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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book Review: The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918

The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 by Holger H. Herwig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The popular academic study of World War One in English has long suffered a deficit in the number of publications that use German sources. Herwig's hefty tome comes as a welcome change to this. At 450 dense pages, only serious history buffs need apply.
Those willing to make the effort, however, will find their understanding of the war enriched and changed. While we are long accustomed to hearing criticisms of the Entente's General staff, the commanders of the Central Powers are shown to have made many key blunders and to be grossly out of touch with the reality on the ground.
Herwig goes through each year and campaign in detail, backed up with a wealth of primary sources. I could have used some more personal accounts--the ones he gives are gripping--but that's not really the focus here. He shows how the high command was influenced by politics, posturing, and unrealistic expectations. The incapacity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to wage war is well drawn, and Herwig knows just when to bring out a telling detail. For example, rubber was in such shortage that in 1917 the Hapsburg government requisitioned the pockets from all billiard tables!
Herwig takes us step by step through the evolving political, strategic, and tactical situations. A glossary of terms and key figures and some more detailed maps would have been helpful, but I can't bring myself to give this book fewer than five stars. It's essential reading for anyone who wants to truly understand the Great War in detail.

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  1. Research books like that one helps to bring our our novels to life with detail and realism -- but 450 pages? Whew!

  2. I forgot to mention that he also gives the home front a lot of coverage, so it's a good resource for writing a war novel that doesn't include any fighting. Not that the civilians were terribly safe what with malnutrition, rising crime, and the influenza epidemic!


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