Comprehensive account of the military and diplomatic events immediately leading up to Armistice Day.
British critic and historian Best (Trafalgar, 2006, etc.) describes the major happenings during this seminal week in fairly formulaic prose. While he covers all the historical bases and a great deal of information, in his hands the material doesn’t sparkle as it might have if Doris Kearns Goodwin or Stephen Ambrose had tackled the subject. But Best conveys a good sense of the thoughts and feelings of rank-and-file soldiers, including future President Harry Truman and Serbian Sgt. Maj. Flora Sandes, one of the war’s few female combatants. The author quotes frequently from primary and secondary sources, sometimes for several paragraphs, and often appears reluctant to inject himself into the narrative. Best’s descriptions of military events are evocative, and he provides considerable descriptive detail but avoids an actual blow-by-blow account in most cases: “One of the grenades had exploded against Flora’s revolver, which had shielded her from the full force of the blast…But Flora survived, albeit with ‘half a blacksmith’s shop’ still inside her.” The portions dealing with diplomatic maneuvers are less compelling. While he quotes from biographies and memoirs of key leaders and diplomats, he fails to vivify their behind-the-scenes maneuverings. However, he effectively shows how the treatment of Germany sowed seeds for the resentment that culminated in World War II. Overall, the text is capably organized, but additional analysis and a more personal voice would have made this a better book.
Though it breaks little new ground, this thorough synthesis of existing material is likely to be a widely consulted primer on the end of World War I.