The release of Peter Jackson's epic reimagining of World War One, They Shall Not Grow Old, has reignited interest in The Great War from both cinephiles and WWI buffs alike. Although it's been over 100 years since Germany signed the armistice that brought World War One to a close, in many ways “the war to end all wars” has never really ceased. From the outbreak of a second world war just twenty years later to the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and the current perilous state of Turkish Democracy, the smoldering ashes of WWI have ignited time and time again.
These 11 books—arranged by genre and covering the hostilities from the home front, the trenches, and the hospitals where soldiers were treated for a new injury known as “shell shock”—are essential to understanding how a century-old feud shaped the world we live in today.
The First World War
World War One was 'the war to end all wars,' and no book encapsulates that better than Gilbert's sprawling epic. This was the war that brought us new weapons of death; transitioning human battle from 19th century tactics including cavalry and riflemen, to those of the 20th century - namely tank and germ warfare.
World War One was also a war of stagnation. The two sides fought bloody, horrific battles for months, sometimes conquering only a few meters of mud. The submarines, tanks, rapid-fire machine guns and artillery left millions dead or injured on the battlefield, and epitomized WWI as the turning point of modern military conflict.
No examination of The Great War would be complete without Gilbert's unflinching look at the war that shaped our modern era.
The Last of the Doughboys
What better way to immerse yourself in the trials and tribulations wrought by the treacherous battlefields of World War One than to do so through the eyes of those who served?
Rubin's account of The Great War, as seen through the eyes of WWI veterans, is unparalleled. Having interviewed American soldiers a full 85 years after the armistice that ended hostilities, Rubin takes us into the personal lives of those who served in some of the most famous and nightmarish battles of the war.
Their accounts are surprisingly humble, yet they still give pause over the magnitude of their service, and their contribution to the world by helping end the most brutal military stalemate of all time. Rubin's book is a rare treat, and one that every WWI history buff should include on their reading list.
A Storm in Flanders
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Forrest Gump brings us an examination of one of the most treacherous battlegrounds in all of military history. The Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders has come to epitomize WW1, featuring horror, heroism, and terrifying new tactics and technologies, including poison gas attacks, minefields, air strikes, and the unspeakable misery of trench warfare.
Groom mines the journals of the soldiers at the front for the memories and true-life accounts of what really took place at his landmark battle. Ultimately, the battle at Ypres was as senseless as World War One itself, which makes this historical account all the more haunting.
Werner Voss was a legend in the German Air Force. As the youngest recipient of the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest honor for soldiers during WWI, Voss is considered to be the greatest flying ace of his time - even more so than the famed 'Red Baron.'
Voss' audacity and daredevil flying techniques made him famous amongst German soldiers, and his death enshrined him as an icon. He was killed in one of the most famous dogfights of World War One: a battle with the 56 Squadron RFC, the most successful Allied scout squadron of the war.
Diggens' controversial account of Voss' life mines every aspect of the German soldier's life, and takes an unflinching look at a man who lived on the edge, and ultimately perished there as well.
The First World War
Twenty years after its original release, this gripping chronicle remains the best single-volume account of the war. Keegan, an acclaimed British military historian, brings a refreshingly clear-eyed perspective to some of the 20th century’s most confounding questions: Why couldn’t Europe’s greatest empires avoid such a tragic and unnecessary conflict? And why did so many millions of people have to die? By foregoing radio and telephone to communicate by letter, Keegan explains, world leaders effectively rendered themselves deaf and blind. The problem was grotesquely amplified on the battlefield, where weapons technology had advanced to the point that entire regiments could be wiped out in a matter of hours. No other history brings the war’s mind-boggling magnitude—70,000 British soldiers killed and 170,000 wounded in the Battle of Passchendaele alone —into sharper focus.
WWI brought about the fall of the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires and displaced millions of people across Europe. Faced with the monumental task of reshaping the world, Allied leaders convened the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. Over the next six months, delegates from 27 nations redrew international borders, hashed out the terms of Germany’s surrender, and laid the groundwork for the League of Nations. Above all, they aimed to prevent another world war. They failed, of course—Hitler invaded Poland just 20 years later—but this engrossing, comprehensive history debunks the harshest judgments of the Treaty of Versailles and provides essential context for understanding its myriad repercussions. MacMillan covers impressive ground, from the Balkans to Baku to Baghdad, without losing focus on the colorful personalities and twists of fate that make for a great story
You may already know about World War One itself, but what about the man who started it? In this acclaimed biography, Tim Butcher explores the personality, character and life history of Gavrilo Princip - the man who made the fateful decision to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and kick off WWI.
Butcher retraces Princip's steps from the small village of his birth to Belgrade, where he joined a resistance movement and eventually became an assassin. Drawing on his own experiences covering the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, Butcher unravels the complexities and conflicts of this part of the world, and illustrates how the events of WWI have impacted the region today.
Goodbye to All That
This spellbinding autobiography is by turns poignant, angry, satirical, and lewd. It’s also, according to literary critic Paul Fussell, “the best memoir of the First World War.” A lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers (where he fought alongside his friend and fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon), Graves was severely wounded in the Battle of the Somme and reported killed in action. His family had to print a notice in the newspaper that he was still alive. As befitting a man returned from the dead, Graves breaks all conventions, mixing fact and fiction to get to the poetic truth of trench warfare. Sassoon, for one, objected to the inaccuracies, but Good-bye to All That touched a nerve with war-weary readers and made Graves famous. It has gone on to influence much of the 20th-century’s finest war literature, from Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.
Storm of Steel
An international bestseller when it was originally published in 1920, this fiercely lyrical memoir is the definitive account of the German experience during WWI. Jünger, a born warrior who ran away from home at the age of 18 to join the French Foreign Legion, fought with the German infantry in the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, and the Battle of Cambrai. He was wounded seven times during the war, most severely during the 1918 Spring Offensive, when he was shot through the chest and nearly died. He received the German Empire’s highest military honor, the Pour le Mérite, for his service. Taken from Jünger’s war diary, Storm of Steel has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that separates it from other WWI autobiographies. Some have criticized it as a glorification of war, while others, including Matterhorn author and Vietnam War veteran Karl Marlantes, think it’s one of the truest depictions of the combat experience ever written.
To the Last Ridge
While not as acclaimed as Storm of Steel, Downing's personal memoir of his time in trench warfare is no less jarring in its authenticity. Spare and vivid, Downing recounts with blinding accuracy some of the most horrific battles of the war. He takes readers into the rat-infested mud with graphic descriptions of the constant pounding of the guns, the deaths, and the futility, but also the humor and heroism of one of the most compelling periods in world history.
All Quiet on the Western Front
This iconic German novel was first serialized in 1928, 10 years after the armistice. The book version sold millions of copies and was quickly adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. By then, the Nazi Party was the second largest political party in Germany; Joseph Goebbels led violent protests at the film’s Berlin screenings. Three years later, he banned and publicly burned Remarque’s books in one of his first orders of business as Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda. Why the intense hatred for the story of a young man who volunteers to fight in WWI? Because it is one of the most powerful anti-war novels in Western literature. In Remarque’s downbeat tale, one nameless battle is indistinguishable from the next and the lucky survivors are doomed to lifetimes of disillusionment and alienation. No other book, fiction or nonfiction, conveys the existential horror of trench warfare so clearly.