Rae's Reviews > The First World War

The First World War by John Keegan
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Sep 08, 07

really liked it
Recommended for: Historians
Read in August, 2007

Keegan is a talented historian who certainly knows the period before, during, and after WWI. He provides the background that led the Allies and Germany/Austria, etc. into the War, the ridiculous paranoia of not only the Prussian and Austrian military elites but that of the French military as well, which was almost as contributory to the beginning of the War as the actions of Germany and Austria, and the way the politicians, not the ruling dynasties, created the War itself for their own ends. Keegan presents fairly vivid portraits of the battles he covers (it's always interesting to be reading about a battle that took place on the date you're reading about it -- I read about WWI mostly in August and September for that reason). He puts a good human spin on the accounts of the skirmishes that keep them from becoming merely repetitions of statistics. His strong suit, though, is explaining the machinations and concerns of the politicians who started the War. Believe it or not, Kaiser Wilhelm wasn't the raging warlord he's often portrayed as -- his ministers and the Prussian General Staff lied to him about what was happening with the Serbians after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Wilhelm desperately tried to keep the War from occurring. His sins were of omission, not commisson, because he too easily believed what he was told. That blew me away but it's true.

This is a thorough examination of the War and an enlightening read about international diplomacy. Many of the axioms that held true in 1914 hold true for diplomats today and Keegan illustrates this as well.
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