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The First World War (The World Wars #1)

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  9,456 Ratings  ·  350 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
Paperback, 475 pages
Published May 16th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1998)
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(showing 1-30)
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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
Nov 12, 2011 Matt rated it liked it
Shelves: world-war-i
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
Mar 24, 2014 Jonfaith rated it liked it
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
Oct 09, 2015 Lizzy rated it really liked it
John Keegan’s The First World War couldn't be better as an introduction to the theme. Yes, it was my first book about World War I. I have to confess that I was practically ignorant beforehand.

Only now, two years after reading Keegan's book, I got to write its review. My interest on the theme was revived after I read the excellent The Last Lion 1: Visions of Glory 1874-1932, and since I joined the World War Two Group.

My knowledge was limited to dates and broad circuntances, not the intricacies o
Dec 15, 2009 Ed rated it really liked it
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
Jan 02, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it
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
Sep 14, 2012 Mark Mortensen rated it liked it
Shelves: wwi
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
Jun 14, 2008 Guy rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Jill Hutchinson
May 20, 2015 Jill Hutchinson rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwi-wwii
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
Jan 24, 2017 Jennifer rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction, 2017
If I had to rate this book on content alone I would give it 5 stars. The thorough research put into this book is impressive. Dates, locations, regiment, and battle information. . . it’s all here. I appreciate the level of detail, but I found it difficult to keep engaged because at times a lot of names and dates were being rattled off in quick succession. And it’s for that reason I give this book a 3 star rating.

I loved the maps, I learned a lot, and I look forward to learning more about WWI. If
Stephen Case
Feb 06, 2015 Stephen Case rated it really liked it
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
Apr 08, 2017 Thomas rated it really liked it
The book focuses on the military history of the Great War. The author only explains the political and personal environment at the beginning and end of the time period. It's a good overview for its length, but is heavily centered around tactics and strategies.
Aug 02, 2009 Penny rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 25, 2014 Kurt Reichenbaugh rated it really liked it
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
Dec 23, 2011 Stuart rated it did not like it
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
Jan 02, 2009 Chris rated it liked it
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
May 24, 2012 Jerome rated it really liked it
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
May 09, 2010 Kim rated it liked it
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.
Benjamin Bryan
Mar 30, 2016 Benjamin Bryan rated it really liked it
If you want a broad overview of the Great War, this is a good choice.
Paul Haspel
Jul 25, 2011 Paul Haspel rated it it was amazing
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
Land Murphy
Jan 24, 2011 Land Murphy rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 23, 2016 David rated it liked it
Shelves: history
What draws me to history books is to get a feel for what it was like to live in the moments described. What would it have been like to cross the Rubicon with Caesar or to march into Russia with Napoleon? The trenches of WWI are possibly one of the worst places in history to find yourself. While Keegan does a good job of telling the story of the Great War, he seemed to focus more on names and dates then on getting down in the dirt. So the book offers a great history, from beginning to end, of the ...more
Timothy Fitzgerald
Jun 19, 2009 Timothy Fitzgerald rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jan 07, 2015 Rob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 20, 2014 Manish rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, own, wwi, 2014
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
Kathryn Bashaar
Jul 10, 2012 Kathryn Bashaar rated it really liked it
My boss lent this book to me. He loves military history and loves to share with other people books that he really likes. I'm interested in the WWI era, so I enjoyed this book. It was well-written for a military history. For me, it was a good review of things I already knew about WWI, and I also learned some things I didn't know. I was very fuzzy on the eastern front, on why WWI was truly called a World War, but now I understand these things. But there is nothing that can make WWI any less appall ...more
Dec 21, 2013 Joel rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 01, 2015 Patrick rated it liked it
Shelves: history-politics
I really like Keegan but not this one. Crammed with too much detail, including seemingly every movement by every unit that fought, down to the company, but very short on insight or analysis. The politics of the war are only dealt with perfunctorily and only a few of the military leaders are described with any detail. Even then, it's only generals and field marshals; common soldiers only rate a brief mention here and there. Annoyingly, the maps don't link with the text-rivers and villages and sur ...more
'Aussie Rick'
Jun 30, 2009 'Aussie Rick' rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-military, ww1

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
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
World War I-best one volume overview 1 18 May 25, 2015 02:42PM  
The run-up to WWII - Where to go? 3 11 Feb 22, 2015 10:57PM  
Please suggest me some books on World War 1 and 2 13 56 Jun 23, 2014 12:26PM  
  • The First World War: A Complete History
  • The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front
  • The First Day on the Somme
  • The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
  • The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World
  • No Man's Land: 1918, the Last Year of the Great War
  • The Pity of War: Explaining World War I
  • Somme
  • Dreadnought
  • The First World War
  • Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy
  • A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front
  • Eye-Deep In Hell: Trench Warfare In World War I
  • A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
  • The Zimmermann Telegram
  • Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War
  • Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?
  • The Great War and Modern Memory
Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan, OBE, FRSL 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...

Other Books in the Series

The World Wars (2 books)
  • The Second World War

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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.” 4 likes
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