on November 19, 2007
This is the first volume in a two-set history of Canadians in the Great War. This first volume is a tour de force from one of Canada's leading military historians. Based on a wide range of books and academic articles, as well as newly uncovered archival sources (and one marvels at the breadth sources displayed in the footnotes), Cook has produced the most important history ever put into print on the subject of Canadians fighting the Great War.
The author has clearly been studying this subject for years, as the details of battles and the experience of soldiers in combat are among the best in print. From the banality of trench warfare to the titanic battles of Second Ypres, Mount Sorrel, and the Somme, this book presents history as it should be. The words of the soldiers guide us in this tale, but its not just first-hand accounts strung together, as Cook offers deep insight into all levels of war: from the strategic to the operational, from tactics to individuals. In addition, tactics, weapons, and emerging doctrines are meshed with issues of combat motivation, medicine, and the importance of leave. While much of this has been covered by other historians over the years, no one to my mind has ever done it in such detail and with such verve.
Cook has done a great service to this generation that gave so much for their country. I simply can’t wait to read volume II.
on November 16, 2007
This book is a great triumph for Dr. Cook and from every page oozes both his passion for the subject matter and his commitment to the sheer hard-work involved in being a real historian.
Canadians should be proud of the heroic history detailed in these pages, but this book goes far beyond the average re-telling of familiar stories (at least, they used to be) and reminds us of the experiences of the everyman, the citizen-soldier of the Canadian Corps. These men saw unspeakable horrors yet still struggled on to maintain their own identities and to forge a new meaning, a new reality for their nation.
Yet this book does not only speak to these grand visions, it delves into the reality of being a soldier fighting for Canada in the Great War. We mustn't forget that on a day-to-day basis, reality meant staving off not the might of the Kaiser's forces, but rather boredom and the effects of squalid conditions. The humour, the camaraderie, the songs, the anti-authority opinions, the art, the experiences of young men being in a totally alien environment, are all part of this rich tapestry.
This book deserves a place on the bookshelves of all Canadians, and indeed of all those interested in the human experience of warfare in any time and place.
on November 4, 2007
This is a brilliant work. The writing is engaging, perceptive and intellectual. Cook gets into the minds of all elements of the Canadian Corps and at times you feel that you are also part of the fog of battle. Canada, a nation that unfortunately makes its heroes smaller than life, should be grateful to Tim Cook for giving our Great War veterans their proper legacy in the 21st century.
on May 9, 2008
This book has all the usual information ref battles and battle lines, but goes further with interesting insight and tidbits of information not found in the average World War 1 narrative. For example, did you know that the CEF suffered the highest VD rate of any force on the Western Front? Not sure where Cook gets his info, and how accurate it is, but well worth the read.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for most of us to visualize the ghastly horrors that humans can inflict upon each other on the battlefield. But a war becomes an indescribable nightmare for those who live and fight through one. Consequently, the Great War was never forgotten by those who fought in it and survived; and through books such as this one, the rest of us can get a brief glimpse of what they went through. After briefly setting the international scene leading up to the Great War, the author focuses on the Canadians, including initial reactions in Canada, enrollment, organization, equipment, training and fighting. This volume covers the war up until the end of 1916, or more precisely, to the end of the Battles of the Somme; a second volume covers the rest of the war. Although the focus is on the Canadians (the infantry), the author also discusses involvement by other countries, especially British forces. The writing style is clear, authoritative, accessible and very engaging. The detailed accounts given of the soldiers' lives in the infantry and especially in the trenches, and the carnage that they suffered while in battle could hardly be better described; in fact, many passages leave the reader with a heavy heart. This is an excellent book that can be read and appreciated by absolutely anyone.
on February 3, 2008
This book is flat out excellence! the only other narrative history that compares is "The Thin Red Line" by Julian Spilsbury (its about the Crimean war).Creating this kind of historical material is fantastic, I think all Canadians should have to read this and find out how their Grandfathers and Great Grandfathers lived. There are some familiar sources in the book (Private Fraser for example) which is available through CEF Books.
I really cannot wait for volume II but I am guessing I will be waiting a while, even so this is a fantastic book possibly the best on the subject I have yet to read. Fully recommended to both history enthusiasts and people who aren't buffs its easily readable and understandable by even a casual reader with little knowledge of military terminology or tactics. Mr.Cook does a fine job of explaining these aspects all the while keeping the personal experiences poring through giving the book a less academic and more personal perspective.
Although this book could very well be an academic history book, because he has missed nothing!I am almost sad to have finished it, and highly suggest all Canadians of all walks read this book and gain a true appreciation for the people that fought, the wounded, the scarred and traumatized and the ones who paid the supreme sacrifice, to make our great country what it is today.
It was 90 odd years ago and the last of the vets have died, and our WWII vets are fewer and fewer in number every November 11th. The only way we will be able to fully appreciate our for fathers is to keep their experiences, their words and their legacy alive.
The Men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the women who served were every bit our founding fathers as those in the 1860's who founded responsible government.Canada was a self governing colony before the first world war.We were a recognized nation afterwards, at a price of over 60'000 dead and including wounded over 200'000 Casualties.The most traumatic event in our history shaped our Nation and we cannot allow our selves to forget this.
Tim Cook has taken a huge step, and should be commended for this volume.
Thank you Mr.Cook.
on December 6, 2007
This book does not conform to the typical conception of works of history being dense, hard to read lists of names, dates and obsure locations. Dr. Cook's account of the first half of the Canadian experience in the Great war is a blend of lecture and narrative. Personal accounts from soldiers diaries and other sources are extensively used to tell the story interspersed with analysis based on original source documents and earlier works. Soundly edited with very few typographical errors, one can tell that time was taken to get it right. Effective use is made of simplified maps and numerous photos to assist the reader in visualizing that which is written.
The enormous depth and breadth and variety of information and anecdotes is more amazing given how easy it is to get lost in the images evoked by just reading it as you would a story book. While there is deep analysis in this work, you will also find a surprising aray of minutia that sprang from the canadian solier's wartime experience. Look for for Dr. Cook's explanation of how an informal converstion became known as a chat (as in "Bob and Ted had a chat over coffee").
The major characters of the war are portrayed in a fair and sympathetic manner with an attempt to explain why decisions were made and actions taken in a certain way without whitewashing their effects or who was responsible. As an amateur historian myself, with a much narrower focus to my research, I have some minor quibbles about a few matters in this work, but they are minor and quibbling is what we amateurs do most often if not best.
This is not the book to choose if you are seeking comprehensive analysis and specific details about a certain battle or a specific aspect of the war. But as a superior general history that truly conveys the experience of service in the front lines, this book is difficult to surpass. If you wish to obtain a greater understanding of the life (and perhaps death) of a relative who served in this great struggle, I wholeheartedly suggest that you start with this book.
When you first pick up "At the Sharp End" you'll be amazed at how much this definitive two-volume history of the Great War reads like a carefully choreographed, personal narrative of a typical soldier on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. That's because the historian Tim Cook has chosen to see the various critical parts of this mammoth conflict through the experiences of every day, common, feet-on-the-ground soldiery. In an exhaustive effort to lay out the real course of this senseless war between the Great Powers of Europe, Cook has accomplished the hitherto impossible feat. This volume is a book that not only serves as a scholarly chronicle of the significant wartime events from a Canadian perspective but an opportunity to commemorate the exceptional individual and collective qualities of the Canadian military under fire. For a first-time reader, there are some special qualities worth looking out for that will make this an enjoyable and instructive read:
1)As a first-rate historian, Cook will hit you with a lot of detail to digest. Have no fear because he explains it in fairly straightforward terms, with the assistance of easy-to-follow diagrams, maps and pictures;
2)"At the Sharp End" personalizes the history of the war by going into the lives of individuals who made an important positive or negative contribution to its outcome. Many of the stories are very touching portrayals of bravery and ingenuity;
3)The book is organized in such a way as to educate the reader to understand the small daily frustrations of the war in order to eventually grasp its overall futility and gloom;
4)Cook provides excellent character analysis of people like General Sam Hughes, based on very reliable archival sources. He is objective in his attempt to find both the good and bad in his cast of wartime rogues, whom history has otherwise relegated to the trashcan;
5)There are a lot of fascinating photos included the book to reinforce the stark and miserable geography in which this colossal struggle took place;
6)There are few emotions spared in Cook's telling of this epic story. Lots of savagery and inhumanity get exposed here in an effort to bring home to the reader the awfulness of modern warfare.
7)Cook devotes considerable space to describing life on both sides of the battle lines. The reader should be able to form a decent appreciation for the German infantry who, too, were drawn into this impossible war to kill or be killed.
Over all, I recommend this book to anyone who wants to see 20th century warfare in a more complete form that puts a name to a face, tells the awful truth, and yet commends individuals for acts of bravery as something good coming out of evil.
on May 28, 2014
A superlative two part history of the Canadian Forces in WW1 this one including the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where my paternal Scottish Great Uncle was killed with the Fife and Forfar's prior to the job being handed over to the Canadians. It is a testament to the British Commander Julian Byng who allowed the Canadians to govern themselves and to Arthur Currie who became the first full General in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. My maternal Uncle was at First Ypres and was severely Mustard Gassed which shortened his life. The two best damned books on WW1 I've had occasion to read, no praise is too great IMO.
on August 20, 2015
I loved the book! An accurate detailed account of the Canadians fighting in WW1 with a tremendous amount of personal detail I have never found in another publication! I can't wait for the second book in the set to arrive! I am so impressed with this book I donated it to a military museum to have it kept in fine condition forever!