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The First World War

(The World Wars #1)

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  12,263 ratings  ·  469 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 June 5th 1999)
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Nov 12, 2011 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
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 S

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
Author John Keegan gives the impression late in this very good book that he held the Kaiser partially responsible for the Great War as he embarked on a pointless attempt to match Britain’s maritime strength that “….in all possibility, might have been the (cause of the) neurotic climate of suspicion and insecurity from which the First World War was born.” Based on this book being very much written from a British point of view it is easy to understand why Keegan is of this opinion. In the end thou ...more
Oct 09, 2015 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
Mar 24, 2014 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
Jill Hutchinson
May 20, 2015 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
'Aussie Rick'
Jun 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military-history, 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
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwi
Widely considered one of the finest analyses on WW1. You won’t find many quotes or first hand accounts of the soldiers here. But what you will find are excellent summaries and insights on the panoply of events that unfolded over the five years of the Great War.

Here are some of my favorite topics and insights.

1. Battle of Jutland. Discussion around how the battle was actually a victory for the Allies even though their casualties and sunken ships were larger in number than Germany. Germany though
The First World War by John Keegan is an excellent one-volume treatment of the Great War. I read this book because I felt my knowledge of World War I left much to be desired. I wanted to get a good understanding of the entire conflict before diving in to more specific battles, campaigns, and other events. That's exactly what this book offered.

The opening chapters describe the background to the hostilities and the buildup of the tragic chain of events which launched Europe, and shortly thereafter
Dec 15, 2009 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
May 24, 2012 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
Shawn Deal
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A great, very well written and researched book that gives you a clear and concise overview of world war 1. My u derstanding of the war was hugely enriched by this book.
Mark Mortensen
Sep 14, 2012 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
An engagingly written top-down history of the First World War, crammed (somewhat incredibly) into slightly less than 460 pages of text. Very definitely of the grand strategy position, but it does give a good sense of the movement of the armies and their activities, providing scope for further reading and shining a light into some of the less well known aspects of the war, such as the Serbian front, the African campaigns and the German "activities" in Belgium (not quite the propaganda excuse for ...more
Jan 02, 2014 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
Jun 14, 2008 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
Stephen Case
Feb 06, 2015 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
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 gave this book a 3-star rating.

I loved the maps, I learned a lot, and I look forward to learning more about WWI. If you
Kim  Scripture
May 09, 2010 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.
Heinz Reinhardt
Jan 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Sir John Keegan's work on the First World War is both an extremely well written, narrative account of the war, while all the while being a work that doesn't truly add anything new to the understanding of the conflict. As other reviewers have said, it is, largely, a rehash of secondary source material, with Keegan preferring to narrate the war rather than truly analyze it. 
Nothing at all wrong with such an approach, most works of this type tend to be amongst the best of historical works, and tend
Fani *loves angst*
DNF at 12%

He may be a fantastic historian, but his turn of phrase leaves much to be desired :( Some phrases need to be read more than twice, to make any meaning out of them, and I can see from the reviews that I'm not the only one to think so.
Apr 08, 2017 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 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
Jan 02, 2009 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
Kurt Reichenbaugh
Feb 25, 2014 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
Jun 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
I definitely liked this book. A very good overview of WWI. I am disappointed about the campaigns in the Middel East. Very little is discussed on Palestine or Kut.
Audrey Knutson
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Somme? Verdun? Flanders? I realized I had very little knowledge of the first terrible war that shaped the 20th century. Last year I read Barbara Tuchman's "Guns of August." I loved it but since it only concentrated on the summer of 1914, it made me yearn for a more comprehensive history of the Great War. "The First World War" by John Keegan is exactly what I wanted.

Keegan certainly assumes the reader has some sort of background and knowledge of the First World War, but I don't think it's nec
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Keegan acknowledges at the outset of his work, that World War I was a tragedy. He rightly states that World War II "was the direct outcome of the first." Early on, the book develops slowly, while he lays out the situation and the armies move into position. The book really picks up in the middle once the "stalemate", as he calls it, takes hold.

Most of Keegan's attention is given to the European battles. Ample attention is also given to the war in Africa, Asia, and the Atlantic Ocean. We can easil
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, history, 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
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World War I-best one volume overview 1 29 May 25, 2015 02:42PM  
The run-up to WWII - Where to go? 3 12 Feb 22, 2015 10:57PM  
Please suggest me some books on World War 1 and 2 13 64 Jun 23, 2014 12:26PM  

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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.

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