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The First World War

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  7,233 ratings  ·  273 reviews
The First World War created the modern world. A conflict of unprecedented ferocity, it abruptly ended the relative peace and prosperity of the Victorian era, unleashing such demons of the twentieth century as mechanized warfare and mass death. It also helped to usher in the ideas that have shaped our times--modernism in the arts, new approaches to psychology and medicine, ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published May 11th 1999 by Knopf (first published 1998)
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Riku Sayuj
An agricultural labourer, who has

A wife and four children, receives 20s a week.

3/4 buys food, and the members of the family

Have three meals a day.

How much is that per person per meal?


. . . The table printed below gives the number

Of paupers in the United Kingdom, and

The total cost of poor relief.

Find the average number

Of paupers per ten thousand people.


...Out of an army of 28,000 men,

15% were

Killed, 25% were

Wounded. Calculate

How many men were there left to fight?

~ From Pitman’s Common Sen
As I’ve often proclaimed my deep and abiding love of history, it is somewhat difficult for me to admit that my knowledge of the great upheaval of World War I is about the size of a teacup pig. Now, before I get any further into the terrors of trench warfare, machine guns, and unrestricted submarine warfare, let’s take a moment to reflect on teacup pigs: (soundtrack provided by the Beach Boys)

Back to the horrors of the Great War.

Any student of anything kn

Keegan's history of the First World War opens, unexpectedly, by talking about Adolf Hitler, and what I liked about this book was the way it presented 1914–18 as just the opening convulsions in a longer twentieth-century cataclysm to which it remains intimately connected.

A child's shoe in the Polish dust, a scrap of rusting barbed wire, a residue of pulverized bone near the spot where the gas chambers worked, these are as much relics of the First as of the Second World War.

This is the kind of rum
1) One shouldn't read compact one volume surveys of epic events. It is safe to assume that The First World War meets the criteria of epic event. Any single volume will only distort and compact events. This was no exception

2) John Keegan is vastly overrated as a writer and scholar. I think the latter was accidental. People projected authority, with his sober demeanor, who can blame them? Keegan routinely employs clumsy metaphors and speaks of terrifying events in terms of inefficiency. He also re
Feb 08, 2010 Ed rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ed by: Those interested in the First World War
I am not a big fan of military histories. They tend to be much too detailed for my taste. They require a familiarity with the geography they cover and often do not provide good maps of the area being written about. They often do not provide the author's opinion of the events being covered.

This book meets none of the above criteria. While it is detailed, nevertheless the details are usually necessary to understand the nature of the battle being described. The details also help the reader understa
A friend reminded me that this year was the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of WWI and suggested I do some reading about The Great War.

So I started with this overview. For those of you who did as well as I did in Geography, I would suggest that you print out a map of Europe. It really helped in understand what Keegan was describing in terms of troop movements, battles, and war plans.

I was staggered by numbers. Large numbers like 300,000 and 700,000 dead, wounded, prisoners, needed to replac
Mark Mortensen
The book offers a good general overview of the Great War with much detail of the buildups and numerous engagements on the opposing sides. However, discussion of events in 1918, the final year of the war, was presented with much less depth than prior years. There was really no mention of accounts on the final day of the war, November 11, 1918 Armistice Day, a day so historical that author Joseph Persico wrote an entire book about it.

Keegan does tend to concentrate a bit more on the British Exped
A solid effort. Keegan does a pretty good job of covering an immense subject. He proceeds smoothly from the background to the causes to the war years themselves, structuring his narrative for the most part chronologically but diverging when it makes sense (such as in his examination of the naval dimension of the war). If you are looking for a single volume history of the First World War, this would be a good choice.

That said, the book is not perfect. Individual offensives and counter-offensives
Great book, a wonderful one-volume account of the first world war. After reading "The Guns of August," I needed to read about the rest of the war. Keegan combines depth of knowledge with a facility in writing that keeps the story zipping along. He explains how WWI went from a war of movement to trench warfare on the Western front, and the why the trenches proved to be so very static (if one side attacks and leaves behind their supply lines, etc, they become weaker and more vulnerable, while the ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Only a historian as talented as Keegan could tell the whole story of WWI in 400+ amazing feat. But he does it with style and readability, even though the first several chapters are dry as dust! He hits his stride with the latter part of 1915 and holds the reader's interest from that point forward. Anyone who reads the history of the Great War is horrified by the unbelievable and unnecessary slaughter of a generation of British, French, and German young men who marched upright into a ...more
Kurt Reichenbaugh
It's taken me a couple of months to read this book. I've had it for several years now, and it has been challenging me to read it. My first attempt failed when I became confused as to which line was where, which front was retreating, which advancing, and I was just plain lost without a map. My second attempt, just a few months ago, was much more successful as I allowed myself to take it slowly, and absorb the detail that Keegan provided. I'm pretty much a typical American in that my sense of geog ...more
A thorough, readable and well-researched history of the First World War. Keegan fully captures the sweep of this conflict, covering all the important topics in enough detail. His coverage of the July Crisis is good, though he admits that it’s basically just a summary of previous works on that particular subject. He thoroughly covers all of the theaters of the war in a smooth chronological fashion. Keegan’s analysis of military strategy and tactics is great, and he tells it all in a manner that a ...more
This is not a history of the 1st World War, it is a
military history of the 1st World War that starts out
by saying that the cause of war was entirely mechanistic,
an unavoidable outcome of the mesh of alliances under
strain, and finishes up by saying that "(T)he First World
War is a mystery, its origins are mysterious. So is its
course." Which strikes me at the very least as a breakdown
of scholarship.

This is a boys-with-their-toys tale of left flanks and
materiel and manoeuvres without reference to th
Pretty good one valume of the first world war but beware:
1. He refers to many towns and areas in Europe that do not appear on the maps he put int he book. So, I would say he should have used more maps and put some relevant towns on them.
2. He had some pretty weird sentence structure with verbs comeing at the end of certain sentences. Maybe becasue he is British it just did not flow well to me, and seemed to bog down because of that. I swear, there were some sentences that totally would have soun
For war strategists and battle buffs, this would be a great book. For me, while I did learn much, it was a difficult read and rather clinical in its approach. For me, it didn't really tell the story of the human experience - although it didn't ignore it all together.

However, I suspect if I were to read other books on WW1, this book will have left me with a broad context that will enhance other WW1 perspectives.
Recommended as a good way of filling in the gaps in one’s World War One knowledge including the distinction between the three battles of Ypres, the over emphasized importance of the airborne conflict and the myriad of lesser known campaigns including ones that took place in Tanzania and the Caucasus. It is, however, a little too attendant to the details of battle formations and I’d have liked more on the political context.

That is, of course, because the reasons for the war are still so utterly i
Keegan does a commendable job of covering the key events of the 4 year war in a little less than 500 pages. While the attention to detail will always be less than expected in such an effort, Keegan's lack of mastery over English was evident through out the book. Great historical works are remembered not for the facts and statistics they contain but for the manner in which they convey the happenings of the past. Apart from a handful of memorable passages, Keegan disappointed on that count.

But in
Stephen Case
There are not many books out there about the First World War, and there are even fewer good one-volume popularizations. This might be because the Great War lacks the pathos and the apparent aspects of heroism of its sequel European tragedy. There are no big names that stand out, neither are there many spectacular and critical battles. Nor are there retrospectively clear “good guys” and “bad guys”. The whole thing has the feeling of a mistake, a muddy, avoidable, immense waste of life in which mi ...more
Land Murphy
Keegan is a master historian, and I see why many consider him the best military historian of our time. What a sobering book. An unnecessary war, one that could have been stopped at numerous junctures, fought using outdated tactics, leads to a punitive peace that paves the way for Hitler and the Second World War. If you enjoy history, especially the history of the twentieth century, you must read this. One could argue, and Keegan suggests it, that 1914-1918 were the most significant years of the ...more
Paul Haspel
The sheer magnitude of the carnage of World War I is what gets to me. I'm used to reading about Civil War battles -- 23,000 casualties at Antietam, 51,000 at Gettysburg. But with World War I, I find myself reading about battles that inflicted 300,000 casualties, or 500,000, and resulted in nothing more than a slight change in the battle lines. In The First World War, John Keegan does a superb job of capturing the complexity and the tragedy of the 1914-18 war that decimated a generation of young ...more
Timothy Fitzgerald
I read this as a follow-up to Paris 1919. I read the two books out of chronological order, but I actually found that made The First World War a much more interesting read. Keegan does spend a good amount of time at the beginning of the book covering the motivations of the various belligerents, but having read Paris 1919, I felt I had a much stronger understanding and of the causes and effects of the course of the war.

On its own I was shocked at the level of detail of the book. My one minor compl
Well written and accessible (more so than Stevenson's Cataclysm that I read a couple of months ago). Reading about WW1 is like watching a train wreck -- can't look away from tragic events that seemed quite avoidable.

More focused on battles than Stevenson, who focused more on big picture economic and social parts of the war. Keegan does a particular nice job in highlighting how killing technology had advanced into the industrial, modern age but communication technology had not. The lack of quick
'Aussie Rick'

Once again John Keegan has produced another well written and researched book to add to his growing number of titles. This is an excellent one volume account of the Great War which the novice or experienced reader will enjoy. I found the first few chapters a bit dry but once the author moved into the sections covering the fighting the book moved along smartly.

The author covers all theatres of the war and covered those naval and aviation aspects that had bearing on the war as a whole. There were
I have not read a great deal about WW1, so I embarked upon this one with some enthusiasm. I found the initial portions of the book, concerning the origins and causes of the war to be very interesting and well explained. It bogged down about in outlining the mobilization processes or each country, and then, once the war itself was underway, bogged down even more. The war and the book worked in parallel-no movement in the trenches, and little in the book. Some things that I really wanted to know m ...more
A very good one volume history of the Great War by the late military historian Sir John Keegan. Highly recommended for anyone wishing to learn in this 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War how it came about, the senselessness and horror of millions of lives thrown away by military leaders not comprehending what they were facing, the fact that empires were destroyed unleashing the endless wars of nationality in the 20th century, that England and France didn't win the war, but instea ...more
I think Keegan’s book is a great overview of the Great War. Though I am guilty of making this judgment without many other reference points, I think he struck a good balance between detail and brevity. The scope is not western front-centric, so the reader gets a nice overview of events in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa, Italy and naval activities. Keegan’s style is appealing and the book provides a great jumping off point for further reading.
David Webb
Jun 07, 2015 David Webb is currently reading it
At this point I'm less than a quarter of the way into this book. I will refrain from offering any kind of analysis of the book's contents or the author's skill as a writer or knowldge as a historian until I've made a great deal more progress. I do want to comment on an observation made by a number of other readers. That observation is on the paucity of maps, photos, and illustrations. I am continually amazed by the lack of maps, photos, and illustrations in modern military histories. These aides ...more
Marko Tainio
(Alla Suomen lautapeliseuran foorumille kirjoittamani arvostelu kirjasta):

Joskus johdantoa lukiessa kirjailija vakuuttaa tietävänsä mistä kirjoittaa. Tämän kirjan kohdalla kävi näin. Keegan vertasi johdannossa ensimmäistä maailmansotaa sitä edeltäneisiin ja seuranneisiin konflikteihin nostaen esille erikoispiirteitä ja toisaalta yhteneväisyyksiä aikaisempin sotien kanssa. Tällaista vertailua näkee valitettavan harvoin.

Keegan oli Brittiläinen sotahistorioitsija joka hallitsi niin 1900-luvun kuin
It has long been a goal of mine to learn more about the reasons for the outbreak of World War I, to go far beyond the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and generalized metaphors like "powder keg". This book has allowed me to accomplish just that, in every way. I rediscovered this title in a box of my dad's old history books which I inherited, and noting the author as John Keegan, one of my dad's favorite historians and almost legendary military historian and writer, I decided this would be my ...more
THE FIRST WORLD WAR. (1998). John Keegan. **.
This was definitely not the book I was looking for to build my knowledge of WW I. It was a tortuous experience to read as much as I did; I frequently put the book down until I reached the point where I didn’t pick it up again. The author has all the proper credentials necessary for him to issue this text. It is unfortunate, however, that it is certainly not for the average reader. The feeling I got was that I was looking at a masters’ thesis cobbled t
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World War I-best one volume overview 2 9 May 25, 2015 02:42PM  
The run-up to WWII - Where to go? 3 9 Feb 22, 2015 10:57PM  
Please suggest me some books on World War 1 and 2 13 52 Jun 23, 2014 12:26PM  
  • The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
  • The First World War: A Complete History
  • Somme
  • The First World War
  • Dreadnought
  • The First Day on the Somme
  • The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World
  • The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front
  • The Pity of War: Explaining World War I
  • Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War
  • The Great War and Modern Memory
  • A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
  • Eye-Deep In Hell: Trench Warfare In World War I
  • No Man's Land: 1918, the Last Year of the Great War
  • A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front
  • Gallipoli
  • Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
  • The Zimmermann Telegram
Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE was a British military historian, lecturer and journalist. He published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime and intelligence warfare as well as the psychology of battle.

More about John Keegan...
The Face of Battle The Second World War A History of Warfare Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris; June 6 - Aug. 5, 1944 The Mask of Command: Alexander the Great, Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant, Hitler, and the Nature of Lea dership

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“Of whatever class or nation, however, all successful participants in the repetitive and unrelenting stress of aerial fighting came eventually to display its characteristic physiognomy: skeletal hands, sharpened noses, tight-drawn cheek bones, the bared teeth of a rictus smile and the fixed, narrowed gaze of men in a state of controlled fear.” 2 likes
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