The impending start of four-plus years of centennials of World War I—the war that was supposed “to end all wars” but which arguably engendered many more—is a good time to consider how well your library collection is supporting the increased interest that the anniversaries are likely to produce. You will want to have a core of materials that offer readers several pathways by which to gain some understanding of what happened and why, how history and literature reacted, and what may be learned.
It was World War I that turned a relatively sedate young century into one of the most sanguinary in history. Recent advances in mass production, chemistry, metallurgy, transportation, and aviation were enthusiastically applied to a war provoked by the killing of an archduke. The conflict was thus an exemplar of the scientific and industrial progress of its era. Modern weapons combined with antique strategies brought wholesale slaughter to Europe and the Levant, killing virtually an entire generation of young men and destroying a social and political order that had held sway for centuries.
If our readers need to be reminded that this was a war that America did not enter until 1917, it will be conveyed through the reading below. English-language literature on the war is heavily weighted toward the British experience of what the British called the Great War. Yet the French suffered nearly a million dead and Germany close to that. Austria-Hungary disappeared as a country; Serbia may have lost a sixth of its population. It was a global war with battles in the Middle East and naval actions in the Turkish straits and the Pacific.
Popular interest in the war will undoubtedly pick up as commemorative offerings multiply. The materials listed below, which include centennial resources, will serve as a sound basis for library collections. Several of the acclaimed titles are now in print only in paperback and are designated that way. However, most of them may be obtained in the aftermarket in their original cloth editions.
Libraries with research collections are reluctant to weed on the subject of World War I, arguably even more so as the centennial approaches. However, they and public libraries should critically examine their holdings for secondary material with a polemical or xenophobic approach that seems now of little value to readers. Primary material of that nature, however, can still aid research.
Starred () titles are essential purchases for most libraries.
Carradice, Phil. The First World War in the Air. Amberly. 2012. 192p. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781445605128. pap. $29.95.
Accessible short history of the advances in air power during the war, from flimsy unarmed single-seaters to complex air forces. With many period photos. Also excellent for aircraft modelers.
Freemantle, Michael. Gas! Gas! Quick, Boys! How Chemistry Changed the First World War. Spellmount. 2013. 240p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780752466019. $29.95.
The innovations and consequences of advances in chemistry employed during the war on both sides, from lethal gases to explosives, disinfectants, opiate pain killers, and beyond. (LJ 9/1/13)
Keegan, John. The First World War. Vintage. 2000. 528p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-0375700453. pap. $17.
A 2001 Knopf illustrated edition, with abridged text, is out-of-print but available from used-book dealers. (LJ 4/15/99)
Liddell Hart, B.H. The Real War 1914–1918. Back Bay. 1964. 508p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780316525053. pap. $23.99.
From 1930 and still in print, one of the earliest histories by a participant and tactician, comparing well with later scholarship. His conclusions on British failings were said to have been taken to heart by the Germans, who made changes for World War II.
Mayhew, Emily. Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I. Oxford Univ. 2013. 288p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199322459. $29.95.
The personal experiences of the British wounded and their stretcher bearers, doctors, and nurses. Painful reading that illustrates the violence of the war and the battle care available. (LJ 10/15/13)
The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War. Oxford Univ. (Illustrated Histories). 2001. 384p. ed. by Hew Strachan. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780192893253. pap. $28.95.
A series of essays from a variety of perspectives, including the eastern front and portraying the complex roles of women.
Strachan, Hew. The First World War. Penguin. 2005. 384p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780143035183. pap. $18.
Compact, well-illustrated, and accessible. A fine source for lay readers and those seeking a refresher. (LJ 4/1/04)
Tuchman, Barbara W. The Guns of August & The Proud Tower. Library of America. 2012. 1264p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781598531459. $45.
This best-selling 1963 Pulitzer Prize winner is still considered a standard by many teachers and praised for its narrative drive, although there’s scant attention to the eastern front and Balkans. With an introduction by Margaret MacMillan for the Library of America, it still belongs on shelves.
World War I Companion. Osprey. 2013. 272p. ed. by Mathias Strohn. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781782001881. $27.95.
Eighteen experts examine the war from their special military history perspectives.
HOW IT BEGAN
Carter, Miranda. George, Nicholas, and Whilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I. Knopf. 2010. 528p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781400043637. $37.50; pap. ISBN 9781400079124. $19.
Britain, Russia, and Germany’s rulers were first cousins with personal and political ties. Carter shows how these old-world rulers operated blind to the new century’s realities. (LJ 3/15/10)
Hastings, Max. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. Knopf. 2013. 640p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307597052. $35.
Given the personalities and circumstances (economic, social, intellectual, political, technological) that contributed to the explosion of battle, was war really a surprise? (LJ 10/15/13)
MacMillan, Margaret. The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. Random. Oct. 2013. 784p. photos. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781400068555. $35.
A prize-winning historian’s exhaustive take on why the war happened when peace might have prevailed. (LJ 10/15/13)
Massie, Robert K. Dreadnaught: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War. Ballantine. 1992. 1040p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780345375568. pap. $21.95.
Massie defines the naval rivalry between Britain and Germany as a significant factor in tensions leading up to war. For general readers.
Jankowski, Paul. Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War. Oxford Univ. 2014. 336p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199316892. $34.95.
Both history and historiography, this title covers the military and the human story of the epical 1916 battle. What did it accomplish beyond slaughter? Jankowski includes German and French sources.
Lengel, Edward. To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918; The Epic Battle That Ended the First World War. Holt. 2008. 491p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780805079319. $32.50; pap. ISBN 9780805089158. $20.
An example of a Tomlinson Prize–winning book chosen for excellence on World War I. See ww1ha.org/WW1HATomlinsonPrize.htm. (LJ 12/07)
Lloyd, Nick. Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I. Basic Bks. Jan. 2014. 384p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780465074921. $29.99.
With a surge of bloody fighting, the Americans having joined, and starvation and unrest on the German home front, the collapse of the German army began.
Massie, Robert K. Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea. Ballantine. 2004. 880p. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780345408785. $20.
Views the war from the perspectives of naval technology and organization, showing the contrasting strategic and cultural views of Britain and Germany and the dire results. (LJ 10/1/03)
Mosier, John. Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914–1918. NAL Caliber. 2013. 384p. photos. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9780451414625. $26.95.
Considering the charnel pit of Verdun, Mosier judges the blunders of French and British commanders, reexamining duration, casualty figures, strategy, intentions, and politics. Revisionist. Complementary to Jankowski, above. (LJ 10/15/13)
Philpot, William. Three Armies on the Somme: The First Battle of the Twentieth Century. Vintage. 2011. 672p. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307278371. pap. $19.
Reinterpretation of this 1916 battle with over a million French, British, and German casualties, seeing it as a strategic victory for the Allies, enabling the ultimate victory to come. (LJ 10/15/10)
Bruce, Robert B. A Fraternity of Arms: America and France in the Great War. Univ. Pr. of Kansas. 2003. 400p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780700612536. $39.95.
Sees the Franco-American relationship as of greater significance than the Anglo-French, crediting France for America’s emergence as a military power.
Chickering, Roger. Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914–1918. 2d ed. Cambridge Univ. (New Approaches to European History). 1998. 248p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780521839082. $104; pap. ISBN 9780521547802. $36.99.
Depicts the impact of the war on Germany through a detailed portrait of the German home front.
Doughty, Robert A. Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Belknap: Harvard Univ. 2008. 278p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780674027268. pap. $28.50.
Exhaustively examines the strategy, successes, and failures of French military brass and the effects on operations.
Ford, Roger. Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East. Pegasus. 2010. 520p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781605980911. $35.
Covers the four-front war in the Middle East (Suez, Mesopotamia, Caucasus, Dardanelles), the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, and creation of the modern Middle East.
Grotelueschen, Mark. The AEF Way of War I: The American Army and Combat in World War I. 2d ed. Cambridge Univ. 2010. 398p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780521169097. pap. $30.99.
Focuses on the training and combat operations of four American divisions that fought extensively on the western front.
Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914–1918. Bloomsbury Academic. 2009. 512p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780340573488. pap. $39.95.
Draws primarily on German and Austro-Hungarian archival sources to analyze the weaknesses and blundering of these two powers. (LJ 3/15/97)
Slotkin, Richard. Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality. Owl: Holt. 2006. 639p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780805081381. pap. $28.99.
The history of two regiments, one of black soldiers and one of immigrants, revealing racial assumptions of white Americans, an unspoken bargain, and thwarted hopes after the war. (LJ 11/1/05)
Andelman, David A. A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today. Wiley. 2007. 336p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780471788980. $25.95.
The Versailles Peace Conference attempted to create a lasting peace—and parceled out the world. With chapters on men such as Ho Chi Min, Emir Feisal, and Chaim Weizmann and on the abortive attempt at making peace in revolutionary Russia, Andelman’s work casts a bitter light on what followed. (LJ 10/15/07)
Anderson, Scott. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Doubleday. 2013. 592p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780385532921. $28.95.
Follows four men, including Aaron Aaronsohn and T.E. Lawrence, in the World War I Middle East as imperialism, revolution, intrigue, and ambition defined the Western role there. Their legacy is still with us. (LJ 6/15/13)
Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory: The Illustrated Edition. Sterling. 2009. 452p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. 2012. ISBN 9781402791666. pap. $17.95.
An erudite yet accessible landmark study. This illustrated version will draw more readers to a book that places the war and its effects in deep cultural context.
Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth. Penguin. (Classics). 2005. 688p. ISBN 9780143039235. pap. $20.
Brittain served as a nurse on the western front. At war’s end, who among those she loved was left? Published in 1933, a classic not simply on war but as a clear-eyed memoir of loss. (A 1979 BBC five-part dramatic adaptation is currently unavailable.)
Fletcher, Anthony. Life, Death, and Growing Up on the Western Front. Yale Univ. 2013. 352p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300195538. $35.
The British war as experienced by 12 officers and five ordinary soldiers, based on their letters home.
Graves, Robert. Goodbye to All That: An Autobiography. 2d rev. ed. Anchor. 1958. 347p. ISBN 9780385093309. pap. $16.95.
Graves’s 1929 memoir of his life from earliest childhood through the brutal war, as he bids goodbye to all that he knew. With an introduction by Paul Fussell, who considered it the era’s greatest memoir.
Gilbert, Martin. The Routledge Atlas of the First World War. 3d ed. Routledge. (Historical Atlases). 2008. 224p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780415460378. $121; pap. ISBN 9780415460385. $29.95.
The best available atlas of the war, with Gilbert’s invaluable expertise.
Osprey (www.ospreypublishing.com) publishes scores of brief paperbacks for serious military history buffs, modelers, and gamers. Well illustrated and focused on particular armies, battleships, and flying aces, for example. Libraries should select as appropriate.
Homsher, David C. American Battlefields of World War One: Chateau Thierry—Then and Now. Vol. 1: Enter the Yanks. Battleground Prods. 2006. 304p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. pap. ISBN 9780970244307. $29.95.
For U.S. libraries, this book’s focus on battlefields on which World War I American soldiers fought may be a good choice.
Barker, Pat. Regeneration. 1993. 252p. 288p. ISBN 9780452270077.
Barker, Pat. The Eye in the Door. 1995. 288p. 288p. ISBN 9780452272729.
Barker, Pat. The Ghost Road. 1996. 288p. ISBN 9780452276727.
ea. vol: Plume. (Regeneration Trilogy). pap. $16.
Acclaimed British war novels mingling real and fictional characters. Ghost Road (LJ 2/15/96) won the 1995 Booker Prize.
Cobb, Humphrey. Paths of Glory. Penguin. (Classics). 2010. 190p. ISBN 9780143106111. pap. $15.
Cobb fought with the Canadian army in the war and penned this antiwar classic in 1935. Stanley Kubrick’s film, below, is now more famous than the novel on which it was based.
Dos Passos, John. Three Soldiers. Penguin. (Twentieth-Century Classics). 1997. 400p. ISBN 9780141180274. pap. $13.
Autobiographical novel (1921) of a Harvard boy who, out of idealism, joins the Ambulance Corps with two pals. Their illusions crumble.
Ford, Ford Maddox. Parade’s End. Vintage. (Classics). 2012. 912p. ISBN 9780307744203. pap. $19.
Four novels, published from 1924 to 1928, about an Englishman’s world both at home and as an army officer. Stylistically, not an easy read. A general audience may be more drawn to the HBO five-part series, now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
March, William. Company K. Univ. of Alabama. (Library Alabama Classics). 1989. 288p. ISBN 9780817304805. pap. $18.95.
Published in 1933 by a veteran of the U.S. Marines in France. The 131 entries, each from a different fictional soldier, follow the experience of war from enlistment to return, the last entry being by the Unknown Soldier. Unadorned, unromantic, deeply affecting.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Perfection Learning. 1987. 298p. tr. from German by A.W. Wheen. ISBN 9780812415032. $16.60.
Classic novel of young German classmates headed off to war and horror in the trenches. The sequel, The Road Back, covers their return to a devastated country.
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. August 1914. Farrar. (Red Wheel, Bk. 1). Aug. 2014. 896p. tr. from Russian by H.T. Willetts. ISBN 9780374534691. $20.
The monumental and controversial 1971 fictionalized study of the ill-fated Russian offensive into East Prussia and the impending revolution. To be reissued for the centenary.
HISTORICAL MYSTERY SERIES
Anne Perry, Charles Todd (the pseudonym of a mother and son team), and Jacqueline Winspear each have mystery series taking place during—or relating to the aftereffects of—World War I. Perry’s series begins with No Graves As Yet in 2003 (LJ 8/03); Todd has two series, one with shell-shocked Inspector Ian Rutledge, which began with A Test of Wills in 1996 (LJ 8/96), and one with nurse Bess Crawford, beginning with A Duty to the Dead in 2009 (LJ 7/09). Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, about a private investigator between the world wars, deals with coping after World War I, beginning with Maisie Dobbs (LJ 3/15/03). [See the review roundup on p. 82 for new World War I fiction.]
Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology. Oxford Univ. Dec. 2013. 352p. ed. by Tim Kendall. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199581443. $19.95
No war produced such poetry as this one did. Wilfred Owen volunteered early and was killed a week before the armistice. Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, and Rupert Brooke wrote poetry that endures, but there were many others, including music-hall and trench poets. A must for all collections.
Many of the best antiwar films were based upon the horrors of World War I.
All Quiet on the Western Front. 1930. b/w. 132 min. Universal. 2007. $14.98; Blu-ray. $39.98.
Fine Hollywood adaptation of Remarque’s novel, following a group of German schoolboys from early military enthusiasms to the horrors of war. A well-received Hallmark Hall of Fame 1979 version is also available.
The Big Parade. 1925. b/w. 140 min. Warner Home Video. 2013. $14.97; Blu-ray. Turner Home Entertainment. $27.98.
A mere seven years after the armistice, King Vidor’s silent film influenced U.S. directors for generations to come.
La Grande Illusion. 1937. b/w. 114 min. French w/English subtitles. Criterion Collection. 1999. $80.97; Blu-ray. StudioCanal. 2012. $29.99.
Director Jean Renoir’s eloquent and graceful masterpiece of French POWs including Jean Gabin and Pierre Fresnay striving to survive the war. With an unforgettable Erich von Stroheim. (LJ 7/00)
Oh! What a Lovely War. 1969. color. 144 min. Paramount. 2006. $15.47.
Basing this on the stage musical, Richard Attenborough directs an enormous cast of British stars. With music from the war performed to ultimately devastating effect.
Paths of Glory. 1957. b/w. 88 min. MGM. 1999. $14.98; Criterion Collection. 2010. $29.95; Blu-ray. $39.95.
Stanley Kubrick’s stark filming of the Humphrey Cobb novel, with Kirk Douglas as the French Colonel Dax who defends his men who are tried for failing to take an impregnable German position.
War Horse. 2011. color. 146 min. Touchstone. 2012. $14.99.
Steven Spielberg’s sentimental rendering of Nick Stafford’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel for kids. A tale of a boy and his horse, conscripted for the western front.
World War I in Color. 2010. colorized b/w. 284 min. Athena Learning. $59.99.
A 2003 UK documentary narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Colorized footage to attract a broader audience, but the expert coverage hardly needs it. It is hoped that further documentaries will be produced or reissued soon, such as the excellent 1996 The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century, now unavailable. (LJ 4/15/11)
Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum (IWM), London, established before World War I had ended, is marking the centenary years with digital platforms, new exhibits, and programs. The IWM is leading the international First World War Centenary Partnership (www.1914.org).
Library of Congress Web Guides
The Library of Congress has many collections digitized that include World War I materials.
An international joint research project creating an English-language open access reference to the war. Planned for release in 2014.
THE DEVELOPING SCHEDULE
JAN 2014 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Feb 2014 URBAN FARMING
MAR 2014 GLBTQ FAMILY MEMOIRS
APR 2014 RITES OF PASSAGE
MAY 2014 AUDIOBOOKS
To submit titles (new and/or backlist), contact Barbara Genco four to six months before issue dates listed above (email: email@example.com)