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A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918

4.33 of 5 stars 4.33  ·  rating details  ·  2,017 ratings  ·  234 reviews
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 twenty million people, and cracked the foundations of the world we live in today.

The First World War is one of history’s grea
Paperback, 816 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Delacorte Press (first published 2006)
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My wife and I are expecting a baby any day now. Any moment, really. And I thought about that as I finished this book: how it might be the last book I ever read. Ever. At least the last book that doesn’t involve talking bears or talking cows or talking bean-pods or whatever talking creature populates the books that babies read these days.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with World War I. A few weeks ago, while at Barnes & Noble, I was looking for a good book on World War I, fully acknowledging tha
Jill Hutchinson
I keep reading WWI books, not necessarily to learn anything new but to get the perspective of the authors....and of course because I love them. This book jumps to the top of my list as a direct, unbiased look at the war and all that made it so horrific. And the author uses a device which I found quite novel. At the beginning of each chapter he places a "background" of two or three pages to discuss issues that would not usually get much attention in an overall history of the Great War. They range ...more
I admittedly read very little non-fiction, I unfortunately get bogged down in the detail and lack of story and thus restrict myself to specific subjects that I find fascinating. WWI is one of those.

I didn't realize that I knew so little about WWI until I read this book.
It seems impossible to understand WWII without knowing this war and the politics that started and ended it.
For a war that had and has so many repercussions for Europe, it amazes me that I didn't know more.

The author did a fantas
The Pirate Ghost
This is a great one volume history of The Great War. The author takes the time to fill in the background and uses quotes from soldiers on both sides that tell what life was really like in the trenches. If War is Hell, then this war, World War One, is the biggest hell of the mall. It started as a dysfunctional royal family feud and ended with millions dead.

As I listened to the numbers on the butcher's bill I remembered Carl Sandburg's "The Grass."

The Grass
by Carl Sandburg

"Pile the bodies high a
Andy Gavin
Doing research for the sequel to my novel I started reading a number of histories of World War I. This is simply put: an amazing single volume history of the war, its causes, and course of events (but not the post-treaty fallout). I've read hundreds (or more) of history books, and as single volume war histories go -- this is excellent. I'drecommendit to anyone who wants tounderstandthe world we live in, because the modern political arena was forged in World War I (far more than WWII). The often ...more
Joyce Lagow
I’m not sure precisely what fascinates me about military history. I really don’t need to continue to read it to be confirmed in my belief that the human race is capable of the most incredible stupidity; political evens suffice for that. But read it I do, and A World Undone is the latest in my efforts to understand why human beings continue to pursue such self-evidently destructive and almost always useless endeavors; wars usually do nothing more than pave the way for future wars.

I’ve read other
Lise Petrauskas
I'm really impressed with G.J. Meyer after having now read two of his histories. A World Undone is the devastating story of The Great War, the history of which I only cursorily knew until now. This is not an exhaustive work, but one for the general reader to understand the social forces, individuals, and ideas that made the war possible. I like the format Meyer used of interrupting the main narrative, which followed the war's timeline, with chapters that gave background information, such as a ch ...more
An incredibly dense but amazingly clear and concise history. There is no filler, no vagaries of interest, no nonsense. The author states in the foreword that he felt there was never a singular and definitive tome on the first world war, that the subject was so vast that historians tend to focus on certain aspects of it; his goal, therefore, was to write this book for people who hope to know all of the war in one (giant) piece. Mission accomplished! Furthermore, the author knows so instinctively ...more
My wife and I drove the Western Front last fall - a trip I heartily recommend. To prepare, we read a lot about the Great War. The past few years have offered a rich feast of books about the war and while I have made great progress, I still have a few to go. After reading a lot, I have become very impressed when I run across exceptional one volume treatments of the war in its entirety. This was not only a hugely complex chain of events, but also a seminal event that seems to have influenced nearl ...more
I don't generally write reviews on books, but this one thoroughly deserves a review [although I am not really the one to be writing it]. But here it goes…..

This book is very well written, incredibly dense but amazingly clear and concise history. There is no filler, no vagaries of interest, no nonsense.

I didn't realize that I knew so little about WWI until I read this book.
It seems impossible to understand WWII without knowing this war and the politics that started and ended it.
For a war that ha
This is the first book I've read on World War I. Part One, on the events leading up to the war, is brilliant. When I finished the book I went back and re-read that part. The rest of the book is also very good, but a bit more tedious as names and dates begin to run together. After each chapter in the history is a short background section, which adds a great deal to the book. Part one contains background sections on all of the major nations and empires that had a part in the start of the war (Aust ...more
thought I was more or less done with single volume treatments of the First World War. I read Tuchman, Keegan and the Ferguson books and have I a few more specialized works on the shelves. Well, it seems there is room for another single volume treatment, namely GJ Meyer's A World Undone. For most readers, I think it is one of the best, if not the best book to read on the war.

Among it's great selling points is that the book assumes little to no knowledge of military affairs. While this may disappo
Matt Brady
This was so engrossing it made me wish the war went on for another 4 years!!!

Meyer takes on a monumental task - to tell a complete overview of the First World War from beginning to end, covering all theaters, in chronological order. He not only achieves this goal but makes it an excellent and informative read as well. Nothing is ignored, and if some things aren't given the full attention they might deserve, you still can't really fault Meyer for the sheer... comprehensiveness of it all I guess,
At just over 650 pages, the book reads smoothly and quickly. Meyer writes with a simple elegance, his words crisp with detail and easy to grasp. This is due in large part to his background as a journalist rather than a professional historian. The book's chapters structure lends well to his overall theme of understanding the war through gaining knowledge on its background. Each of the 36 chapters of detail are supported by a corresponding chapter of background information. For example, the book o ...more
It still rattles me -- and it shouldn't by now -- how chronically and deeply governments lie to their people. Do you remember, maybe from high school history, being told that the US entered WWI because Germany sank the cruise ship, The Lusatania, with American passengers aboard? We like to think of ourselves as so much better than we are. We entered the war for economic reasons, not outrage that innocent lives had been lost. German U-boats made commercial trade dangerous. Freighters backed up i ...more
"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 se ...more
David Eppenstein
This August will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI. I expect we will be hearing a lot about that war as the anniversary draws near. If you were to desire preparing for the event I can think of no better book to read than this one. This is the second book by G.J. Meyer that I have read in the last few months. The first book was a biography of the Borgias that I found remarkably refreshing in its approach to the subject and its challenges to accepted beliefs. In this book Meyer takes ...more
There is no single-volume book which can ever do justice to any war, and this is no exception. However, of the books I've read, or tried to read, about WWI, I really recommend this one as the place to start.

Meyer covers the "war" part of the war, which may not sound too fascinating, but he makes it so interesting it's hard to put down. First, he takes the war from before it starts to its end. He discusses the various arguments about why it actually started. Secondly, he is not heavy on military
The author does a good job breaking down this immense conflict into digestible chunks. I would have rated this a solid 5 stars except that towards the end, and this is a large book at some 700 pages, he lost me a little bit by the depth in which he covers the final battles on the Western front. Perhaps this depth is necessary for understanding the final outcome, but I still get a little lost when the military angle: battle lines and individual army movements, takes presidence over general war ai ...more
in contrast to LSE Professor David Stevenson's economics/statistics approach, historian G.J. Meyer (M.A., English, Univ. Minnesota) gives a personality-centred story. in other words, 'this ruler ordered this,' but 'that general favoured that.' to some degree, modern historical science is moving away from that approach to examine apersonal forces and broad statistical facts, but until the individual is completely erased from story, the journalist/historian still writes a damn good book. in fact, ...more
This isn't exactly a review, but I want to write something in hopes that others will give this book a read as well.

You don't need to be a history buff to enjoy this book. With all honestly, this is the first serious history book I've ever picked up, and I only did so because of a recommendation. But to say this book fascinated me is an understatement.

Not only did this book take me through all I thought I'd ever want know about WWI, but it has in fact driven me to learn more about the great histo
I finally understand. Now I must reread "The Beauty and the Sorrow" as I will undoubtedly get more out of it than I did the first time. Very often in "A World Undone" I thought of the people that I read about in "The Beauty and the Sorrow" and realized that I had read these two fine books in the wrong order.
I was gripped by this book all the way through, never wanting to put it down. As I came up to the last hundred pages, I knew of course that the end was coming and I wanted it to continue. No
I picked this up right after I read The Guns of August to finish off reading about WW I. This book was a good one volume history of WW I which is what I was looking for and it delivered. It is written with a clear prose that is easy to follow and because of the nature of the subject it must jump around to cover all the events that happen but the author handles this adroitly. I liked the amount of detail he gives while still moving quickly enough to keep the narrative pace brisk. Good read

Pithy r
Jason Aldous
As good as one volume can get for such a gigantic subject

World War 1 has always held a special fascination for me.for one thing Americans care to know little about it because American troops didn't get into the combat until the last 6 months or so of the war. Also, it was an era before TV and radio. I suspect even Americans living at that time must have understood little about it as well. Yet, it was the conflict that set in motion all the other conflicts of our time. It's causes were more inte
I chose to read this book because it being the 100th anniversary of the start of World War, I wanted to learn more about it. A WORLD UNDONE was an amazing history book. Right from the 1st chapter, I could tell that it was the right book for me to pick. In Meyer's introduction to the book he states, "It has long seemed to me that practically all popular histories of the Great War assume too much, expect too much of the reader and therefore leave too much unexplained...I believe this volume, wheth ...more
Connor Kennedy
n honor of the 100 year anniversary of World War I, listened to “A World Undone”. Covers reasons for the war, the world leaders, the important military officers, and the major battles. Importantly, the author does more than report the facts, but calls out the brilliant and the stupid which allows the listener to understand the consequences of decisions by generals and politicians.

Both sides were guilty of wanting war and the spoils that go to the victor. The politicians lied to the public (some
Bruce Cook
This is a very readable history of World War I. I have read a number of books about World War II, but I kind of shied away from World War I because I felt that it was basically trench warfare with generals stuck in the past who could think of nothing better than throwing soldiers at machine guns. I had read All Quiet on the Western Front, so I felt I did have somewhat of an understanding as to what trench warfare was all about. My eyes were open by reading the recent book Lawrence in Arabia. Muc ...more
Morgan Mussell
In this centennial year of the first world war, I'm re-reading parts on the best single book on that conflict I have read. Here is a review I posted on my blog two years ago.

the Great War has held a haunting fascination for me since I read All Quiet on the Western Front when I was sixteen (the author, G.J. Meyer said something similar in his introduction). Because of my father’s work, we were living in France when I read the book, and older people at that time remembered the war. Several told us
I first heard of this book via Dan Carlin's excellent hardcore history podcast. A world undone is a one volume narrative of the first world war. I use the word narrative on purpose - this is no dry recitation of troop movements, battles and lists of long forgotten generals. Instead G.J. Meyer has captured the turmoil and drama in gripping terms. And what drama! All the infighting, jealousy and dysfunction you may be familiar with at your place of work? Imagine this on a national scale, with pres ...more
John Kaufmann
Four-stars, going on five. Fantastic. I've started other books on WWI, but this is the first one that grabbed me and made me stay with it. For the first time, I feel I got a handle on what the war was about, how it was pursued by the general, how horrible it was (other books did do that), what the drivers were that kept the war going despite the horror and stalemate. And it did it in a way that I found interesting - perhaps because he focused a lot on some of the key personalities (leaders and g ...more
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G. J. Meyer is a former Woodrow Wilson Fellow with an M.A. in English literature from the University of Minnesota, a onetime journalist, and holder of Harvard University’s Neiman Fellowship in Journalism. He has taught at colleges and universities in Des Moines, St. Louis, and New York. His books include A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, Executive Blues, and The Memphis Murders, winner o ...more
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