Posted by Lexington Green on August 26th, 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
A friend asked for recommendations for books about World War I. I responded with the following list. I have read all of the books on the list. There are many books I have heard of and I am sure are good, but I only put ones I have read myself on the list.
Please list any favorites I have missed in the comments.
[Jonathan adds: Please also let us know if any of the book links don’t work or if we have overlooked a link to a public-domain edition of any of these books.]
Ernst Junger, Storm of Steel — essential
Also by Junger, Copse 125 — a good addendum, depicting the German Army in the closing months of the war.
Erwin Rommel, Infantry Attacks — pure nuts and bolts infantry fighting, zero philosophizing
Robert Graves, Good-Bye to All That — classic, on every short list
Sidney Rogerson, Twelve Days on the Somme: A Memoir of the Trenches November 1916
also by Rogerson, The Last of the Ebb: The Battle of the Aisne 1918 — both down to earth depictions
Herbert Hoover, the first volume of his memoirs has a section on the outbreak of World War I and his involvement in getting food into occupied Belgium. An unusual, informative and fascinating perspective. The book can be had for pennies (free here, or on Amazon).
The novel by Joseph Roth, The Radetzky March is very good on Austria Hungary up to the outbreak of the war. It is a great favorite of mine.
I recently mentioned this to a friend:
I just read The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklos Banffy. He was a senior guy in Hungary before, during and after World War I — including being foreign minister after the war. He was starving in Holland trying to make money painting portraits when they asked him to come back into the new government. He was holding no cards at all in the negotiations. It is painful reading. Hungary was, as he said, small, weak, defeated and despised.
Banffy is worth reading. He is a good companion as an author and he has a unique perspective on events.
Similarly, for the era, perhaps my favorite book, period, is The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig, which covers the period before, during and after the war. I wrote about it here. Note that the discussion in the comments to the Zweig post is unusually good, and focuses on World War I.
TRENCH WARFARE 1850-1950, Anthony Saunders — puts the Western Front in perspective and shows the dynamic response to horrendous conditions
Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army`s Art of Attack, 1916-18, Paddy Griffith — helped to destroy the myth of British incompetence in WWI
The Great War on the Western Front: A Short History, Paddy Griffith — good overview of the military dimension of the campaign
Fire Power: The British Army Weapons & Theories of War 1904-1945, Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham — very good on how the war was actually fought
The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & Emergence of Modern Warfare 1900-1918, Tim Travers — good on how the British Army learned how to fight a modern war
On Artillery, Bruce Gudmundsson — very good on World War I, a short clearly written book
Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the German Army, 1914-1918, Bruce I. Gudmundsson — this is a good book though it perhaps understates the innovation on the Allied side
Quest for Decisive Victory: From Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe, 1899-1940, Robert Citino — a superb book that places WWI in context
The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich, also by Robert Citino, is good on how the Germans wanted to fight and why they couldn’t do it in WWI
Douglas Haig and the First World War, J. P. Harris — a fair treatment of the controversial commander, it shows in particular the constraints he faced, but does not excuse Third Ypres / Passchendaele
If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West by Graeme Chamley Wynne — This book contains a good description of the defense in depth developed by the Germans late in the war
Sepoys in the Trenches: The Indian Corps on the Western Front 1914-15, Major Gordon Corrigan — very good book about the almost forgotten contribution of the Indian Army in the opening months of the war, including much amazing heroism
Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War, Robert A. Doughty — The French tend to get short-changed in American recollections of the war. The French were to Germany in World War I what the Russians were to Germany in World War II, the people who absorbed most of the blows, lost the most people, and ground the Germans down. France was Germany’s attrition punching bag.
They Fought for the Sky: The Dramatic Story of the First War in the Air, Quentin Reynolds — A childhood favorite, which held up well when I re-read it a few years ago
World War One: A Short History, Norman Stone — idiosyncratic, short, a good read. The bibliography is full of stuff I want to read.
The First World War: A Very Short Introduction, Michael Howard — possibly the best short overview
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, David Fromkin — a very good book, well written, a page-turner
Norman Stone, The Eastern Front 1914-1917, still the only general book on the subject, Stone is an engaging writer
I found John Keegan’s one volume history to be disappointing. He is always an engaging writer, and the book has much good in it. Unfortunately he was not current on the trends in thinking about the war and repeated old myths about the British performance in the war.
Britain and the Origins of the First World War: Second Edition by Zara S. Steiner — a superb book about the run-up to the war
Over Here: The First World War and American Society, David M. Kennedy — a good book, Prof. Mearsheimer assigned this one in college
The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970, John Darwin — this is a superb book, and World War I is fitted into a much larger picture
The First World War: An Agrarian Interpretation, Avner Offer — This is an eye opening and unusual book, which explains the impact of blockade on Germany and the nearly fatal u-boat offense against Britain
Gordon Corrigan, Mud, Blood and Poppycock: This Will Overturn Everything You Thought You Knew about Britain and The First World War — the title is hyperbolic, and the tone is polemical, but Corrigan provides a strongly revisionist account which helps clear away some of the myths
Some time ago, I had a post entitled “So, How Would You Teach a Course on World War I?” which may be of interest in this regard.