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The First World War: A Very Short Introduction

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,114 ratings  ·  115 reviews
By the time the First World War ended in 1918, eight million people had died in what had been perhaps the most apocalyptic episode the world had known.

This Very Short Introduction provides a concise and insightful history of the Great War--from the state of Europe in 1914, to the role of the US, the collapse of Russia, and the eventual surrender of the Central Powers. Exam
Paperback, 134 pages
Published February 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2002)
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Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I like Oxford's series "A Very Short Introduction", and have so far not been disappointed with any of them.

I generally like to read them as a refresher before embarking on a more detailed study of a topic. But this time, I actually read it to get back to seeing the big lines in history after having spent a lot of time looking at every detail of the war through the lens of Churchill's The World Crisis, 1911-1918.

It is a concise and interesting account of the time, starting with the cursed allian
Ahmad Sharabiani
The First World War: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions #154), Michael Eliot Howard

By the time the First World War ended in 1918, eight million people had died in what had been perhaps the most apocalyptic episode the world had known.
Bojan Tunguz
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The First World War is by far the lesser known of the two major 20th century military conflicts that bear the name of a World War. This is partly due to the fact that it is the earlier of the two wars and thus farther from our collective memories. More importantly, in my opinion, is the fact that it was a war much more limited in scope – both in terms of the geographical extent of the conflict, as well as the impact it had on the civilian populations. It was, in many respects, a very “static” wa ...more
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
He explains it all as a story, using general terms and moving chronologically, speaking in broad strokes like, “the British thought this.” This helped kept things simple. While I admit there is much nuance left out, I think this book is great for what it tries to do. I admire Howard’s resistance against getting lost in details. This book is a good resource for any junior high / high schooler learning about the war for the first time — it would need to be supplemented with cultural studies and pe ...more
Brianna Parkes
May 16, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was very informative. I thought it was interesting learning about how diplomatic relations are like an ever-changing puzzle. At first the book focuses on a few years leading up to the war, when everyone felt war was inevitable and they were sort of just waiting for it to be officially declared, then it focuses on each country and how they were doing throughout the entirety of the war, and it also talks about specific battles that were particularly significant. It seems like this author ...more
Timo ✨
Sep 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
The very short introduction to the First World War by Howard was an interesting read. Though sometimes quite complex and confusing, probably caused by the complexity of the described events themselves and not Howard‘s style, I definitely learned a lot (a lot of which I perhaps should have already known or remembered from school...). Sometimes I did need to force myself a little bit to carry on reading, but I am glad I did and looking forward (a little) to reading the VSI to World War II.
Oct 21, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though I study the First World War, there's plenty of stuff I don't know about it, or don't know well enough. I understand the general outline of it and, also generally, about certain battles. But I find this war pretty daunting to try and read about. This really hit me when I tried reading - for like the third time - Jack Sheldon's The German Army at Ypres 1914 and I had no idea what I was even reading. Not only because it was so detailed, but because I really didn't know enough about Ypre ...more
Feb 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
A clear and concise history of the important events and details of WW1. Very helpful for those who, like me, went to high schools that skimped heavily on what exactly the first world war was all about (Franz Ferdinand shot! Trench warfare! Mustard gas! OKAY, ON TO WORLD WAR TWO, CHILDREN!). Some more definitions of key terms would have been helpful, though.
Obaida Othman
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Amazing book. I had no background information before reading it. Now, I have a good knowledge about the main events of the first world war. The book is not boring like other history books. There are some difficult and war related words that i had to look at them in the dictionary. But overall, it is a nice book. I recommend it
Jul 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Concise and to the point, yet citations would have been a welcome addition.
Ai Miller
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
I mean, does exactly what it says on the tin--it's a very short introduction to WWI, with special focus on the military aspects of the war (aka 'the things I find most boring about history'.) It did I guess have like... a section of a chapter dedicated to "homefront life" so good it on that front? I didn't find it super interesting, but someone who wants that military history crash course would probably like it way better than I did. ...more
Jerome Kuseh
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Brief and to the point. Just enough details about the political environment or the important battles to pique one's interest to go learn more about them. Recommended ...more
Gordon Cameron
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
A wonderful summary of a complex subject with such relevance for issues we face 100 years later.
Alison Horn
Sep 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great intro to a war I've never been able to understand. What a messy slog it was! By the end of the book, you can see how so many geopolitical problems of the past 100 years were set in motion by this war. ...more
Lukas op de Beke
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
By far the best one of all the books I have read in this nice little series.
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Who could resist seeing how Michael Howard would write a short overview of the Great War? It is a very nice focused summary, with a good balance between "what happened" in a military and political sense, and why these particular events matter to understanding the war. And, as usual, Howard has some pithy, quotable lines like "So by the end of 1914, the short war for which Europe's armies had been preparing for the previous forty years was over, but nobody had one it." The book works for telling ...more
Sarah u
A well written and clear introduction/refresher in the causes, fighting, politics, and final settlement of the First World War. In addition to the text, Howard includes two appendices: first is President Wilson's Fourteen Points from early 1918; the second a table showing the numbers each combatant's army mobilised and how many died. Like The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction, this is a good quality text from this series and serves its purpose well. Recommended. ...more
✧ mari ✧
Feb 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
(In reality, my reading experince was more like a 3.5, but did I not have to take notes on it, it would've been a full 4 - hence the round-up)

A very concise but detailed overview of WWI. A surprisingly fascinating read that provides a great insight into both the political reasons behind the war, as well as some of the major military engagements throughout Europe during it. Very useful for both academic and casual purposes!
Troy Richter
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a very good introduction to the First World War
May 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful and concise overview of the opposing strategies and maneuvers of America's forgotten war. I just wish there was more than a cursory summation of the armistice and treaty of Versailles. ...more
Artyom Korotkov
Jun 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Amazing capture of the First World War! Short, yet fairly detailed, interesting and captivating reading. Looking forward to reading more by Michael Eliot Howard.
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I was about 50 pages in Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Hastings and I thought before reading up on WWI, I would go and warm up with Howard's book. I needed to recap and recollect before moving on to a more dense view, I may even look to another introductory source; seeing as how much of my take on this war has began to allude me with the passage of time. My decision, however, was right, I've forgotten much that I've read before but this book does a great job of providing a great and co ...more
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Succinct and powerful. Howard covers all that needs to be said about WWI. Amazingly, parts of the lead up to WWI is a story we have all heard of before and since this massive travesty. A bunch of smart and powerful people lead the masses into a war they think will be quickly decided, but then it becomes a slog because they didn’t see the new ways of fighting that appeared almost immediately. So lots of regular folks are thrown into the grinder of humanity. In this case, it was years of trench wa ...more
Another Human
Mar 21, 2021 rated it liked it
Book provides what it says, a short introduction of the war. But as you read it you find out that they are only focused on the western front and not just the western front but on the big players such as Germany which is ofc painted as the BAD guy and then there are french and British who are there for the most part. and I would argue that they are there for a bit too much in the entire book. Meanwhile, the Eastern front if not overshadowed by the west, Completely Ignored. Again it's a good enoug ...more
Chorina Mega
May 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
As someone who lives outside Europe, I had very little knowledge about WWI from my basic school education. So, to me, this book was a nice source in shaping my basic knowledge of WWI. The author successfully described every stage of WWI in a clear and concise manner, as well as explained the political situations and how some decisions were taken by certain figures. I wish this book included more entries of the social aspects during WWI, whether from the soldiers or the civilians, rather than jus ...more
Very good 120-page introduction to World War I. Well-structured and organized, packed with detail. Where Howard—who has previously written Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction for the VSI series—skimps is on the experience of the troops in combat (I believe one adjective suffices for his description of the weeks-long nightmare of Passchendaele), but this is an understandable omission for a volume of this size. Ideal reading for newcomers to the field or for a class being guided by lecture or ot ...more
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good book for the First World War.

The structure is good for the World War theatre: the background of the war, which has been prepared since the end of the XIX. How the powers could keep the war going on. And finally, how the war was decided.

In-depth, the detail of tactics, strategies, politics, science... every aspect of wartime also covered by the book, provides a good understanding of the coming Second World War.
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and brief introduction to WW1, but certainly not for those who have studied the topic before. The writing is a bit dry, but clear and succinct. It presents a military-heavy account of the war, which is true to Michael Howard's background, but I was a bit disappointed there wasn't more on the psychology of the motivations behind the war, as well as the economic and civil strife. Still, overall, a worthwhile read. ...more
Jordan Ross
Jan 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Certainly not a page turner but I enjoyed it for the most part.
I had a modest understanding of WWI befor reading this book so I read it more as a summary rather than an introduction and found it to be a reasonably compelling read.
I can't really fault it for accuracy but found it to be quite a slow and dense read, not to mention mentally draining owing to the subject matter.

Im glad to have read it and I would suggest it's worth reading regardless of standing knowledge of WWI.
May 09, 2020 rated it liked it
This is truly a short introduction to the First World War. It covers a lot of history in a brief book. It is cogent and hits the important points. The emphasis is on the Wesernt front and little less attention is given to the other areas of combat. It was published in 2002, and, therefore, does not include the scholarship that emerged in the centennial of the war. The "Further Reading" is a disappointment. ...more
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A Very Short Read...: 100 years 7 7 Dec 06, 2018 12:35AM  

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Sir Michael Eliot Howard, OM, CH, CBE, MC, FBA, is a British military historian, formerly Chichele Professor of the History of War, Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University, and founder of the Department of War Studies, King's College London. ...more

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