THE GREAT WAR by Peter Hart


A Combat History of the First World War
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Just in time for the centennial of World War I, a look at the major campaigns and battles, with a heavy emphasis on the Western Front.

Imperial War Museum oral historian Hart (Gallipoli, 2011, etc.) uses firsthand accounts of the action to give his narrative immediacy. The sources range from frontline enlisted troops to the commanders in chief and national leaders, primarily English, French and German, echoing the author’s contention that the war was essentially decided on the Western Front. While he eyes the larger political agendas driving events on the battlefield, for the most part, Hart looks at the war through the views of those doing the fighting. So, for example, the Italian campaign features commentary by Rommel, a junior officer at the time. The book is broken into chapters looking at the action on a specific front, mostly organized chronologically. Campaigns Hart considers “sideshows”—Gallipoli, the Middle East, Italy, etc.—receive briefer chapters of their own. Hart does not minimize the courage or sacrifice of the troops in these actions, but he makes clear his view that they were distractions from the real work being done in France and Belgium. As a result, he is critical of the performance of the British in the early stages of the war, and he minimizes the impact of America’s entry. Germany, he argues, had to start the war when it did or else abandon its imperial ambitions. As a result, it was weaker militarily than it might have been. Hart also suggests that the French were primarily responsible for holding the line until the British, and eventually the U.S., could help turn the tide. The Germans, on the other hand, recognized early that their only hope was for a knockout blow—one they were never able to deliver.

A good history of the war that questions some widely held opinions. Probably not the first thing to read, but anyone interested in the war will find it a valuable supplement.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-19-997627-0
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2013


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