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

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  5,934 ratings  ·  590 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. ...more
Hardcover, 704 pages
Published May 30th 2006 by Delacorte Press (first published 2006)
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Nov 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-i, history
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 that Wo
Jill Hutchinson
Dec 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Clif Hostetler
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The one hundred year anniversary of the end of World War I recently occurred, and I decided if I didn’t tackle this book at this time I never would. I’ve had my eyes on it for some time while dreading the investment of time required to get through it. It’s worth the time and is well written with a narrative that provides an easily understood description of a complicated series of events. Chapters dedicated to background information are interspersed throughout the book which provide frequent reli ...more
Roy Lotz
G. J. Meyer set out to write this book to fill a gap in the available literature on the First World War: a popular, holistic account that covered every phase and every front, without presupposing much knowledge from the reader. In this, he was undeniably successful. A World Undone begins at the beginning, with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, and ends at the end, with the Treaty of Versailles—signed five years to the day of the assassination of the infamous archduke.

Meyer’s scheme is simp
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: history, nonfiction
The passage of time has, for most of us, petrified our knowledge of World War I into an amalgam of abstractions. First there are the memorial markers standing as solemn tributes, the centerpiece, perhaps, of annual ceremonies commemorating this or that horrific battle. The result is at best a kind of static communion between observer and marker. It is impossible to process the multiple perspectives and emotional tenor that fueled the dynamic of World War I. Even the questions which seek to affix ...more
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ww1, non-fiction
Straight forward, very readable summary of WW1, focusing on the big picture. The author handles it all well, seamlessly switching between theatres without it all getting too confusing. Every other chapter is a short background section covering topics that might otherwise get overlooked - the royal families, new technology, poetry, women in the war, etc. which I thought worked really well. The evolution of infantry tactics is also well explained. This would probably make a good first book on WW1. ...more
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I typically prefer books that are written about a single battle or campaign and I tend to gravitate towards the ones written from the soldier’s point of view. For a World Undone, I’ll make an exception. This is probably the finest comprehensive book that I have ever read about any war. Maybe it was the perfect book for my level of understanding and I am sure the timing was ripe. You see, I was inspired by a recent visit to Ypres where I witnessed the playing of the Last Post at the Menin Gate. I ...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
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." - sir Edward Grey.

No matter how many books you read about the Great War, it will always perplexe you with its utter and sheer monstrosity. In addition to this, you also become aware of how vital the four years it lasted were to shaping the course of modern history. That is part of what makes it so fascinating. Even today, more than a hundred years later, historians are still discussing and analyzing its
The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)
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
Oct 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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'd recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the world we live in, because the modern political arena was forged in World War I (far more than WWII). The of ...more
Bryan Craig
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military-history
The best general one-volume history of WWI that I have read. It is more Euro-centric, but Meyer does delve into battle fronts in the Middle East and the east. I love his background segments at the end of each chapter that drills down on a particular topic.

The book stays on strategy and when he gets into battles, it hits the right tone as Meyer doesn't get bogged down in long battle details. You really get a sense of the vast tragedy and waste this war placed on the earth. Highly recommend.
Nov 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reread, history
If you're looking for an excellent history of The Great War or simply a great non-fiction book you've found it. In a nutshell what makes this book work is its balance, not necessarily in its handling of events and personalities - the author has no problem critiquing policies, people and decisions - but in the flow of the narrative. Meyer does an excellent job jockeying among the battlefields, world capitals, politicians, civilians, soldiers and generals, economies, technologies and much more wit ...more
May 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, history, wwi
World War I, keeps drawing readers back to texts and stories that cover this period, because it could have been easily prevented if only Europe hadn't bee ruled by so many unsuited, disengaged and self serving rulers trying desperately to keep hold of of a world view when the the entire world had already shifted. This was an excellent read because of the scope of the undertaking and the efforts to tell the backstory of not only the history of the countries and those who ruled them, but the backs ...more
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio-books, history
A long time ago I went on a road trip around Holland and Belgium. In the time before GPS, we took the itineraries of the Dutch Automobile Association (or something like that, forgive me, I forget) and one of them was passing through all the major battlefields of WWI. Thus, the photo below, a french cemetery (among the 170 total cemeteries found at Ypres). It is an understatement to say that the whole region is a cemetery. I knew little about WWI then. I remember driving speechless and music-less ...more
Susan O
Excellent and very readable overview of World War I. I came in to this book with only bits and pieces of knowledge about the war which I had picked up from various other books such as biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and world history classes from many years ago. This was the perfect book to begin filling in those gaps. I think it lays a great foundation to build on in learning more about the war. Meyer has a very nice style of writing that made reading the book a pleasure. ...more
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
If one is looking for a detailed, yet concise and easy to understand book on World War I, look no further than G.J. Meyer’s comprehensive account. I use the word ‘concise’ with a bit of apprehension. This book is over 800 pages. Yet World War I was a long, brutal war with many tales to be told – the who, the why, the what, etc. So yes, it’s a thick detailed book, but very easy to read and appreciate. I’ve read many history books, and many authors might be experts on their subject matter, but sim ...more
Apr 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: european-history
Why read about WWI? It is amazingly complex and deeply disturbing. WWI transformed the world into the one we recognize today, but perhaps even more relevant is the way it exposed self-serving failed leadership that fed political, religious and national divisions; tactics and behavior that we also recognize today. Apparently while the map changed greatly with new boundaries and new countries, not much has changed with the human race and its leaders in the 100 years since.

In 1914, the world’s vol
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wwi
Having read other books on WW I, I was familiar with the subject before reading this book. Nonetheless, I found this book to be the best introduction to WW I. The author presents excellent background for each topic. For example, he shows: the origins of Serbian unrest that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, why the War was not confined to just the Balkans, the antiquated British military system that created inept military leaders such as Generals French and Haig, the French mi ...more
Cindy Rollins
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, audiobooks
Excellent in-depth look at the war to end all wars. I especially loved the background sections. Perhaps a little too detailed for a first look at the war but definitely one to read after you have the big picture.
Review of the audiobook narrated by Robin Sachs.

Even though a war in Europe around the time of World War I is said to have been inevitable, I found the circumstances that started the war to be more sad than anything. WWI is nothing like WWII (where there was a clear "bad guy" with the Nazi party) in that nearly all of the participants in the war share some of the blame for why it started in the first place. Without those many mistakes and misunderstandings happening like dominoes the deaths of s
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, wwi
A world undone. There is no better title for this book. At the end of WWI four great empires ceased to exist. The war redrafted the map of Europe and left painful wounds and scars that hurt still.

Let me start by saying that this book is the first non-fiction book that made me cry, that I couldn’t put down and one Friday evening I was reading it till 3am (btw I am an early sleeper). And… Now I feel that I knew nothing about that war. I didn’t have a huge gap, no. But my mind was full of illusions
Ghost of the Library
Aug 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Some editing was done to typos and some feedback added now that it's been awhile since I read it the first time.

Unlike most people of my generation whose historic interest always seems to drift towards WWII, i have always found myself intensely drawn towards this conflict, THE WAR TO END ALL WARS as it was then called, mostly because i now firmly believe that it is the root of many of the problems that Europe, and the world by extension, face today.
Over the years i read many books, watched count
Mar 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
A.L. Sowards
I’ve read a few one-volume accounts of WWI, and I think this is my favorite of those. (This was an audiobook and the others I read, but I don’t think the format influenced my opinion.) I loved that it was chronological, but also had in-depth sections on background information and themes that stretched across the war—everything from the Romanovs to propaganda to women’s roles and Cossacks. This one was highly readable and explained things well enough for beginners in the subject, but also added t ...more
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazingly detailed and astute analysis of the Great War

This book should be required reading for college level history. It describes in detail the events that would shape European history for the next hundred years. Everything would have been different without WWI, which toppled four empires and seeded resentments that would trigger WWII and result in the Cold War. Amazing, infuriating, enlightening read.
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Absolutely fantastic single volume overview of World War I. Not only does Meyer manage to cram enough in here to give anyone a full picture of the war while keeping it not only readable but exciting, but he also manages to touch on side players and events such as Rasputin, Lawrence of Arabia, and Churchill's role in the invention of the modern tank.

May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was the best history of World War I I've ever read. Unfortunately, I'm writing the review 4 months after I finished the book, so my impressions are not as sharp as they were.

The main thing I learned from the book is how tragically unavoidable the War was, in many ways, and how little it had to do with the assassination of the Archduke. That was definitely the most interesting part to me, learning how the divergent interests of the major players--especially the rogue Austro-Hungarians, dragg
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war, history, non-fiction
Wow. This took me almost two months to finish. Yes, it was long -- over 700 pages, and it was very detailed and complex in telling a very intricate and complex story, and, yes, I had a lot going on in the way of vacations and travels over the past two months. But the main reason it took me so long to finish was because the story was fascinating and I really wanted to be reasonably well-informed about the Great War upon completion of this book.

Like probably most Americans, my knowledge of World
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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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17 likes · 2 comments
“People everywhere were being told that this war was no continuation of politics by other means, no traditional struggle for limited objectives. It was a fight to the death with the forces of evil, and the stakes were survival and civilization itself. It is no simple thing to make people believe such things and later persuade them to accept a settlement based on compromise.” 4 likes
“There arose in the aftermath of this battle the strangest and most beautiful legend of the war. It was said that, when the British peril was at its height, a majestic figure had appeared high in the sky with arm upraised. Some said it had been pointing to victory, others that it held back the Germans as the Tommies got away. It came to be known as the Angel of Mons. Even more colorful was the simultaneous legend of the Archers of Agincourt. In the late Middle Ages at Agincourt—not a great distance from Mons—English yeomen armed with longbows had won a great victory over a much bigger force of mounted and armored French knights. Four hundred and ninety-nine years later there were stories of German soldiers found dead at Mons with arrows through their bodies.” 2 likes
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