Winner of the (UK) Political Book Awards 2015 World War One Book of the Year
This is a very good book. Olusoga rightly demonstrates that World War One was a multi-racial, multi-imperial conflict, waged in Asia and Africa as well as on better known fronts. This point has been largely downplayed by previous historians who inaccurately depict the war as “all white.” Olusoga argues that what made the 1914-1918 conflict a “world” war was that it pulled in men and resources from across the globe. This was primarily due to the fact that most of the major Western combatant countries possessed large overseas empires comprising millions of Asian and African subjects. Even the US—that did not—deployed thousands of its racially-downtrodden African-American population in the war. The harrowing story of the nearly 140,000 Chinese laborers on the Western Front is finally told.
Written as a vigorous narrative that mercifully avoids boring academic locution, Olusoga reveals the story of four million non-European, non-white participants in “the war that will end war.” This book deserves a place in every World War One buff’s library. Its 63 telling illustrations are a treat.
Reviewed by Chandar Sundaram, author of the article on the Indian Expeditionary Force in WWOI #6
Michael Senior identifies and analyzes why the development of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was “extraordinary” and shows how they led to the British Army becoming an infinitely more efficient force by 1918 than it was in 1914.
Although written in an impressively lucid style, this is not a quick read…. [and] there’s a danger, I think, of a reader unfamiliar with the truly global nature of WWI coming away from the book with the impression that this war was primarily Britain’s war.
Most of the book is devoted to technical improvements within the Royal Flying Corps, munitions, trenches, tanks, and artillery. Ultimately, Victory on the Western Front is a convincing antidote against the popular “Lions led by Donkeys” attitude toward the Great War that has sometimes been in vogue. It’s a well-written and well-organized book. All in all, an excellent read for those whose WWI interests include the workings of the British Expeditionary Force from 1914 to 1918.
The author is oral historian at the Imperial War Museum in London and has access to large archives of original testimonies…. describing and enlivening the final battles of 1918.
The author does admit that his “emphasis as a British historian is on the British Army with an appreciative reflection on the massive contributions of victory made by the French, American and Belgian forces.”
Politics and personalities involved in the cease-fire agreements were complex and often cantankerous…. [and left] “an unpleasant taste in the mouth when one considers that men were being maimed and dying in huge numbers with every day that passed.”
Ironically, it didn’t take long before the business of “battlefield tourism” began to flourish…. [while veterans now] “had to fight to retain their self-respect in a society that did not seem to care one iota for their welfare.”
This is a rich and comprehensive book, one I can certainly recommend.
Author Tooze, a previous winner of the (UK) Wolfson Foundation History Prize, has written a richly detailed book of how France and Great Britain, working with the United States, formed a workable triumvirate that won the war in 1918, only to have it unravel over the following decade. The Deluge tackles the big picture from Tooze’s chosen turning point in the Great War and America’s economic rise to a major world power.
The New York Times review called it “Splendid interpretive history.” Reviewer Gary D. Bass explained, “Rather than starting at a conventional moment like the outbreak of World War I, Tooze begins midstream in 1916 — the year of the gory battles of Verdun and the Somme, but also the year when the economic output of the United States exceeded that of the British Empire. From then until today, writes Tooze, a professor of history at Yale, American economic might would be the decisive factor in the shaping of the world order.”
Professor Kevin Matthews of George Mason University stated in his review that “On reflection, America’s emergence should have surprised no one. As Paul Kennedy pointed out in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, by 1900 the United States was already the world’s leading manufacturing power, with Britain and Germany battling for second place. So, a change was coming; sooner or later, the world’s financial and political center of gravity would cross the Atlantic. What no one could have predicted was how sudden this move would be, a suddenness that ‘was a product of the Great War’ (pp. 40–1).”
President Woodrow Wilson so distrusted the European leaders that he offered his own 14 points and peace without victory, infuriating his two allies. Wilson was not interested in joining the Europeans in ruling the world, preferring his idea of a League of Nations.
Bass summarized: “So Tooze narrates the tumultuous and violent 1920s as a heartbreakingly avoidable tragedy, with the big democracies needlessly squandering their supremacy. Above all, grand liberal projects would never succeed without American engagement. With the United States emerging exponentially more powerful from the war, France and Britain would need its support to deter possible new German aggression. Even when the United States refused to assert itself, Tooze argues, the interwar order ‘was defined in large part by the absent presence of its most defining element — the new power of the United States.’”
America’s lack of engagement in world affairs left other nations to struggle with their own rebuilding. Many chose protective tariffs, a return to the gold standard, and austerity to pay down war debt. These decisions meant a post-war recession became the Great Depression as less money and limited credit left nothing to help rebuild.
The Deluge is an enormously worthwhile book, worldwide in scope, and recommended reading.
Neiberg takes a bottom-up approach toward understanding why America finally associated itself with the Entente in the fight against Germany. His major thesis is that Americans were way ahead of the government, and especially President Woodrow Wilson, in understanding that we had to be part of the war “to save civilization” and suppress Germany’s aggressive ambitions.
Memoirs, newspaper columns, magazine articles, private and public letters, and the speeches of Preparedness advocates show us the organic change taking place from 1914 to 1917 in our so-called isolationist population, and how the pressure from ordinary people, and his own advisers, dragged Wilson to a place he did not want to go. The chapter titled “Awaiting the Overt Act” is especially suspenseful, even if you know what’s coming next.
Neiberg’s refreshing viewpoint emphasizing the idealism, thoughtfulness, and good sense of the American public is certainly persuasive. Once again, his natural writing style makes this book an enjoyable as well as informative endeavor that I can recommend without hesitation.
Erickson’s book was called “courageous and provocative” by Tomlinson prize-winner Sean McMeekin. It offers a counterinsurgency military explanation for the 1915 relocation of the Armenians in eastern Turkey.
Erickson documents the beginning of the Armenian insurgency with the secret committees of the 1890s and their evolution into the Armenian armed resistance. When the Ottomans launched an offensive against Russia in late 1914 a small number of Armenians in the eastern provinces of Turkey rose in revolt and menaced the vulnerable Ottoman rail link to the Caucasus front. Threatened in the Dardanelles by Great Britain and France, pressured in the South by British forces, the Ottoman Army countered the Armenian uprising in the East using population relocation.
A successful counterinsurgency strategy against the Armenians became a public relations nightmare as thousands of Armenians were massacred or simply died of exposure during their relocation. The Ottomans were and remain defiant in defending their actions. Some Armenians continued to be killed for years, yet, as Erickson argues, more than 300,000 were allowed to remain in their homes in western Turkey. The “Armenian genocide” remains highly controversial.
As the editor points out in his preface, “Artillery dominated the battlefields of World War I…. Artillery even holds the dubious distinction of causing a new diagnosis, shellshock.” Despite its crucial role in the conflict and since, and numerous books about the types and capabilities of weapons, this is the first major work that compares national organizations, new technologies, and evolving training and doctrine.
A distinguished array of authors examines the battlefield artillery—the guns that would be included in fire plans. Mortars are covered to some degree, but naval artillery is excluded. Coastal artillery, anti-aircraft, and anti-tank guns receive limited attention.
The essays included in this volume explain how the major combatants of Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the United States handled artillery and how it affected the Great War. Additional chapters explore the artillery of the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Italy, India, Serbia, and Romania.
This is an essential book for anyone trying to understand combat and the competition for increased firepower and its application from 1914-1918.
Ambassador Shurtleff, a retired American Foreign Service officer who served as President of The World War One Historical Association and as a past President of The Western Front Association – U S Branch, passed away on January 22, 2014. The searchable version of Len’s Bookshelf was created and will be maintained in his honor.