Review: The Great War (Dalessandro & Mahan)


The Great War: A World War I Historical Collection.

Another one-volume overview of the war that strives to set itself apart from the rest: a hardcover in landscape format, dust jacket and glossy leaves; an asymmetrical column text layout; and an attached packet of faux ephemera.

The text provides concisely written, comprehensive coverage, and each of the chapters includes a helpful detailed timeline. Lavishly illustrated, the book includes very few of the iconic photos that are seen everywhere. There is only one photo that purports to depict a corpse, but the victim’s lifelessness is not readily apparent, which makes the book suitable for general readers aged 13 and older.

There are issues with the ephemera. Some are printed on fragile stock, like onionskin or tracing paper. The aircraft identifier poster was excessively enlarged, which pixilated the captions and made them completely illegible. The desirable “Plate III” page of trench drawings was radically reduced, resulting in oversize margins and text too small to read. Quality control in assembly also suffered: two copies of the tiny tank sketch were included, but as a county weights and measures inspector once told me, going over the stated quantity isn’t a problem; it’s when a package comes up short that there’s a violation.

The provenance of the pictures used for the paper dolls is puzzling: neither set (British or German) seems to be in the style of period newspaper drawings of paper dolls. The German soldiers are poorly rendered, in comparison with the pair of British figures. In addition, the German officer more strongly resembles the typical Hollywood Nazi (complete with aggressive stance and sinister smirk) than any photo I’ve seen of a Great War German officer; and the stodgy enlisted man looks suspiciously like a clumsily constructed composite drawing, taken from tracings of three photos in the book The Germans on the Somme, which was published four years earlier (ibid. pp. 23, 84 and 141).

The publisher’s description of the ephemera falls into the “and more” promotional trap: the promised extra, printed on the same heavy cardstock as the paper dolls, is a badly reproduced, miniaturized copy of a water-damaged second-edition cover to a piece of sheet music. Click on the images for details:

possible first edition cover

first edition cover

possible second edition cover, reproduced as ephemera

second edition cover

The colorful, dramatic recruiting posters are the best of the bonus features. Although reduced from their original sizes, they are reproduced nicely on glossy stock, and but for the fold creases, would exhibit well in frames.

This product was billed as a “unique gift book” at the publisher’s store, with a predictably elevated price tag. My copy was obtained at a local used book shop for a fraction of the SRP, making it a good investment, on the basis of its many unique and useful photos.

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Filed under Book Reviews, First World War, Great War, Uncategorized, World War I

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