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A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 | [G. J. Meyer]

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918

The First World War is one of history’s greatest tragedies. In this remarkable and intimate account, author G. J. Meyer draws on exhaustive research to bring to life the story of how the Great War reduced Europe’s mightiest empires to rubble, killed 20 million people, and cracked the foundations of the world we live in today. World War I is unique in the number of questions about it that remain unsettled. After more than 90 years, scholars remain divided on these questions, and it seems likely that they always will.
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Publisher's Summary

The First World War is one of history’s greatest tragedies. In this remarkable and intimate account, author G. J. Meyer draws on exhaustive research to bring to life the story of how the Great War reduced Europe’s mightiest empires to rubble, killed 20 million people, and cracked the foundations of the world we live in today.

World War I is unique in the number of questions about it that remain unsettled. After more than 90 years, scholars remain divided on these questions, and it seems likely that they always will. A World Undone does not claim to have all the answers - if answers are even possible. However, it will provide listeners with enough information to understand why the questions persist, and perhaps in some cases, to arrive at conclusions of their own. A World Undone is a grand, tragic story brilliantly told.

About the author: G. J. Meyer is a professional writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Harper’s, and many other publications. While working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he was awarded a Nieman Fellowship by Harvard University. He is the author of the New York Times best seller The Tudors, the Edgar Award-winning The Memphis Murders, and other works.

©2006 G. J. Meyer (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“A World Undone is an original and very readable account of one of the most significant and often misunderstood events of the last century. With a historian’s eye for clearheaded analysis and a storyteller’s talent for detail and narrative, G. J. Meyer presents a compelling account of the blunders that produced the world’s first ‘great war’ and set the stage for many of the tragic events that followed.” (Steve M. Gillon, resident historian, the History Channel)

“Thundering, magnificent…This is a book of true greatness that prompts moments of sheer joy and pleasure. Researched to the last possible dot…It will earn generations of admirers.” (Washington Times)

“Meyer’s sketches of the British Cabinet, the Russian Empire, the aging Austro-Hungarian Empire, the leaders of Prussia with their newly minted swagger, are lifelike and plausible. His account of the tragic folly of Gallipoli is masterful.” (Los Angeles Times)

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  •  
    Andrew Pilecki Redwood City, cA 12-14-12
    Andrew Pilecki Redwood City, cA 12-14-12 Member Since 2012

    I am currently a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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    "Excellent Overview of the "Overshadowed" War"

    Within US history World War I is often relegated to being merely a prologue to World War II. I assume the reason for its relegation is due to the relatively minor role that the US served in WWI. This framing of history is unfortunate given how the outcome of World War I not only precipitated World War II, but gave birth to the powers, ideologies and technologies that shaped not only the rest of the 20th century but continue to influence world affairs today (see Middle East).

    "A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918" provides an excellent overview of the conflict. G.J. Meyer accomplishes the remarkable feat of balancing details with generalities in a compelling and engaging narrative of the war. Although the audio format makes following the geography of battles at times difficult, the strength of this book is Meyer's treatment of the personalities of the leaders and generals who, through their blind adherence to tactical orthodoxies that no longer suited modern war, facilitated the breakdown of armies and societies alike during the four years of stalemate that marked the First World War.

    My favorite feature of the audiobook are the "Background" sections at the end of many chapters. These provide background details (e.g., The history of the Romanov dynasty) that permit a richer understanding of the socio-political context from which the war emerged.

    The audio quality is excellent and Robin Sachs provides a smooth narration (I feel like all history books should be read by someone with an English accent).

    My only criticism of the book is that it ends abruptly following the signing of the Versailles Treaty. Although the immediate aftermath of the war is itself worthy of an entire book, Meyer closes the book with brief biographies of some major figures from the war. One could almost picture the close of the book as the end of a movie when a character is shown in freeze frame and text is provided describing their fate following the close of the movie (e.g., the end of "Animal House").

    Regardless of this one criticism, the book is highly recommended for anyone interested in World War I or military history.

    20 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Die Falknerin 02-11-13 Member Since 2008

    Painter, musician, bibliophile...

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    "On the subject of an almost forgotten war"

    From the time I was a small child, I was fascinated by World War I, just as Meyer says he was. I asked a lot of questions of my parents and grandparents which were never quite answered. Perhaps they cannot be answered. That is part of the problem with approaching such an immensely complicated subject.

    One thing is certain: to understand the second war, one must look to the first. We who were born afterward, the ones whom the German language calls "die Nachgeborenen," have a duty to understand both wars as deeply as we can for obvious reasons.

    To attempt to write a survey of World War I is an ambitious endeavor. Meyer's achievement is all the more impressive because he manages to do so in a compelling, interesting way throughout.

    As with the author's monumental work on the Tudors, each chapter is dense with information. "Side trips" follow in the form of background sections, which illuminate some of the more complicated issues. These annotations are seamless and full of essential information.

    Perhaps as we approach the centennial of the beginning of World War I, interest will be renewed and Meyer's book will reach a wide audience. It certainly deserves to do so. It is an excellent all-in-one choice, a true "desert island" book. If you want to read just one book on World War I, I recommend this to you without hesitation.

    I have always loved Robin Sachs' narrations, and this book was no exception. His calm voice and ease in pronouncing foreign languages made listening a joy. I was saddened to read he just passed away on February 1, just days before his birthday. May he rest in peace.

    16 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    larry LAKE CITY, FL, United States 12-23-12
    larry LAKE CITY, FL, United States 12-23-12 Member Since 2009
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    "well written, well read"
    Would you consider the audio edition of A World Undone to be better than the print version?

    If I had the time and temperament to sit and read this book i would choose the print version, especially on account of the battle maps. Pondering the depth and scope of wwi's subsequent impact on humanity is worthy of many hours reading and study at hearth side and this is one of the best vehicles whereby to so deliberate.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of A World Undone?

    explaining some of the back ground the groups such as the "black hand" who conspired to kill the Austrian Duke, explaining why the Duke felt he needed to be in Sarajevo at that time... explaining the initial war mobilization plans that each country felt it had to invoke, explaining earlier diplomatic and economic events that lead each country feel that they needed to be emphatic in their respective postures as August 1918 approached... I'm sure I could count many more on careful reflection.


    What about Robin Sachs’s performance did you like?

    very apt. I felt as if the author himself was reading the book.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    what fools these mortals be!


    Any additional comments?

    This book attempts to explain all angles of wwi very carefully and may be the best book of its kind to address the subject.. In many ways wwi is the most important event of the 20th century. Mr. Meyer gives us extraordinary depth and breadth exploring fine points of the leaders' lives of all the major countries, economic considerations, strategic theories, and so on... I do not have the time to sit and read a volume such as this but i often wished i had the book in hand to more carefully study the battle maps... I found it interesting and easy to listen to all the way through. I may well buy the book and am planning to listen to it at least one more time. If you're interested in history this one is a must.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Mettler Seattle, WA USA 08-16-12
    John Mettler Seattle, WA USA 08-16-12 Member Since 2012

    I have a primary love of music and pretty much an insatiable curiosity of history, art, science, current affairs, and all things bicycling.

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    "A World Undone"
    What did you love best about A World Undone?

    The comprehensive narrative of one of the most devastating events of the twentieth century.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    There are too many individuals involved with the events of the first world war to single out singular charecters as a favorite. What the author has done is to show the forces that drove all of the major individuals and the all to human side of them.


    What about Robin Sachs’s performance did you like?

    Evenness of delivery and exact pronunciation of difficult names and places.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I was stunned by the scope of the tragedy.


    Any additional comments?

    Most of the books dealing with the first world war choose a single subject (e.g. "Dreadnaught" which covers the naval move from sail to coal powered vessels and the advent of the super war ship) or battles. The books that try to deal with the whole leave me with a good nap. Undone is the first book to tackle the whole which doesn't send me to the sofa for a nap. Every time the narrative begins to bog down in the minutia there is a side bar back ground inserted which details some aspect that has the effect of livening up the narrative so that when you return to the main body your mind is ready to take on the battle again.

    14 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dan McGrew Safford, AZ 11-27-12
    Dan McGrew Safford, AZ 11-27-12

    Military History and Archaeology

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    "Excellent overview of World War One and its backgr"
    Where does A World Undone rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    One of the better ones


    What did you like best about this story?

    The background at the begining of every chapter tieing the story together.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Not possible, but looked forward to every sitting


    Any additional comments?

    Excellent book worth the price!!!!!

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Wheat Ridge, CO, United States 09-07-12
    William Wheat Ridge, CO, United States 09-07-12 Member Since 2011
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    "an comprehensive yet engaging book"

    A World Undone is a very comprehensive history of WW1, yet accessible for non-experts.
    Interspersed throughout are sections called "Background" which give compelling accounts of everything from the origin of the weapons used to fight WW1 to the personal history of leading politicians and generals, to the history of the major warring countries. They help the reader get the necessary background to understand the war, yet fit in very nicely with the narrative flow of the rest of the chapters.

    The narrator is also excellent.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rich United States 07-30-12
    Rich United States 07-30-12 Member Since 2011
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    "A very good book excellently narrated..."
    Where does A World Undone rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Having studied the Great War, I felt that the author of A World Undone tried a little too hard to stay out of the endless controversies over culpability. It was if he were determined to see that his version would be appreciated by, and fair to, all sides. I think he achieved that, and, to give him his due, there were very few things with which I disagreed, although my view is slightly different in certain areas. I certainly appreciated his occasional 'background' essays on topics that help familiarize readers with aspects of significance. I don't know that this is a great book, but it's a good one...and the narration by Robin Sachs is tremendous.


    16 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jacob Denhollander Kalamazoo, MI 04-28-13
    Jacob Denhollander Kalamazoo, MI 04-28-13 Member Since 2013

    Uncle Chicken

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    "Great overview of the Great War"
    What made the experience of listening to A World Undone the most enjoyable?

    This book gave me a greater appreciation of the impact of the Great War. Although I'd read a little on the subject, I'd read much more on WWII. This book helped me to realize how pivotal WWI was in shaping the 20th century. Listening to this book helped make sense of WWI (as much as insanity can ever be made sense of) but also helped me understand WWII. I found the author to be very objective and even handed. While he did not get bogged down in minute arguments only of interest to pedantic scholars, I appreciated that he would indicate where a point was disputed, or where there were varying opinions on a historical fact. I really enjoyed the "Background" sections, where he would give brief overviews of different facets that contributed to the nature of the war - such as the history and character of Prussia, the Cossacks, Women in the war, and so on.


    What does Robin Sachs bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The reader has a very nice accent and reading tempo, as well as very good pronunciation of all the names of historical figures and the place names - names I never would have learned to pronounce otherwise.


    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Calgary, AB, Canada 07-20-12
    Ryan Calgary, AB, Canada 07-20-12
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    "Fantastic"
    Would you consider the audio edition of A World Undone to be better than the print version?

    I have the print version as well as the audio version, and while it is very enjoyable to read it's nice to have someone read it to me!


    What was one of the most memorable moments of A World Undone?

    The overall presentation of the material is very well presented.


    Any additional comments?

    The book is the very best book I have found on World War 1, the material is presented so that even someone who knows nothing about this chapter of history will gain a very good understanding of how it happend & why.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Utah 06-06-14
    Amazon Customer Utah 06-06-14 Member Since 2009

    tired teacher

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    "War is the work of the Devil"

    "War is the work of the devil." So says one of the generals of WWI, although I couldn't find the quote as I went back and looked for it in this 715 page history, so I can't even report for sure who said it. It doesn't really matter, though, because as I continued to study this book, if I got one thing from it, it would be that war is undoubtedly and indisputably Hell with a capital H. Living all my life hearing about WWI and II, I have never really been able to put the pieces together to make sense of it all. Several months ago I went on a WWII binge, reading and listening to a lot of books on it until I think I finally have at least a working knowledge of what it was all about. It seemed to follow that I then learn about WWI, and so I have been. This book offers a great starting point for the study of that war. I tried studying other books first, but got hopelessly lost. This book, by virtue of the way that is written, made it very accessible to me, and now I can study some of those other books with a degree of knowledge that will help me add to my understanding.

    I really like the format of the book, particularly the short intermediary background chapters that shed so much light on the core story of the war. It helped so much with understanding the how and the why of the war, and events that it precipitated.

    So in a nutshell, outside of the logistics and battles and armaments and all of that usual and necessary war stuff, here is what I learned. This war was fought for the flimsiest of reasons, if in fact there was a reason at all. Nations can act very much like two-year-old children fighting over an inexpensive toy. Over 9.5 million soldiers lost their lives over these petty squabbles, not to mention many more millions who were moderately to severely wounded, nor the millions of civilians who who were wounded or killed. The Germans were justified in being outraged at the way they were treated in the Treaty of Versailles, particularly by Woodrow Wilson, and we all know where that lead, or at least I hope we do.

    I hope many more of us are willing to put forth the effort to learn the truth about war in the hopes of avoiding it in the future. The way things appear to me right now, it seems that we are going down this same path, and that scares me. No wonder Santayana, widely quoted by others, including Winston Churchill, has said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

    As I started listening to this book, I felt the need to follow along with the physical book, and so I bought a copy. It was extremely helpful, as the book is full of pictures and maps, and I could see the names of people and places that were hard for me to grasp from just hearing them, names of German, Belgian and French cities, rivers and regions that to us do not sound like we think they should. A good example is the French town of Ypres, pronounced Eep. (One would be disappointed to look for the town of Eep on a map.). The narrator was just right for this book, and had a great command over multiple European accents. This was a great book to both read and listen to. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to know more about the history of WWI and what the ramifications for us have been.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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