The First World War: A New Illustrated History

Hew Strachan

Simon & Schuster 2003
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
This short history of the First World War is loosely based on a ten episode television program, with ten chapters in rough chronological order but taking a thematic and regional focus. It is illustrated with an excellent array of black and white photos, as well as eight pages of colour photographs taken with the experimental French autochrome system.

One unusual feature is the seventeen pages, some 5% of the volume, devoted to events in Africa. (In comparison, histories by Marc Ferro, Liddell Hart and David Stevenson offer just a single page on Africa.) There's also good coverage of the Balkans, the Middle East and the global aspects of the war, avoiding common British over-emphasis on the Western Front.

Strachan takes a broad perspective in other ways, touching on topics such as popular culture, propaganda, finance, and post-war commemoration. He is obviously limited by space here, but there are glimpses of the magistery of his planned three volume history (of which only the first, To Arms, has so far appeared).

The other notable feature is Strachan's "revisionist" stance on some issues. He doesn't overlook mistakes or follies, and certainly doesn't return to the 1920s, but he tries to place the decisions of generals and leaders in their contexts, and finds that they are not always as stupid as judgement with the benefit of hindsight can suggest.

If you want a short general history of the First World War, this is a great choice.

May 2008

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Related reviews:
- Hew Strachan - Financing the First World War
- Hew Strachan - The First World War in Africa
- books about World War I
%T The First World War
%S A New Illustrated History
%A Strachan, Hew
%I Simon & Schuster
%D 2003
%O paperback, photographs, notes, index
%G ISBN 0743239601
%P 350pp