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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Remembering the War To End All Wars

Private Howard N. Wolff and his fiancé (3rd and 4th on right) 1917
For me, the First World War has always been overshadowed by the Second World War.  I know the basics – Franz Ferdinand dying in Sarajevo, the sinking of the Lusitania, the carnage of trench warfare – but not much more. However, finding my grandfather’s memorabilia from his WWI service last year sparked my interest in the struggle, which claimed between 9 and 15 million lives. July 28th marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the war. So, it’s an auspicious time to learn more about an event that ushered in many critical ideas and movements that shaped the 20th century. The publishing world agrees and has celebrated the centennial with an onslaught of new books on the subject. Whether your interests lie in rich historical analysis or personal stories that bring the war to life, the library has a wealth of material on offer for a 100th year retrospective.

Readers looking for a general overview of the war can’t go wrong with either of these titles. World War I: The Definitive Visual History: From Sarajevo to Versailles by R.G. Grant provides the clear overview that mark DK Publishing. Timelines, detailed maps, personal biographies and a plethora of images enhance a comprehensive catalog of events. John Keegan, a noteworthy military historian, provides more analytical coverage in his 1999 publication, The First World War. His thorough yet engaging examination is an excellent introduction to the conflict.

Two recent books stand out among the offerings highlighting the American contribution to the war. In 2003, 85 years after the end of the war, Richard Rubin began a decade-long quest to interview the last surviving serviceman of the American Expeditionary Forces. The experiences of these veterans are captured in The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War. Ranging between 101 and 113 years old at the time of their interviews, the veterans offer a unique perspective on both the war and American society of that time. Ann Bausum’s book Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and his Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation outlines the story of a stray dog who accompanied Private Bob Conroy from Connecticut to the battlegrounds of Europe in 1917. Bausum intertwines the more general history of the war with tales of Sergeant Stubby’s brave service running dispatches, alerting soldiers to mustard gas attacks and helping medics find wounded men. Stubby became a post-war celebrity who warmed hearts then and will do so now.


The following books take a look at the events leading up to 1914 in the spirit of Barbara Tuchman’s classic history The Guns of August. In The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, Margaret MacMillan examines the critical question of why the long-standing peace of Europe was upset at a time of unprecedented prosperity. She illuminates the complex web of personalities, events and alliances that contributed to the eventual outbreak of World War I. Journalist and historian Max Hastings focuses on the initial six months of the war in Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. This weighty volume brings to life the crucial months before the onset of trench warfare. Unlike some recent assessments, Hastings places culpability for the war firmly on the side of Germany and Austria. The immensely detailed work reveals the full scope of the war, from insights into the highest diplomatic circles to the fate of the lowliest farmers.

For those who prefer historical fiction, you’ll find the library’s shelves hold everything from classics to mysteries in WWI fiction.
 -Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

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