Named one of the Ten Best Books of 2013 by The Economist
World War I altered the landscape of the modern world in every conceivable arena. Millions died; empires collapsed; new ideologies and political movements arose; poison gas, warplanes, tanks, submarines, and other technologies appeared. "Total war" emerged as a grim, mature reality.
In The Great War, Peter Hart provides a masterful combat history of this global conflict. Focusing on the decisive engagements, Hart explores the immense challenges faced by the commanders on all sides. He surveys the belligerent nations, analyzing their strengths, weaknesses, and strategic imperatives. Russia, for example, was obsessed with securing an exit from the Black Sea, while France--having lost to Prussia in 1871, before Germany united--constructed a network of defensive alliances, even as it held a grudge over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine. Hart offers deft portraits of the commanders, the prewar plans, and the unexpected obstacles and setbacks that upended the initial operations.
Like Hart's previous volumes on Gallipoli, The Somme, and the end of the First World War (1918), his newest is structured and defined by extensive illustrative quotations from contemporary sources. The work focuses on "the most dramatic battles and those that actually had the potential... to end the war," thus readers will be familiar with many of the conflicts profiled here the Marne, the Somme and Verdun, Passchendaele, the offensives of 1918, and several Anglocentric secondary theaters, including Gallipoli and Mesopotamia. In each case, the author synergizes institutional, technological, and tactical dynamics with personal accounts of commanding officers, and though the bulk of the latter is derived from familiar published material, Hart sheds fresh light on the perspectives of Joseph Joffre, Douglas Haig, Sir John Jellicoe, and their contemporaries. The more extensive first-person contributions from the soldiers themselves evoke the ground-level dimensions of a war whose story is too often told from up high or far afield. Throughout, Hart demonstrates an admirable command of the subject matter and offers a compelling case for the lasting impact of the "unwaking nightmare that was WWI." 16 pages of b&w photos.