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Within US history World War I is often relegated to being merely a prologue to World War II. I assume the reason for its relegation is due to the relatively minor role that the US served in WWI. This framing of history is unfortunate given how the outcome of World War I not only precipitated World War II, but gave birth to the powers, ideologies and technologies that shaped not only the rest of the 20th century but continue to influence world affairs today (see Middle East).
"A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918" provides an excellent overview of the conflict. G.J. Meyer accomplishes the remarkable feat of balancing details with generalities in a compelling and engaging narrative of the war. Although the audio format makes following the geography of battles at times difficult, the strength of this book is Meyer's treatment of the personalities of the leaders and generals who, through their blind adherence to tactical orthodoxies that no longer suited modern war, facilitated the breakdown of armies and societies alike during the four years of stalemate that marked the First World War.
My favorite feature of the audiobook are the "Background" sections at the end of many chapters. These provide background details (e.g., The history of the Romanov dynasty) that permit a richer understanding of the socio-political context from which the war emerged.
The audio quality is excellent and Robin Sachs provides a smooth narration (I feel like all history books should be read by someone with an English accent).
My only criticism of the book is that it ends abruptly following the signing of the Versailles Treaty. Although the immediate aftermath of the war is itself worthy of an entire book, Meyer closes the book with brief biographies of some major figures from the war. One could almost picture the close of the book as the end of a movie when a character is shown in freeze frame and text is provided describing their fate following the close of the movie (e.g., the end of "Animal House").
Regardless of this one criticism, the book is highly recommended for anyone interested in World War I or military history.
57 of 57 people found this review helpful
"War is the work of the devil." So says one of the generals of WWI, although I couldn't find the quote as I went back and looked for it in this 715 page history, so I can't even report for sure who said it. It doesn't really matter, though, because as I continued to study this book, if I got one thing from it, it would be that war is undoubtedly and indisputably Hell with a capital H. Living all my life hearing about WWI and II, I have never really been able to put the pieces together to make sense of it all. Several months ago I went on a WWII binge, reading and listening to a lot of books on it until I think I finally have at least a working knowledge of what it was all about. It seemed to follow that I then learn about WWI, and so I have been. This book offers a great starting point for the study of that war. I tried studying other books first, but got hopelessly lost. This book, by virtue of the way that is written, made it very accessible to me, and now I can study some of those other books with a degree of knowledge that will help me add to my understanding.
I really like the format of the book, particularly the short intermediary background chapters that shed so much light on the core story of the war. It helped so much with understanding the how and the why of the war, and events that it precipitated.
So in a nutshell, outside of the logistics and battles and armaments and all of that usual and necessary war stuff, here is what I learned. This war was fought for the flimsiest of reasons, if in fact there was a reason at all. Nations can act very much like two-year-old children fighting over an inexpensive toy. Over 9.5 million soldiers lost their lives over these petty squabbles, not to mention many more millions who were moderately to severely wounded, nor the millions of civilians who who were wounded or killed. The Germans were justified in being outraged at the way they were treated in the Treaty of Versailles, particularly by Woodrow Wilson, and we all know where that lead, or at least I hope we do.
I hope many more of us are willing to put forth the effort to learn the truth about war in the hopes of avoiding it in the future. The way things appear to me right now, it seems that we are going down this same path, and that scares me. No wonder Santayana, widely quoted by others, including Winston Churchill, has said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
As I started listening to this book, I felt the need to follow along with the physical book, and so I bought a copy. It was extremely helpful, as the book is full of pictures and maps, and I could see the names of people and places that were hard for me to grasp from just hearing them, names of German, Belgian and French cities, rivers and regions that to us do not sound like we think they should. A good example is the French town of Ypres, pronounced Eep. (One would be disappointed to look for the town of Eep on a map.). The narrator was just right for this book, and had a great command over multiple European accents. This was a great book to both read and listen to. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to know more about the history of WWI and what the ramifications for us have been.
48 of 49 people found this review helpful