Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: A WORLD UNDONE: THE STORY OF THE GREAT WAR, 1914-1918 by G.J. Meyer (Delacorte Press, 2006)

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

Really good general histories of World War I (actually, I almost prefer to call it the Great War, since its historical impact was much more profound than that of World War II) are rather thin on the ground. John Keegan's book is excellent but focuses primarily on military strategy. Meyer, by contrast, presents an "integrated" history, interspersing year-by-year coverage of the major campaigns with "Background" chapters that provide invaluable social, cultural, and political information about the WWI era. In a lesser author's hands, this might have made the narrative choppy, but instead it flows quite smoothly. Meyer is so thorough that his major omissions -- a perfunctory discussion of the war at sea, very little coverage of action beyond the Western and Eastern European fronts, and, most annoyingly, the lack of a sufficient number of maps -- are somewhat difficult to understand. Here is where a sharp-eyed editor might have improved the book. Despite the unfortunate gaps, I heartily recommend this volume as a good starting point for those interested in learning more about this great tragedy in human history.

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