THE FIRST WORLD WAR by Martin Gilbert


A Complete History
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 There may be no event in this century that has been more written about than the First World War. There may be little new to uncover about it. But this splendid book shows that its lessons cannot be too often learned. This is by no means a complete history. Whole areas of the conflict are scanted or mentioned only in passing, in particular the war on the Eastern Front. Distinguished British historian Gilbert (The Second World War, 1989, etc.) gives a great deal of attention to the British, less to the French, and a good deal less to everyone else. Nor is he particularly interested in strategy. But the power and passion that he brings to the story, the vividness with which he recreates the scale of the conflict, the enormity of its suffering, feats of individual bravery and cowardice, of devotion and desertion, will be hard to emulate. What lingers in the mind is the sheer scale of the suffering. In the first five weeks of conflict at Verdun, German soldiers were killed at the rate of one every 45 seconds, and French death rates were even higher. In the five months during which the battles of Verdun and the Somme were waged in 1916, nearly a million men died, an average of 6,600 every day, more than 277 every minute, nearly 5 every second. This was not exceptional: As Gilbert points out, the 20,000 British soldiers killed on the first day of the Somme are often recalled with horror, yet on average, a similar number of soldiers died during every four-day period of the entire war. His searing descriptions of the carnage poignantly remind us of the terrible consequences that followed from the casualness with which European statesmen allowed their nations to drift into war. An incomparable record of how ordinary and extraordinary men and women endured the unendurable.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1994
ISBN: 0-8050-1540-X
Page count: 864pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994


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