The First World War
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The First World War

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  6,116 ratings  ·  224 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...more

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...more
May 11, 2014 Jonfaith rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jonfaith by: Riku Sayuj
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
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...more
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.
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...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...more
'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...more
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
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...more
Zachary Powell
Good overview of the war. Interesting tidbits: Keegan discusses that it was faulty planning by the Germans for the Schlieffen Plan that caused the bogging down of the war. Even more than that, the idea that war colleges were created in the nineteenth century and allowed men to sit around and come up with war plans like Schlieffen's to enact. Thus, when the crisis of June and July happened in 1914 diplomacy failed and these plans took effect (also there's a lot of blame put on Austria-Hungary for...more
Jeff Bursey
My Amazon review:

Keegan's book renders the big picture of WWI battles in good, concise detail. Many campaigns are extensively described, and the inclusion of key maps is of great help in determining where armies met. He is judicious in opinions, if perhaps too charitable to generals in this reviewer's mind, and balanced in assessments.

What I find missing is a prose style that suits the topics. While not every historian can be Gibbon, Keegan's presentation is almost monotonous. Considering the su...more
David Roberts
The book I read to research this post was The First World War by John Keegan which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book is possibly the definitive text on World War 1 and was hugely popular in Britain upon publication. It sets out the reasons for this war and it compounded to cause World War 2 and also the timeline of World War 1 perfectly. It's one of the best history books I have ever read. After World War 1 they buried an unknown soldier who couldn't be identified in Wes...more
John Keegan is arguably the best military historian of the 20th Century, and this book is his go at the Great War. Overall this was a great book. Of course Keegan goes into the usual topics of the Great War - the political run up to the war, the various offensive strategies of the European powers, the offensive blitz of August 1914 and then the stalemate that presided over the Western front and most of the Eastern front for the remainder of the war. Trench warfare, the butchery of the machine gu...more
A perfect single volume overview of the conflict called The Great War. Its quality and substance is pretty much guaranteed by the fact that it was written by John Keegan, in my opinion one of the greatest historians of our days.
Limited to about 400 pages, this book can impossibly provide in depth information about all the details of this great conflict. The author therefore provides the 'broad picture' overview of the events and from military perspective, stays in his narrative consistently on s...more
Edward Sullivan
Form the first page of the opening chapter:

"The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict. Unnecessary because the train of events that led to its outbreak might have been broken at any point during the five weeks of crisis that preceded the first clash of arms, had prudence or common goodwill found a voice; tragic because the consequences of the first clash ended the lives of ten million human beings, tortured the emotional lives of millions more, destroyed the benevolent and optimi...more
A fine book that gives a good overview of all the major circumstances of the First World War. Mr. Keegan is probably the best modern historian of military history and he does a good job of showing the military campaigns along with social and political factors in the war. First, he portrays the conflict in a neutral, honest manner; his British nationality does not bias the book. This war was the great fulcrum in modern history. The world we live in is a direct result of the war and all the mistak...more
Scott Martin
I read this book many years ago, but being in Europe and given that we are almost upon the 100th anniversary of the 1st World War (or, as some would argue, the first part of the second 30-Years War), it seemed as good a time as any to reread this one. It is very, very difficult to try to distill World War I into one volume, but I feel that Keegan does a superior job in writing a one volume overview of the war. Taking a broader approach, other works will provide greater detail on specific events/...more
First book I read on WWI. I enjoy history, but found it hard to follow. After a while, I wasn't sure who was with the French, the Russians, Germans. A little too bogged down on the details, not enough big picture stuff. But I did learn a little.
Sam Baltes
In June of 1914, the archduke of Austria Hungary was assassinated by a sexually frustrated Yugoslavian nationalist kinda-sorta sponsored by a clandestine element of the Serbian government. Six months later, hundreds of thousands of French, German, British and Belgians would die. Four years later, the death toll climbed to 20 million and included persons from virtually every corner of the world. This conflagration was accompanied by a flu epidemic that claimed around four percent of the world's p...more
Such a good book. I can see why Keegan has such a distinguished reputation. I learned a tremendous amount. I knew almost nothing about the First World War. You always hear that you can't understand the second world war without understanding the first, and now I know why. I like how clearly he describes the geography and movements of the troops, and his kind heart added a lot to the facts. I imagine it sounds odd, given the subject, but he's such a compelling writer, I had a hard time putting it...more
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Please suggest me some books on World War 1 and 2 13 40 Jun 23, 2014 12:26PM  
  • The First World War: A Complete History
  • The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
  • Somme
  • Dreadnought
  • The First Day on the Somme
  • The First World War
  • The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front
  • The Pity of War: Explaining World War I
  • The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World
  • A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
  • Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War
  • Eye-Deep In Hell: Trench Warfare In World War I
  • Gallipoli
  • Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?
  • A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front
  • The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914
  • The Great War and Modern Memory
  • The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914
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 Leadership

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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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