yugoslavia, events in Ukraine in 2014 (historical separation of Eastern and Western Ukraine), how Czechoslovakia and Poland were created. You will follow the entrance to the war by USA in 1917: for the first time this country from another hemisphere appeared on the European political arena and never left ever since. You will see how the gap between newly-formed Communist Russia and France and Great Britain (former allies of the Russian Empire) was created: even heroic deeds on the Eastern Front and 1.8 million casualties didn’t grant the new government of Lenin the right to speak during the postwar conference in Paris. This book now means a lot to me. And I want to advise to everyone interested in the modern political events to read historical fiction. It will definitely shape your 2D opinion formed on present events only into full 3D picture. I am not ready yet to say goodbye to the WWI. So my next books will be All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ghost of the Library

    Some editing was done to typos and some feedback added now that it's been awhile since I read it the first time. Unlike most people of my generation whose historic interest always seems to drift towards WWII, i have always found myself intensely drawn towards this conflict, THE WAR TO END ALL WARS as it was then called, mostly because i now firmly believe that it is the root of many of the problems that Europe, and the world by extension, face today. Over the years i read many books, watched count Some editing was done to typos and some feedback added now that it's been awhile since I read it the first time. Unlike most people of my generation whose historic interest always seems to drift towards WWII, i have always found myself intensely drawn towards this conflict, THE WAR TO END ALL WARS as it was then called, mostly because i now firmly believe that it is the root of many of the problems that Europe, and the world by extension, face today. Over the years i read many books, watched countless documentaries and always felt that the writers/authors either did something 100% military or 100% political...the balance between the many aspects of this complex conflict always seemed to be lacking. Well, somewhat to my surprise, i think Mr. Meyers as done it brilliantly here in describing a war that was complicated, inglorious and wiped out an entire generation of very talented people on both sides of the conflict. His journalistic background gives us readers a startling sense of proximity, which only increases when you look at the human effects of the war that he so well mixes with his tale. So, instead of becoming an endless parade of boring numbers, this book turns into a fascinating tale about a four-year calamity of human miscalculation and supreme arrogance in the leadership of all countries involved, balanced only by the unbelievable heroism shown by those in the ranks. The short background articles that Meyers provides on subjects like Kaiser Wilhelm, the Junkers, the Cossacks, etc, provide us with a proper understanding of the period, and are absolutely fascinating in their own right. I correct myself from my initial opinion and I think this one is a top 5 in the list of best books on WWI out there! Don't let it's size scare you away from reading it, this book is both a great introduction to this particularly dark period of history and the best one volume history of WWI out there...should you be looking to add to your library, stick with this, you will not regret it! I ran into it today on Kindle for a very appealing price and added a digital copy to my paper copy....yeah I do stuff like that all the time 😁 Happy Readings!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    An incredibly dense but amazingly clear and concise history. There is no filler, no vagaries of interest, no nonsense. The author states in the foreword that he felt there was never a singular and definitive tome on the first world war, that the subject was so vast that historians tend to focus on certain aspects of it; his goal, therefore, was to write this book for people who hope to know all of the war in one (giant) piece. Mission accomplished! Furthermore, the author knows so instinctively An incredibly dense but amazingly clear and concise history. There is no filler, no vagaries of interest, no nonsense. The author states in the foreword that he felt there was never a singular and definitive tome on the first world war, that the subject was so vast that historians tend to focus on certain aspects of it; his goal, therefore, was to write this book for people who hope to know all of the war in one (giant) piece. Mission accomplished! Furthermore, the author knows so instinctively what information is most necessary that he eliminated my usual compulsion to augment or clarify information on wikipedia. He explains everything so clearly that there is no need to consult elsewhere, even maps (I listened to this as an audiobook so I'm not sure what visual tools the physical book provides). I'm a visual learner so I often need a map to help me visualize a battle. However, the author's language is so precisely descriptive (cardinal directions, distances, shapes of formations and battle lines) that I could easily draw a picture in my mind. His language is not at all dry and does not read like a textbook. The writing is enjoyable to read and deceptively conversational, yet I am sure every word was chosen with immaculate care. This war could not have been squeezed into 800 pages without thought to each word having a maximum impact. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

  26. 5 out of 5

    A. L. Sowards

    I’ve read a few one-volume accounts of WWI, and I think this is my favorite of those. (This was an audiobook and the others I read, but I don’t think the format influenced my opinion.) I loved that it was chronological, but also had in-depth sections on background information and themes that stretched across the war—everything from the Romanovs to propaganda to women’s roles and Cossacks. This one was highly readable and explained things well enough for beginners in the subject, but also added t I’ve read a few one-volume accounts of WWI, and I think this is my favorite of those. (This was an audiobook and the others I read, but I don’t think the format influenced my opinion.) I loved that it was chronological, but also had in-depth sections on background information and themes that stretched across the war—everything from the Romanovs to propaganda to women’s roles and Cossacks. This one was highly readable and explained things well enough for beginners in the subject, but also added to my knowledge (I won’t call myself an expert on WWI, but I’ve read many books about it). It included a good balance of campaigns, politics, cause/effect, and big players. If you want twenty-seven hours of WWI, this would be a good choice. 4+ stars.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marko

    Amazingly detailed and astute analysis of the Great War This book should be required reading for college level history. It describes in detail the events that would shape European history for the next hundred years. Everything would have been different without WWI, which toppled four empires and seeded resentments that would trigger WWII and result in the Cold War. Amazing, infuriating, enlightening read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Malum

    Absolutely fantastic single volume overview of World War I. Not only does Meyer manage to cram enough in here to give anyone a full picture of the war while keeping it not only readable but exciting, but he also manages to touch on side players and events such as Rasputin, Lawrence of Arabia, and Churchill's role in the invention of the modern tank.

  29. 5 out of 5

    stormin

    This was the best history of World War I I've ever read. Unfortunately, I'm writing the review 4 months after I finished the book, so my impressions are not as sharp as they were. The main thing I learned from the book is how tragically unavoidable the War was, in many ways, and how little it had to do with the assassination of the Archduke. That was definitely the most interesting part to me, learning how the divergent interests of the major players--especially the rogue Austro-Hungarians, dragg This was the best history of World War I I've ever read. Unfortunately, I'm writing the review 4 months after I finished the book, so my impressions are not as sharp as they were. The main thing I learned from the book is how tragically unavoidable the War was, in many ways, and how little it had to do with the assassination of the Archduke. That was definitely the most interesting part to me, learning how the divergent interests of the major players--especially the rogue Austro-Hungarians, dragging the Germans along behind them--were really all but impossible to reconcile. I also didn't understand the way that mobilization, because of how much it required of national resources, was the step at which political leaders really ceased to have any say. It was a horrible Prisoners Dilemma. If you didn't mobilize, you'd lose the war if there was one, but you could also possibly prevent it from happening. But if you did mobilize, you'd guarantee a war. Germany, as whole, comes out looking better, at least initially. But their penchant for war crimes really can't be ignored, historically speaking, and ultimately potentially cost them the war, because it brought in the UK (when they invaded Belgium) and then the US (when they re-opened unrestricted submarine warfare). Another thing I learned was how horrifically balanced the fighting was, with both sides making key offensive victories that they were unable to follow-up on, allowing the other side to regroup and counter-attack. As Meyer writes, "Anyone inclined to believe that some dark force beyond human comprehension intervened again and again to make the Great War long and ruinous would have no difficulty in finding evidence to support such a thesis." A third thing, is how the war wasn't just about trenches. The stereotype you hear is that nobody knew how to handle new weapons (especially machine guns) and so they all went into trenches and that's the end. But there was actually a lot of innovation going on, with the Germans especially creating the idea of defense in depth and then use of a rolling artillery barrage on the offense, only to have the British eventually figure out good counter-attacks and their own invention, the tank, which might very well have changed the tide of the entire war if Churchill had had his way. He wanted to keep it secret until they had enough of them for a decisive, final offense, but he was overruled and they were rushed into the field in small numbers that weren't enough to win and were enough to let the Germans know what was coming and prepare their own counters. Overall, the entire war is more complex and more tragic than what I'd known before reading this voluminous, engrossing, moving history of it all.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

    Wow. This took me almost two months to finish. Yes, it was long -- over 700 pages, and it was very detailed and complex in telling a very intricate and complex story, and, yes, I had a lot going on in the way of vacations and travels over the past two months. But the main reason it took me so long to finish was because the story was fascinating and I really wanted to be reasonably well-informed about the Great War upon completion of this book. Like probably most Americans, my knowledge of World Wow. This took me almost two months to finish. Yes, it was long -- over 700 pages, and it was very detailed and complex in telling a very intricate and complex story, and, yes, I had a lot going on in the way of vacations and travels over the past two months. But the main reason it took me so long to finish was because the story was fascinating and I really wanted to be reasonably well-informed about the Great War upon completion of this book. Like probably most Americans, my knowledge of World War I was limited to a few depictions in movies and TV shows with a WWI setting. I don't believe I ever learned a single thing about it in all my schooling. The little that I had read about it (like the novels "Johnny Got His Gun" and "All Quiet on the Western Front") left me bewildered. What in hell were they fighting about that was worth the destruction and devastation of the lives of so many millions of young men and their families, along with the devastation and disruption of entire societies and civilizations and even the landscape? I am so glad I read this book to help answer these questions for me. It still boggles my mind that this war was fought with such intensity by so many factions. A big thanks to my Goodreads friend, David Eppenstein, who recommended it to me. I'm now looking forward to reading a follow-up book, "The World Remade", by the same author and even more highly recommended by Mr. Eppenstein.

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