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The First World War: An Illustrated History Paperback – Jun 2 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin UK (June 2 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140024816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140024814
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 13 x 1.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 381 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #490,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


'The most readable, sceptical and original of modern historians' - Michael Foot 'Remarkable ... Taylor here manages in some 200 illustrated pages to say almost everything that is important for an understanding and, indeed, intellectual digestion of that vast event' Observer 'It is unlikely that there will be a more satisfactory compact survey of that Armageddon' Newsweek 'What makes Taylor's book outstanding is his capacity to penetrate through the undergrowth of controversy and conflicting interpretation to the central truth' New York Review of Books 'Probably the most controversial historian in the English-speaking world' The Times

About the Author

A.J.P. Taylor (1906-1990) was one of the most brilliant historians of the twentieth century. He served as a lecturer at the Universities of Manchester, Oxford, and London.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
AJP Taylor was always one of my favourite historians - far more readable than most - and this book is no exception. As the title implies, it is heavier on illustrations than text, but none the worse for that.

Contrary to what some have said, it is not primarily a diatribe against the generals. Taylor may not especially like them (how many do, aside from the late John Terraine?), but his verdict on Haig, in particular, is fair and even generous, especially for the time of writing

"He was a master of railway timetables, deploying divisions as skilfully as any general of his time. His strategical judgements were sound within the framework of the Western front, though he lacked the technical means for carrying them to success until almost the end of the war. - - - Haig had to do what he did, and, though he did not succeed, no one better was found to take his place."

Not a bad epitaph, especially compared to some others Haig has received.

Taylor is tougher on the politicians, who were, after all, in ultimate charge. He records how Joffre had sensibly decided to evacuate Verdun, only to be overruled by Briand. There are many verbal gems, notably his description of the Zimmermann note as "a bright idea such as only a Foreign Office could conceive".

On some points, his prejudices have been toned down, so that emaciated "victims of Allied intervention in Russia" in the first edition became "Victims of civil war in Russia" in the next and finally just "War and famine in Russia" in the paperback. But some still shine through. In particular, Lloyd George is an exception to his low opinion of the political leadership.
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Format: Paperback
One of the great nightmares when having a conversation about military history is to have your companion turn round and say, "So can you recommend a book about the First World War?" There has been an extremely large output on the war and the historiography has developed and altered significantly over the years. Add to that the fact that as an event it was immense in scope and the whole concept of summing it all up in one volume is daunting to say the least.
Taylor's book is ideal for the newcomer in that it is readable, concise and well illustrated with photos. Unfortunately, if somebody was ONLY going to read one book on the First War, I personally don't think it should be this one. Taylor was nothing if not a controversialist and this is typical Taylor. Taylor considered his work a success if it upset the apple cart and got people talking and with this he clearly succeeds (according to Taylor the whole thing was an enormous accident). He loved to try to find tiny causes for massive, apocalyptic events - in this case he latches onto railway timetables. Quite how close this is to reality and how much of the whole story it tells is debatable and to be honest I think the book has dated somewhat. It's a product of its time as well; there are some history books that just scream "child of the sixties" and this is one of them.
On the credit side, as mentioned earlier the book is an easy read for the novice and the photos are excellent. I would just say - don't take what is contained within as gospel and while this book would be a worthy addition to your collection, it is important not to confine your reading purely to this book; a broader spread of works will allow you to see differing, perhaps more rigorously sourced, views and to put Taylor's work in context.
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Format: Paperback
Like Taylor's other books, this book consists of less than 300 pages. Roughly about 50% is pictures.(There are 221 pictures in all, most of which I liked very much.) So this book is a very small one.
As a general overview of First World War, I don't feel like recommanding this book to others, for it omitted many things. For example, Taylor just ignored Armenian massacre which was committed by Turkey in 1915. Any way, no historian could compress First World War into such a small volume without jettisoning something important.
The strength of this book is that Taylor squarely faced some awkward questions which other historians usually avoid. (If you can read between the lines, you would learn much from this book. If you can't, this book is just a big chunk of contradiction.) Though Taylor pointed out many follies of First World War, he said that it was well implemented in a sense: the subjects of the Habsburg Empire obtained their national freedom; some of the subjects of the Ottoman Empire started on the same path; the war postponed the domination of Europe by Germany, or perhaps prevented it.
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