Nov-18 by Gordon Brook-Shepherd


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Brook-Shepherd takes as his (untouched) subject the winding-down of World War I on all diplomatic and military fronts; but what he launches as a panoramic history of the ""last hundred days"" takes on interest and drama only as it comes to focus, in the last third, on the collapse of Germany's allies and what Brook-Shepherd really wants to say: that Germany was doomed by that collapse (true--up to a point); that ""gentle,"" moderate Austro-Hungarian emperor Charles was very different from German kaiser Wilhelm. (Brook-Shepherd is also the author of a 1969 biography of Charles, The Last Hapsburg--significantly based, as this is too, on his long acquaintance with Charles' still-living widow Zita.) Earlier, we have choppy accounts of developments on the Western Front--from the Allies' key advance at Amiens, on August 8--which center on the failings of Ludendorff. (From his memoirs, B.-S. judges him ""a dry and humorless fanatic""; and, along with Wilhelm and Wilson, he is one of the book's three no-goods.) We also have excerpts from the diaries and memoirs of combatants--which are sometimes interesting (an American's first sight of Britain's ""uninspiring"" George V), but not necessarily germane. We have word of the squabbles among Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George (more than usually anti-Wilson) and specks of home-front life (again, not necessarily germane). More materially, we have scrappy accounts of the campaigns that toppled Bulgaria, Turkey, and--in Italy--what remained of Austria-Hungary (with, in the latter instance, a close-up of the armistice dispute). Here, at last, is the heart of the matter--and Brook-Shepherd at his fervent, trivial best: ""as the first week of November 1918 drew to a close. . .every arm of the Central Powers' alliance had now been cut away from the trunk in Berlin. Bulgaria had gone in the French residence overlooking Salonika Bay; Turkey had gone in the wardroom of a British warship in Mudros; the old Austria in an Italian villa near Padua. . ."" We have already heard of Charles' ""clear,"" ""positive"" views on the need to ""federalize his dominions"" (""long before they were taken up by an ambitious American politician called Woodrow Wilson""); we will see--by contrast with Wilhelm's flight to Holland--his dignified exit, to one of his own estates. Brook-Shepherd's partisanship invigorates the ""Eastern"" material, just as his prejudices--plus the superfluities--weigh down the ""Western"" material. And the imbalance seriously cripples the book as an overview.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1982
Publisher: Little, Brown