Baxter, John. Paris at the End of the World: The City of Light During the Great War, 1914–1918. Harper Perennial. Apr. 2014. 400p. illus. index. ISBN 9780062221407. pap. $15.99. HIST
This accessible part memoir, part history, and part cultural travelog, captures the sights, sounds, and feel of Paris through brief vignettes on a variety of themes. Baxter, a film biographer, critic, and author of four best-selling memoirs about life in France, uses his Australian grandfather’s diaries to present a soldier’s view of life during the war. Yet, this richly illustrated volume is more than a family memoir, portraying the euphoria of the war’s first days; the way buildings and transport vehicles were adapted to house and carry the wounded; French attitudes toward the Germans and Americans in their midst; the vices and sex trade that provided diversions for soldiers and visitors; even the thriving postcard business that emerged to send news back home. VERDICT General readers and Francophiles will enjoy this breezy look at life in the City of Light during the Great War.
Bull, Stephen. British Infantryman versus German Infantryman: Somme 1916. Osprey. (Combat). 2014. 80p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781782009146. pap. $18.95. HIST
The “Combat” series compares specific military assets on each side of a campaign. In this volume, the author describes ordinary infantrymen on both sides of the trenches, effectively summarizing the movements and trials of the participants. A short segment explaining the recruitment, training, leadership, and logistics of each Army is followed by a comparison of its effectiveness in three actions in the 1916 battle of the Somme—Serre, Thiepville, and Guillemont. A section of analysis and charts rounds out the presentation. Osprey’s excellent maps and good selection of images make this a decent introduction to a very narrow slice of World War I history. VERDICT Short, affordable popular history that will appeal to readers unprepared for longer narratives. Supplemental.
Butcher, Tim. The Trigger: Taking the Journey That Led the World to War. Grove. Jun. 2014. 336p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780802123251. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802191885. HIST
Butcher’s (Daily Telegraph) perspective on the “trigger” of the Great War, a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918), forms a work that is a combination history, psychological profile, and memoir. Inspired by his time covering the Bosnian War in the 1990s, the author follows Princip’s path from Herzegovina to Serbia and from student to assassin, to learn of his motivations that ultimately changed the course of world events. What makes this work particularly engaging is the juxtaposition of Butcher’s war experience with his current journey. The author’s curiosity as to how Princip fits into the region’s history is contagious; he carries the reader along on his quest, using primary sources such as archives and oral histories to paint a fuller picture than other recent works such as Sean McMeekin’s July 1914. VERDICT Recommended for those interested in the causes of World War I and in the Slavic region.
Buttar, Prit. Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914. Osprey. Jun. 2014. 464p. bibliog. illus. index. notes. ISBN 9781782006480. $29.95; ISBN 9781782009726. HIST
British physician-turned historian Prit Buttar (author of several books on the Eastern Front of World War II) describes how in the first months of World War I, the expansive and varied geography of Eastern Europe permitted the armies of Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary to go on the offensive. Their generals believed that maneuver and attack were the superior strategies for what they expected would be a short war. But, Buttar emphasizes, the result was the same as in the Western Front’s stalemated trenches: high casualties and inconclusive results. Artillery and machine guns gave the advantage to defenders. Logistical inadequacies, organizational shortcomings, and leadership failures, Buttar points out, further impeded the ability of any of the three empires to fulfill its dreams of victory. By early 1915, the three armies occupied roughly the same ground as before the war, despite huge casualties, extensive campaigning, and tremendous expenditures of war materiel. VERDICT Based in archival research, this book will appeal to readers interested in World War I and especially the first months of battles on the Eastern Front. Better maps would make the narrative describing the battles and campaigns easier to follow. The book is the first in an intended three-volume study of the Eastern Front of the war.—Mark Jones, Mercantile Lib., Cincinnati
Cohen, Susan. Medical Services in the First World War. ISBN 9780747813699;
Hadaway, David with Stuart Hadaway. The British Airman of the First World War. ISBN 9780747813682.
Storey, Neil R. Animals in the First World War. ISBN 9780747813675.
ea. vol: Shire. (Library). 2014. 64p. illus. index. pap. $12.95. HIST
These slim volumes offer a mix of text (in type that is on the small side) and plentiful photos from the time and of surviving equipment, medals, correspondence, propaganda posters, and more, depending on the title. Historian Cohen’s Medical Services concentrates on (nongory) images of facilities, patients, and staff; military historian Storey’s Animals offers a pleasing mix of horses and dogs in action and posing with their owners, and even some refugee rabbits and a goose escaping the Gallipoli peninsula; while aviation enthusiast Hadaway’s British Airman is a handy, more visual complement to Arthur Gould Lee’s No Parachute (see review below). The brief but detailed works will be great for reports (the quality indexes help in this regard); a comprehensive introduction and four to eight chapters per title comprise a useful overview of each topic, and those who want to explore further will appreciate the further-reading and places-to-visit lists. VERDICT Attractive, informative, and approachable.
Dilworth, Thomas (text) & David Jones (illus.). David Jones in the Great War. Enitharmon Pr. Jun. 2014. 232p. illus. index. ISBN 9781907587245. $34.95. HIST
Starting in 1915, British artist and poet David Jones (1895–1974) served in the same regiment in France as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen (though at a lower rank). In nine chapters, Dilworth (English, Univ. of Windsor, Ont.) chronicles Jones’s path from “Pre-war (1895-1914)” though action in the Somme, Ypres, and Passchendaele, through to his life as a disaffected veteran back home. Sketches (unfortunately all black and white) by the artist and period photographs depict the western front as well as French village life, Jones, and the men with whom he served. The soldier’s poetry is sprinkled throughout, too. Art and history experts will appreciate that many of the images are previously unpublished, and the inclusion of seven sketches not available since the war. VERDICT For academic art and history collections and libraries that serve fervent amateur historians.
Doyle, Peter Chris Foster. What Tommy Took to War: 1914–1918. Shire. 2014. 120p. photos. index. ISBN 9780747814030. $12.95. HIST
“Tommy Atkins,” as the British public nicknamed the men who went to war, was burdened with around 60 pounds of extra clothing, weapons, ammunition, and cleaning supplies. After a pithy introduction that describes the British World War I uniform over time and in various climates, a spread per item (one full-page photo opposite descriptive text) in this small book catalogs Tommy’s belongings. They range from military supply such as paybooks and medals to keepsakes that comforted the inexperienced combatants—only around 400,00 of the four million were peacetime soldiers—so far from home. VERDICT Well researched, absorbing, and affecting.
Florczyk, Steven. Hemingway, the Red Cross, and the Great War. Kent State Univ. 2014. 199p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781606351628. $49. LIT
In June 1918, Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) became a volunteer ambulance driver at the Italian front. Though his experience was short—after about a month he was injured and returned home to a hero’s welcome—it inspired and provided source material for much of his writing, including A Farewell to Arms. Florczyk’s (English, Louisiana State Univ.) work is detailed and informed—the exhaustive notes and bibliography comprise around 50 pages of the text. While the author’s tone is scholarly, he portrays Hemingway the man, not just the writer, by using primary source material such as the volunteer’s commanding officer’s letters and diary. A section of images includes a map of the Italian theater of war, pages of the officer’s diary, newspaper articles from the time, photographs of Hemingway and of wartime Italy, and letters. VERDICT The work’s reliance upon previously unexamined material makes this profile of Hemingway of value to completist literature and history collections.
Gould Lee, Arthur. No Parachute: A Classic Account of War in the Air in WWI. Grub Street. 2013. 240p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9781909166042. $26.95. HIST
In 1917, Gould Lee (1894–1975) was a 22-year-old pilot in the No. 46 Fighter Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps in France when, he explains in a preamble, the war on the ground was deadlocked and mastery in the skies traded hands over and over. The missives collected here, some edited for length, were first published in 1968, and are part of the correspondence Gould Lee sent to his young wife Gwyneth Ann Lee (material written later describes the couple’s time at home). During the war many details such as place names had to be omitted from letters so as to escape the censor; these facts have now been added. Footnotes provide context and define the many slang terms he used. As well as feeling terror for the pilot, readers will empathize with Gwyneth Ann as the original reader of letters that include breathless accounts of many near misses. Appendixes describe “The Failure in High Command,” “[General] Trenchard’s Strategy of the Offensive” and most important, the controversies behind the book’s title, which refers to the lack of parachutes on British fighting planes at the time. VERDICT Aviation enthusiasts and historians will be transfixed by Gould Lee’s accounts of both life in the skies and on the ground.
Grant, R.G. World War I: The Definitive Visual History. DK. Apr. 2014. 360p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781465419385. $40. HIST
Heftier than many DK books, this illustration- and fact-packed encyclopedia is chronologically arranged, with seven sections of material covering from “The Troubled Continent: 1870–1914” to “Aftermath: 1919–1923.” Each segment offers an opening illustrated time line that resembles a calendar page; where multiple years are covered, the boxes represent significant months; whereas in the chapter “Stalemate: 1915,” for example, several days per month are addressed. In typical DK fashion, spreads cover a subject each in lively detail. They are liberally sprinkled with paintings, maps, photos of troops, battle action, and modern-day locations where the carnage took place; and with photos of period artifacts. Opening and closing sidebars outline what happened before and after the events at hand. More granular time lines and stark statistics throughout add value. VERDICT A visual wonder of important historical events, as promised in the title.
Jenkins, Philip. The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade. HarperOne. May 2014. 448p. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9780062105097. $29.99. HIST
World War I marked a profound shift in the shape of religion’s role in the world argues Jenkins (history, Baylor Univ.; The Next Christendom). His title is misleading: while some voices proclaimed the war a righteous cause, the author’s main concern is to demonstrate just how tectonic a shift there was in the nature of religion during the war and afterward. With Jenkins’s characteristic global sweep (from the European theater to the Ottoman Near East to African and Asian colonies), he paints in broad strokes how the trauma of the war inflicted mortal blows to faith in beneficent progress, the naturalness of a patriotic-religious synthesis, and Euro-Christian moral superiority. VERDICT Jenkins makes a compelling case for expansive shifts in the place of religion from pre to postwar.
Lussu, Emilio. A Soldier on the Southern Front: The Classic Italian Memoir of World War I. Rizzoli Ex Libris. 2014. 288p. tr. from Italian by Gregory Conti. notes. ISBN 9780847842780. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780847842797. HIST
Like Ernest Hemingway, Emilio Lussu (1890–1975) served at the Asiago plateau in Northern Italy. Lussu’s plainly written account of the time is a classic in his native country but not well known in the English-speaking world. A 1937 note from the author explains that his book has no thesis except to describe what he saw; that is enough, however, to create a compelling read that enters the mind of a man at the front, exposed daily to terrible scenes and decisions that change who he is. At times Lusso’s air of detachment is chilling; in other situations, in humanizing his enemies he is himself humanized. Historical details abound and will be gratifying to readers who want to discover more about the war in Italy; memoir enthusiasts, however, are another target for readers’ advisory involving this title. VERDICT A valuable complement to Hemingway’s works, this book can also stand on its own as a historical memoir written in a memorable voice.
Mastriano, Douglas V. Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne. Univ. Pr. of Kentucky. (American Warrior). 2014. 318p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780813145198. $34.95; ebk. ISBN 9780813145228. BIOG
Alvin York (1887–1964) was a simple Kentucky backwoodsman. Converted to Christianity in 1915, he professed to be a conscientious objector but was denied this by the draft board. Drafted, then deployed to France, he eventually found himself in the thick of a firefight in which his friends were being killed. York, by then a sergeant, killed a number of Germans and directed the capture of 132 more, earning the Medal of Honor. In this biography, Mastriano (U.S. Army colonel) discusses Sgt. York’s early life, faith, and activities through his death. He adds context to and corrects earlier works about his subject, but his use of battlefield archaeology is new and adds considerable detail to and confirmation of York’s feat. Using contemporary accounts the author found the location of the firefight and retrieved battlefield detritus, including items identifiable as belonging to known participants, thus pinning down the location. VERDICT A readable, thoroughly documented addition to the extensive literature available on an authentic and admirable war hero.
Philpott, William. War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War. Overlook. May 2014. 400p. notes. index. ISBN 9781468302684. $32.50. HIST
During the First World War, it became apparent to military and civilian leaders that in an age of industrialized armies and mass societies, they needed to engage in a new kind of warfare. Philpott (war studies, King’s Coll., London; Three Armies on the Somme) looks at the development of a “war of attrition” on the battlefields, on the seas, on the home fronts, and in the diplomatic arena. Using published sources, the author presents neither new material nor a novel perspective to the currently burgeoning scholarship about the Great War. Throughout, he emphasizes developments on the western front and the countries, armies, and leaders who fought there. This is not surprising given that it is the author’s area of expertise, but a stronger take would include more in-depth discussions of non-Western European experiences. VERDICT Military history buffs might find the book intriguing, but it is not recommended for those looking for a casual read or an introduction to the war.—Wade Trosclair, Kenner, LA
Sassoon, Siegfried. Memoirs of an Infantry Officer: The Memoirs of George Sherston. Penguin Classics. 2013. 247p. ISBN 9780143107163. pap. $15. HIST
British poet Sassoon joined the infantry in August 1914, and was shipped to France, where he was outraged by the realities of conflict. This second volume of his “semiautobiographical” trilogy (between Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man and Sherston’s Progress) sees his character George Sherston taking the same journey. Wounded in the Somme, Sherston returns home and becomes publicly vocal about the evils of war, resulting in his mental stability being questioned. The portrayal of a young man of means being thrust into the bewildering, nonsensical world of war is a poignant portrayal of the horrors that last long after coming home. VERDICT While the demand for works on the poet is not great, Sassoon’s touching, profound descriptions of the melee and its aftermath form one of the greatest records available of this dreadful time.—HV
Soldiers’ Songs and Slang of the Great War. Osprey. Sept. 2014. 296p. ed. by Martin Pegler. bibliog. ISBN 9781472804150. pap. $12.95. HIST
Pegler (formerly senior curator of firearms, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds; founder, Somme Historical Centre, France) has updated his childhood favorite, John Brophy and Eric Partridge’s Songs and Slang of the British Soldier (1930). His fascinating introduction touches on the history of English, the manifestation of class differences in trench life, and even the condition of the men who enlisted. Following that essay are sections on military slang, arranged alphabetically; popular songs of the era in chronological order and with composer information where available; and tunes and chants from the trenches, with each segment offering informative opening text. Many of the soldier’s chants are accompanied by notes such as, “Tune of ‘If You Were the Only Girl in the World.’” Historical notes are also sprinkled throughout. The slang—some of it is earthy—is the best part of the book. Many terms though simply reflect daily life using military issue equipment and eating army food; sadly, euphemisms for “dying” are very common, too. The 61 images—about half of them (particularly the color ones) found in a plate section, and the rest integrated into the text—are a mix of Punch magazine and Bruce Bairnsfather cartoons, other contemporary posters and comics, and images from picture libraries. VERDICT A gold mine for historians and writers covering the era; also wonderful for those studying today’s speech who will learn that much of it originated in wartime.
Strauss, Edward M. Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker 1914–1918. Yale Univ. 2014. 426p. notes. index. $35; ISBN 9780300191592. HIST
France’s version of “Tommy Atkins” was the poilu (“hairy one”). One of these was Louis Barthas (1879–1952), a 35-year-old small-town barrel maker who fought from 1914 to 1918 and meticulously documented his experiences, creating a rare account of serving in the Great War for so long. Like Emilio Lussu (above), Barthas dedicated himself to chronicling the common man’s war; he was encouraged in this by his comrades and even continued the endeavor after returning home. In the end, he created 19 notebooks, the contents of which fill a chapter each here. Barthas also sent numerous postcards home (a section of reproductions shows some of these) and relied on them to re-create events at a physical and temporal remove. The result, while sometimes dense, is an uncommonly immediate account of one man’s lengthy war experience. The index will help those doing research on particular regiments as well as those searching for information on such topics as smells, fraternization on the battlefield, and World War I France people and places. VERDICT A valuable record of the war in France; buy for dedicated military historians as well for academic libraries.
Striner, Richard. Woodrow Wilson and World War I: A Burden Too Great To Bear. Rowman & Littlefield. Apr. 2014. 304p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9781442229372. $40;
ebk. ISBN 9781442229389. HIST
President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) often appears just below the top tier of our former presidents. In the century since his presidency, Wilson’s popularity has risen and fallen along with the tide of how Americans view the Progressive Era and the advent of an activist government. Striner (history, Washington Coll.), well known for his studies of Abraham Lincoln, here takes a critical look at Wilson’s actions as a wartime leader. The author is unsparing in his criticism of Wilson’s lack of preparation for America’s eventual entry into World War I and derides him for his naive belief in his powers of personal diplomacy in dealing with the complexity of the Allied cause. Striner concludes that Wilson was generally incompetent when it came to managing America’s war effort. Given that Wilson knew he lacked experience in foreign affairs, one may find Striner’s criticism a bit unfair. Wilson certainly had his faults, but how much his performance displayed incompetence and how much it simply reflected the remarkable complexity of fighting a modern war is a matter of opinion. VERDICT This well-written and well-researched book deserves attention in academic libraries but should be balanced with other recent works such as John Milton Cooper, Jr.’s Woodrow Wilson or A. Scott Berg’s Wilson.
Ulrichsen, Kristian Coates. The First World War in the Middle East. Hurst. May 2014. 320p. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781849042741. $35. HIST
Most studies of World War I focus on Europe, but Ulrichsen’s (history, London Sch. of Economics) detailed and concise chronicle reminds readers of the broad impact of the war in the Middle East, deftly balancing military campaigns and social and political consequences. The author presents a precise exposition of the interests and engagement of the five imperial powers in the region and describes the costly military campaigns from the Caucasus to North East Africa and Palestine to Mesopotamia. In addition to heavy losses in men and resources for the warring powers, the local populations suffered immensely from battles, famine, disease, and destruction of property. This thorough study begins with historic background and concludes with an analysis of the postwar settlements as incipient national movements struggled with revived French and British colonial ambitions, and the newly formed states in the region strained to create viable governments and economies. VERDICT Ulrichsen draws on a wide range of archival and monographic sources to present a comprehensive summary of this major theater of World War I and suggests how the war continues to influence developments in the region.
War + Ink: New Perspectives on Ernest Hemingway’s Early Life and Writings. Kent State Univ. 2013. 363p. ed. by Steve Paul & others. notes. index. ISBN 9781606351758. $65. HIST
Paul is an editor at the Kansas City Star, where a young Ernest Hemingway found his first reporting job. Appropriately, then, the author and Gail Sinclair (director and scholar in residence, Winter Park Inst., Rollins Coll.) and Steven Trout (English, Univ. of South Alabama at Mobile) go beyond—before?—the usual biographies of America’s chief documenter of World War I to cover his seldom explored early years as a reporter. The other essays mostly cover Hemingway’s battle and postwar experiences through the lens of his writing (“Looking at Horses: Destructive Spectatorship in The Sun Also Rises”), but also examine the authors place in wider society (“Love in the Time of Influenza: Hemingway and the 1918 Pandemic”). VERDICT A valuable book for AP and college literature and history students as well as readers seeking a literary view of the war.
Wawro, Geoffrey. A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire. Basic: Perseus. Apr. 2014. 464p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780465028351. $29.99. HIST
Wawro (history, director, Military History Ctr., Univ. of North Texas) begins by describing how Austria-Hungary found itself at the mercy of the Germans after defeat in the 1866 Austro-Prussian war. He then turns his attention to the internal struggles of the empire, especially its strained relations with Hungary. The author argues that the empire’s inability to either control or mollify its minority populations led to its disintegration, and that at the outbreak of war Austria-Hungary’s army was poorly trained and equipped and comparatively small. The empire vacillated on whether to destroy Serbia first or husband its strength against Russia. When Conrad von Hötzendorf, Vienna’s generalissimo, did finally act, his campaigns were disastrous and led to embarrassing defeats. Austria’s role in causing World War I is well documented, but Wawro’s contribution lies in his focus on how the overall decline of Austria-Hungary led to broken relations with the Balkan states and Russia and its military blundering led to its ultimate destruction. VERDICT A worthwhile read for those who enjoyed Alan Sked’s Decline and Fall of the Hapsburg Empire.
Wilson, Jean Moorcroft. Siegfried Sassoon: Soldier, Poet, Lover, Friend. Overlook. May 2014. 629p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781468308525. $40. LIT
This fusion of Wilson’s two-volume biography Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet and Siegfried Sassoon: The Journey from the Trenches adds archival and manuscript material. Sassoon (1886–1967) is celebrated as one of the soldier-poets whose reputations were begotten by battle in World War I. Snobbish and self-centered, Sassoon was mercurial by nature. Although gay, he married and fathered a son; he converted from Judaism to Catholicism; and, decorated for bravery, he flung his medal into a river. With his reputation resting on his war poems and fictionalized autobiography (see Sassoon’s current influence and readership is severely circumscribed. VERDICT Wilson has absorbed and seamlessly integrated a wealth of documentation—diaries, memoirs, letters, biographies, and period histories—in this excessively detailed life of privilege and contradiction. Recommended for large academic libraries.