Tag Archives: research

Wrapping Up The Great War.

As we draw to the close of the Great War centenary, we also approach reviews of the remaining materials in my First World War library (in no particular order):

 

As a monthly lineup, this selection of videos takes us through October, although I expect to add a few other items, and there will be a special Armistice Day edition of our Trench Newspaper.

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Review: The Real War, 1914-1918 (Hart)

The Real War, 1914-1918.

The cover shown is of a later reprint of the 1931 reissue of B. H. Liddell Hart’s 1930 History of the First World War, the quintessential Great War history. It’s organized like an academic textbook, with a Preface and two introductory chapters that prepare the field of study; units dedicated each year of the war, within which chapters labeled as “scenes” provide detailed analyses; and an Epilogue that functions as an overall summary.

Because it was written in the middle-interwar period, it avoids the speculative baggage of post-Second World War hindsight. Hart also stays out of the 1917 Russian revolution, a topic into which many modern historians digress.

Despite its thoroughly methodical organization, it doesn’t read like a textbook. Liddell Hart writes with the engaging voice of a true storyteller, which may have much to do with his book’s enduring popularity with several generations of readers. He hits his stride at the middle of the book, in “The Growing Pains of the Tank” (‘1916 – The “Dog Fall” Scene IV’), a chapter I can only describe as the most eloquent writing I have ever read on the topic.

The copy I read was the 1931 printing (obtained from the public library), and its being such an old copy with fragile pages, all its maps had been torn out and lost, so I can’t evaluate them. Each chapter is given its own bibliography, and the back matter also includes a very detailed index.

It cannot be considered to be the last word in the accuracy or impartiality that’s generally expected to be exhibited by academic historians, but its authenticity can’t be questioned. It’s available in many reprints, and I will be adding a copy to my own Great War research library. Recommended.

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Review: The German Offensives of 1918 (Passingham)

The German Offensives of 1918: The Last Desperate Gamble.

This is the second book by Passingham that I’ve read, and in it he persists with his sometimes puzzling use of vocabulary which makes the reader do a double-take and re-read the sentence, wondering if what was written was what the author really meant to say. He also adopts a breezy, slangy style that casts the pall of “pop history” over the topic, obscuring what would have been better presented as a serious analytical work.

It’s a slim volume that seems to have been generously padded to increase its length: The chapter titles are printed in an enormous font size, although it’s not a “large print” book. The author frequently interrupts the narrative with lengthy, large bold-print subtitles (often labeling only one paragraph of text), which are also listed in the table of contents, where they do little good because they tend to be “catchy” rather than helpfully descriptive. And how often do we really need to have a commander identified by his full title, full name (including additional birth names), plus his nickname, when the experiences of the forces under his command again become the topic of discussion? Some of those names take up most of a whole line of text. Occasional use of “gray space” also extends the length of the book, in boxes of text that purport to highlight technical or biographical information that break up page flow in the manner often seen in academic textbooks of much larger size.

The line maps are no better than most I’ve seen in all my reading. The relatively few end notes refer back to inline citations that, for the most part, are irrelevant enough to make the reader wonder why the author bothered to interrupt the text with them. The numerous appendices consist mostly of order-of-battle listings, with a table of German ranks and a redundant essay about German tactics and weapons thrown in for good measure. There’s a lengthy bibliography, but the index is superficial and inadequate.

The dramatic front cover photo of German troops in action and the high quality hard cover binding make an excellent presentation on the shelf, but what’s found within doesn’t match; indeed, the text points up the hyperbole in the back-cover description.

The book’s only redeeming feature is its nicely reproduced glossy center section of photos and other illustrations, although they’re not all unique. The photos of German children in uniform (dead as well as alive) may be disconcerting to some readers (discretion is advised for homeschool use).

I can’t say that I won’t refer to it again while doing research for my novel-in-progress, but there are better history books out there that cover the last year of the Great War.

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