The First World War in fewer than 250 pages.
Stone (History/Bilkent Univ.; Europe Transformed, 1878-1919, 1984, etc.) tackles the daunting task of summarizing a four-year global conflict in a brief cohesive narrative. For the most part he succeeds, astutely weaving together events from the Eastern, Western and Middle Eastern fronts until their culmination at Brest-Litovsk and the Treaty of Versailles; his almost complete omission of the African front is the one major lapse. The author’s prose is anecdotal and overly colloquial, but his command of the subject matter is impressive and his style accessible. Stone’s German-centric approach to framing the war balances the interplay between the Eastern and Western fronts, which would prove central to Germany’s eventual capitulation. Yet the author also abides by the conventional view of sole German responsibility that would wreak so much havoc during the negotiations at Versailles; he notes in the opening chapter that “Berlin was waiting for ‘the inevitable accident.’ ” While other powers struggled with internal nationalist movements throughout the war, most notably in the Russian, Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, Germany was a nation-state trying to move in the other direction and establish an empire. Stone juxtaposes the German high command’s zeal against its failure to reconcile traditional cavalry-based warfare with new developments in technology. British and French military leaders made the same mistake, which proved to be one of the main factors in prolonging the dreaded stalemates and trench warfare that consumed so many lives. The author skims over some fascinating cultural elements, including the tremendous outpouring of trench literature and poetry, but he manages to address every military and political facet of the Great War in this welcome look at its manifestations beyond the Western Front.
A stimulating, easily digested introduction to the cataclysm that inaugurated the 20th century.