A World Undone

  • by G. J. Meyer
  • Narrated by Robin Sachs
  • 27 hrs and 58 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 20 million people, and cracked the foundations of the world we live in today.
World War I is unique in the number of questions about it that remain unsettled. After more than 90 years, scholars remain divided on these questions, and it seems likely that they always will. A World Undone does not claim to have all the answers - if answers are even possible. However, it will provide listeners with enough information to understand why the questions persist, and perhaps in some cases, to arrive at conclusions of their own. A World Undone is a grand, tragic story brilliantly told.
About the author: G. J. Meyer is a professional writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Harper’s, and many other publications. While working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he was awarded a Nieman Fellowship by Harvard University. He is the author of the New York Times best seller The Tudors, the Edgar Award-winning The Memphis Murders, and other works.

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What the Critics Say

“A World Undone is an original and very readable account of one of the most significant and often misunderstood events of the last century. With a historian’s eye for clearheaded analysis and a storyteller’s talent for detail and narrative, G. J. Meyer presents a compelling account of the blunders that produced the world’s first ‘great war’ and set the stage for many of the tragic events that followed.” (Steve M. Gillon, resident historian, the History Channel)
“Thundering, magnificent…This is a book of true greatness that prompts moments of sheer joy and pleasure. Researched to the last possible dot…It will earn generations of admirers.” (Washington Times)
“Meyer’s sketches of the British Cabinet, the Russian Empire, the aging Austro-Hungarian Empire, the leaders of Prussia with their newly minted swagger, are lifelike and plausible. His account of the tragic folly of Gallipoli is masterful.” (Los Angeles Times)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Excellent Overview of the "Overshadowed" War

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.
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- Amazon Customer

War is the work of the Devil

"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.
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- Sher from Provo

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-25-2012
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.