Touched off by a terrorist act in Bosnia and spreading all too quickly beyond the expectations of those who were involved, World War I was an unprecedented catastrophe with a ghastly cost. After this first "total war" - the first conflict involving entire societies mobilized to wage unrestrained war, devoting all their wealth, industries, institutions, and the lives of their citizens to win victory at any price - the world itself would never be the same.
These 36 riveting half-hour lectures cut through the tangle of historical data to uncover the patterns that make sense of complex events. Whereas most World War I narratives focus on the Western Front in France and Flanders, with its mazelike trenches, gas attacks, constant shelling, assaults "over the top" into withering machine gun fire, and duels of dog-fighting aviators in the sky, Professor Liulevicius also devotes great attention to other important arenas, including the Eastern Front, the Southern Fronts, the War at Sea, the Arab Revolt, the Communist Revolution, the Armenian Massacre, the Spanish Influenza, and more.
Professor Liulevicius combines chronological and thematic approaches for a sweeping survey of World War I's many dimensions. He explores themes such as the surprising eagerness of all parties to plunge into mutual slaughter, the unexpected endurance of societies undergoing total war, the radically different hopes and hatreds that the war evoked, with remarkable contrasts between western and eastern Europe, the meanings that the different sides ascribed to the war, and the role of various ideologies in the war's course and conduct.
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a case for WWI as watershed
The exploration of sociopolitical ramifications was particularly rewarding, a theme I would not have appreciated in my youthful fascination with battle. Professor Liulevicius has a strong delivery, and the intensity of his interest in WWI's aftermath as well as its progression shows.
Listeners who liked this should definitely try Liulevicius's lectures on Terror and Utopia in the 20th century, also excellent. His lectures on European diplomacy 1500-present are decent but less engaging.
Among the generally excellent Great Lectures, I found this one outstanding. I respectfully disagree with Saud and Bobbie, feeling there was a strong arc, hammering hard on the theme of ever-greater desperation in a race against internal collapse as much as defeat by the enemy.
A mere chronology of interconnected battles would have been relatively unenlightening and uninteresting, especially in light of trench stalemate. The real significance of WWI lies in its mutual exhaustion, social reaction to that, and the surviving institutions originally designed to combat it. The "theater" approach here, explaining how each theater fed into total war, contributing to stalemate, exhaustion, and collapse, serves the subject well.
- Amazon Customer