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The First World War

Narrated by: James Langton
Length: 20 hrs and 22 mins
5 out of 5 stars (17 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The First World War created the modern world. A conflict of unprecedented ferocity, it abruptly ended the relative peace and prosperity of the Victorian era, unleashing such demons of the 20th century as mechanized warfare and mass death. It also helped to usher in the ideas that have shaped our times - modernism in the arts, new approaches to psychology and medicine, radical thoughts about economics and society - and in so doing shattered the faith in rationalism and liberalism that had prevailed in Europe since the Enlightenment. With The First World War, John Keegan, one of our most eminent military historians, fulfills a lifelong ambition to write the definitive account of the Great War for our generation.

Probing the mystery of how a civilization at the height of its achievement could have propelled itself into such a ruinous conflict, Keegan takes us behind the scenes of the negotiations among Europe's crowned heads (all of them related to one another by blood) and ministers, and their doomed efforts to defuse the crisis. He reveals how, by an astonishing failure of diplomacy and communication, a bilateral dispute grew to engulf an entire continent.

But the heart of Keegan's superb narrative is, of course, his analysis of the military conflict. With unequalled authority and insight, he recreates the nightmarish engagements whose names have become legend - Verdun, the Somme and Gallipoli among them - and sheds new light on the strategies and tactics employed, particularly the contributions of geography and technology. No less central to Keegan's account is the human aspect. He acquaints us with the thoughts of the intriguing personalities who oversaw the tragically unnecessary catastrophe - from heads of state like Russia's hapless tsar, Nicholas II, to renowned warmakers such as Haig, Hindenburg and Joffre. But Keegan reserves his most affecting personal sympathy for those whose individual efforts history has not recorded - "the anonymous millions, indistinguishably drab, undifferentially deprived of any scrap of the glories that by tradition made the life of the man-at-arms tolerable."

By the end of the war, three great empires - the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian and the Ottoman - had collapsed. But as Keegan shows, the devastation ex-tended over the entirety of Europe, and still profoundly informs the politics and culture of the continent today. His brilliant, panoramic account of this vast and terrible conflict is destined to take its place among the classics of world history.

©2012 John Keegan (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Eloquent.... Mr. Keegan captures the anamolous, even surreal quality of the war." (The New York Times)

"The best one-volume account there is." (Civilization)

"Elegantly written, clear, detailed, and omniscient.... Keegan is...perhaps the best military historian of our day." (The New York Times Book Review)

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Waited a long time for this

I've waited for this on Audible for over 20 years! I check every year and by chance today I found it was just released yesterday! This was my first introduction to The Great War, it is fascinating and complex. The opening chapters about the behind the scenes preparations are astounding; hiding gold reserves, the development of the railroad transportation system (and the origins of Russia using a different a different rail gauge, which came into play not until WWII), and of course the military theory of the time which became immediately outdated as soon as the fighting broke out. The first hour is really about the society at the time in Europe, the scientific advancements, and the spirit of cooperation through science, academia, and setting international standards to unify the continent's business, financial markets, industry, and infrastructure. This is John Keegan so the book is very copious, technical, and at times scatalogical - moving from the advancement in ordnance and artillery strategy into a battle scene from the War. This is a detailed analysis of the War and the society at large and political thinking at the turn of the century; a scholarly work and not and introduction for beginners. (I recommend "the gold standard" Guns of August first, which gives a very clear narrative about the diplomacy and treaties between the monarchs which started the whole thing.) But I can't emphasise enough how excited i am to finally hear this from Audible! I will listen over and over again, and my vast library of WWI books is finally complete with John Keegan's masterpiece. Absolutely fantastic.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Best Military History of First World War

Presently I own 40x books on The Great War (aka WW1) and this is the best single volume military history of the First World War. This is no surprise since John Keegan is generally accepted to be gold standard for authors of military history. He is best known for his first book, the indisputable classic, The Face of Battle, and since then he had a stellar career with hit after hit in the military history genre. This book, THE FIRST WORLD WAR, was his most commercially successful book and for good reason... No one has written anything that compares.

Now that I’ve established that this is the best single volume military history on the market in print or in audiobook, it is important to understand the areas where this book is surpassed by others due to a specialty different from military history.

For general readers with no background knowledge, who want a readable single volume book on the war, I recommend A World Undone by G.J. Meyer. For those interested in a book with a bit more focus on the military aspects of the war, there are a few good books by Peter Hart and one by Martin Gilbert (not yet on audiobook as of 2019), but this title by Keegan is certainly the best overall.

Other best-in-class single-volume NONFICTION books are:
Pandora’s Box (by Leonhard) for General History... like Meyer’s book but longer)
Over Here (Kennedy) for Domestic aspects of the war
Castles of Steel (Massie) for Comprehensive naval history once of the conflict itself (1914-1918).
— His book Dreadnought covers naval aspects in the buildup to 1914. Not available on Audible as of June 2019.
Pity of War (Ferguson) for economic history of the war.
July 1914 (McMeekin) for forensic breakdown of the July Crisis which precipitated the war’s outbreak.
The War That Ended Peace (MacMillan) on the July Crisis, balances factors leading to war vs. those leading to peace.
Paris 1919 (MacMillan) the definitive history of the war’s conclusion and the diplomatic underlying the peace process.
The Guns of August (Tuchman) for an account of the July Crisis and the first month of the war. A highly readable classic.
The Great War in Modern Memory (Fussell) for analysis of the war’s impact on culture, literature, film, poetry, vocabulary. This is a niche book but considered a classic of the criticism genre.

Other excellent titles of interest not available by Audible (yet): World Crisis (Churchill; Note: 1 of 5 volumes available on Audible), My Experience in the World War (Pershing), Coming of the War 1914 (Schmitt), First World War (Gilbert...also military history), Dreadnought (Massie), Ring of Steel (Watson).

I hope this review helps put some context around this excellent book about a grand historical topic.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful