A Few Excellent Books On The Great War

November 11th marked the 99th anniversary of the end of World War I, so in honor of that, I wanted to share a list of some of my favorite books on the war.

1. Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

Perhaps the most famous combat memoir to come out of World War I, Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel, written from the German perspective, is not only a great war story, it is also a literary masterpiece.  Junger was one of the few men on either side to survive the entire war, and he writes about his experiences in such a way that grips the reader as no other war memoir, in my opinion, does.  For example, of the tension before an action, Junger writes:

The men had fixed bayonets.  They stood stony and motionless, rifle in hand, on the front edge of the dip, gazing into the field.  Now and then, by the light of a flare, I saw steel helmet by steel helmet, blade by glinting blade, and I was overcome by a feeling of invulnerability.  We might be crushed, but surely we could not be conquered.”

Junger went on to achieve global notoriety as a result of Storm of Steel, and he authored several more books.  However, Storm of Steel remains his masterpiece, and it belongs in the pantheon of great war stories.

2. Now It Can Be Told by Philip Gibbs

Written in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versaille, Now It Can Be Told is an under-the-radar book about war correspondent Philip Gibbs’s experiences following the action alongside the British army in its campaigns.  Gibbs’s style of prose is that rare combination of beauty and clarity, and the attention given to the smallest of details helps the stories he tells stay with the reader long after reading.  In Gibbs’s view, the Treaty of Versaille’s harsh terms imposed years of hardship on Germany, and his memoir served as both a critique of the war and those who made the peace, and a prophesy of further conflict to come as a result of the harsh peace terms.

3. The Eastern Front 1914-1917 by Norman Stone

Overshadowed to a large extent by the war in France, World War I’s Eastern Front was just as crucial to the war’s outcome and the geopolitical upheaval that took place after its end.  Unlike the war in the West, the East’s vast expanses allowed for maneuver and tactics that would more closely resemble the blitzkrieg of World War II than the static combat of the Western Front.  Norman Stone does an excellent job of detailing these campaigns, and he offers astute analysis of the lessons learned from them.  Furthermore, Mr. Stone offers an excellent analysis of the war economies of the major combatants, including a description of the booming wartime Russian economy, which is something that will likely surprise many readers.

4. The First World War:  Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 by Holger Herwig

This book is a great resource for history enthusiasts as it goes to great lengths to discuss the war experience of the Central Powers, which is fairly unusual for histories widely available in English.  Mr. Herwig explores the minutest details of the campaigns in both the East and West, and he discusses also the economic complications that the war (specifically, the English blockade of Germany’s ports) presented to the Central Powers, and how they attempted to overcome them.  The First World War is filled with great information, and will prove itself valuable to anyone hoping to find a more comprehensive understanding of the war and its consequences.

5. Fritz and Tommy:  Across the Barbed Wire by Peter Doyle and Robin Schafer

The product of a collaboration between two historians – one English and one German – Fritz and Tommy is a fascinating look at the war from the perspective of ordinary German and English infantrymen.  The authors do a masterful job of presenting the reader with multiple first-hand accounts of the action, and this lends itself to giving the reader a better understanding of what the war was like for the men who fought it.  Fritz and Tommy reinforces the notion that war is a tragedy, as the men compelled to fight it are really not all that different from each other.

I would add that both Professor Peter Doyle (@profpeterdoyle) and Robin Schafer (@GerArmyResearch) are active on Twitter, and their accounts are both fascinating follows for history buffs.

6. Fall of the Double Eagle:  The Battle for Gallicia and the Demise of Austria-Hungary by John Schindler

Professor Schindler tackles a complex and neglected area of the war, which is the initial campaign of Austria-Hungary against Serbia and the subsequent battles against Russia in Galicia.  Fall of the Double Eagle does a great job of presenting much-needed background to the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, and he details the many repercussions of the conflict for the combatants.  Professor Schindler’s book is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in the root causes of this regional conflict, which of course ballooned into global war.

Professor Schindler is also active on Twitter (@20committee).