Books on the First World War

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First World War
General Works
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Books - First World War

General Works

Instrument of War - The German Army 1914-18, Dennis Showalter. Looks at the nature of the German Army during the First World War, and how that impacted on its ability to fight the sort of war it ended up having to cope with after the initial attempt to knock the French out of the war in the first campaign failed. An interesting examination of the German Army, and also valuable for giving us the German view of the major battles on the Western Front [read full review]
Givenchy in the Great War -  A Village on the Front Line 1914-1918, Phil Tomaselli. Traces the fighting that took part on the Givenchy sector of the Western Front during the First World War, following the village through the major battles of 1914-15 and 1918 and the quieter spells of 1916-17. Covers the fighting above ground and the massive mining campaign that went on under the front. An interesting idea that gives us a snapshot of the fighting on the Western Front as it affected a single heavily fought over location [read full review]
Holding the Home Front - The Women's Land Army in the First World War, Caroline Scott. Looks at the effort that went into getting women accepted on farms during the First World War, starting with a variety of voluntary bodies, leading up to the formation of the Women's Land Army early in 1917. Tells a similar tale to that of the more famous Land Army of the Second World War, but with more emphasis on volunteering and voluntary organisations for most of the war, and as a result a wider variety of experiences [read full review]
The 1915 Campaign, Andrew Rawson. Covers the fighting on the British front of the Western Front between the start of 1915 and the first half of 1916, up to the start of the battle of the Somme. Reveals at period in which the British army introduced new weapons and new techniques, but was still unable to win any significant victories, even when the initial part of an attack achieved success [read full review]
Palestine - the Ottoman Campaigns of 1914-1918, Edward J. Erickson. An interesting study of the Ottoman side of the Palestinian campaigns of 1915-1918, looking at the failed Ottoman attacks on the Suez canal, the first two unsuccessful British attacks on Gaza and Allenby's successful campaign that eventually forced the Ottomans to sue for peace. A useful book somewhat marred by the author's approach to the Armenian Genocide, which is briefly discussed as if it was a valid response to a major security threat instead of a deliberate genocide ordered from above. [read full review]
The Hindenburg Line, Patrick Osborn & Marc Romanych. A good study of the full network of defences generally known in English as the Hindenburg Line, and which spread from the Channel coast to the St. Mihiel salient east of Verdun. Looks at the original purpose behind their construction, the actual shape they took on the ground, and how they performed under attack. Very useful to have a book that focuses on the entire length of this key German fortification [read full review]
Fall of the Double Eagle - The Battle for Galicia and the Demise of Austria-Hungary, John R. Schindler. Looks at the opening clashes between Russia and Austria-Hungary on the Eastern Front of the First World War, some of the biggest battles of 1914, and a series of defeats that played a major part in the decline and fall of the Hapsburg Empire, destroying the pre-war Regular army that had been one of the strongest props of the Hapsburg realm and giving the Russians a rare clear-cut victory [read full review]
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MI5 at War 1909-1918: How MI5 Foiled the Spies of the Kaiser in the First World War, Chris Northcott. A sober look at the performance of MI5 between its formation in 1908 and the end of the First World War, focusing as much on the internal structure of MI5, and the laws that allowed it to operate as on its activities and individual cases. This helps explain how MI5 achieved its successes, and also what sort of threats they believed they faced. [read full review]
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The Great War Through Picture Postcards, Guus de Vries. Looks at the vast numbers of postcards produced on every side during the Great War, covering an impressively wide range of topics, and giving us an idea of the sort of visual images that were being sent to and from the front lines and the messages that were being sent. Provides a much more colourful image of the First World War that is normal, with at least half of the cards having some colour in them. [read full review]
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Horses of the Great War - The Story in Art, John Fairley. A splendidly illustrated look at the portrayal of the horse in art during the First World War, a conflict in which Britain alone used around one million horses. Covers a wide range of topics, from the classic cavalry charge to the humble transport mule, and a wide variety of artistic styles from classic oils and watercolours to modernist works [read full review]
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German Artillery 1914-1918, Wolfgang Fleischer. Covers over 100 guns used by the German Army and shore detachments of the Navy during the First World War, a conflict largely dominated by artillery. Each one gets a brief description, a set of technical stats and a good picture. Shows the wide range of gun types and sizes used by the Germans during the First World War, and the way in which they evolved to deal with the unexpected challenges of trench warfare. [read full review]
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Roll of Honour - Schooling and the Great War, Barry Blades. Looks at the impact of the Great War on the British school system, including the changes to lessons, loss of teachers, arrival of refugees, the contribution made to the war effort by teachers, the different ways in which pupils from different schools were treated by the army, and the way the fallen were commemorated during and after the war. [read full review]
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In the Mind's Eye - The Blinded Veterans of St Dunstan's, David Castleton. A history of a charity formed to help the blinded servicemen of the First World War and that went on to help develop a much more positive attitude to the blind across society by developing ways to allow the veterans to live increasingly independent lives. [read full review]
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Images of War: The Central Powers on the Russian Front 1914-1918, David Bilton. A year by year look at the experience of German and Austro-Hungarian troops fighting on the Eastern Front, a more fluid environment than the Western Front and a campaign that ended with a German victory and the exhaustion of the Austro-Hungarians. [read full review]
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The Birth of the Royal Air Force, Wing Commander Ian Philpott.. A useful reference work on British air power during the First World War, covering the RFC, RNAS and the formation of the RAF, with useful sections on organisation, aircraft, airfields, actual operations on the home front, the Western Front and further afield as well as the training and background structure of all three organisations [read full review]
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The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War I, general editor Chris Bishop. A useful collection of articles on the main weapons of the First World War, based on Orbis's War Machine of the 1980s. Still accurate despite its relative age, well illustrated and supported by some informative general articles, and provides a good overview of the military technology of the Great War. [read full review]
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Posters of the Great War, Frederick Hadley & Martin Peglar. A splendid volume filled with 200 full colour posters from every major combatant, covering a wide range of subjects from recruitment to the funding of the war, views of the enemy and of their own soldiers and the home front, all supported by explanatory captions and a good introduction text. [read full review]
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Rehearsals - The German army in Belgium, August 1914, Jeff Lipkes. This is a well researched, harrowing and utterly convincing examination of the atrocities committed by the German army as it invaded neutral Belgium in August 1914. This is a revised second edition, with considerable re-writes, a new afterword and infomation on the Leipzig trials. [see more]
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The First World War: The War to End all Wars, Peter Simkins, Geoffrey Jukes and Michael Hickey. Excellent single-volume history of the First World War, focusing on the land battles on the Western, Eastern and Italian fronts and the war against the Ottoman Empire. Gives a good impression of the way in which both offensive and defensive tactics developed during the war and the slow formation of a war-winning Allied strategy. [read full review]
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Historic Newspapers: Teaching History Resources: A selection of three selections from important historical newspapers, available free to education facilities. The First World War option covers the Autumn Offensive of 1915, the death of Edith Cavell, the appointment of Sir Douglas Haig as commander of the B.E.F., the Dardanelles, Jutland, the death of Kitchener, Air Raids on London, the capture of Jerusalem and the Armistice. The side articles are just as interesting as the main stories, giving a feel for what was seen as important at the time. A super teaching resource.

Trench, Stephen Bull. Looks at the evolution of the defensive lines on the Western Front of the First World War, from the thin lines of 1914 to the elaborate defensive networks of the late war period and the weapons used to try and break the deadlock. Supported by some fascinating wartime illustrations from military manuals, along with contemporary trench maps. [read full review]
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The Battle for Syria 1918-1920, John D. Grainger. Mainly focuses on the First World War battles between the British and the Ottoman Empire for control of Syria, with an interesting section on the post-war struggle for control of the country. Covers the campaign in Palestine, the Arab revolt and the Ottoman side of the fighting. [read full review]
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1914-1918 An Eyewitness to War, ed. Bob Carruthers, Four very varied eyewitness accounts of the First World War, including a look at the front by the Director of French Propaganda, a memoir of four weeks spent in the Austrian Army at the start of the war, an American journalist's visit to Verdun and the memoirs of an Official War Artist. These are all fascinating, and provide a very different view of the war to the normal soldier's memoirs. [read full review]
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Empires of the Dead - How One Man's Vision led to the Creation of WWI's War Graves, David Crane. Combines a biography of Fabian Ware and a history of the Commonwealth war cemeteries that he played such a major part in creating. Recreates the controversies that surrounded these cemeteries that are now such an accepted part of the British and Commonwealth reaction to the slaughter of the Great War. [read full review]
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Images of War: Royal Flying Corps, Alistair Smith. Four photo albums showing aspects of live in the RFC, including training at Tangmere and in Canada and early seaplanes on the River Crouch. Includes some astounding pictures of aircraft destroyed in crashes or by bad weather, as well as a good selection illustrating daily life in the RFC away from the front line. [read full review]
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The First Blitz, Andrew P Hyde. Inspired by a family connection to one of the victims of a bomb that hit a London primary school in June 1917, this book looks at the development of the German aerial attacks on Britain, with a focus on the most successful period of Gotha raids, the unit that carried them out and the leader who briefly turned that unit into an effective weapon. [read full review]
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Aircraft of World War I - 1914-1918, Jack Herris and Bob Pearson. Takes an unusual approach for a book on aircraft, organising its subject chronologically and by topic, thus bringing together all of the aircraft involved in a particular battle or campaign, and tracing how they developed. As a result the air war is better tied to the battles on the ground than in books organised aircraft-by-aircraft. [read full review]
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Caporetto and the Isonzo Campaign, The Italian Front 1915-1918, John Macdonald with Zeljko Cimprié. An excellent study of the First World War on the Italian front, focusing on the twelve battles of the Isonzo, one of the most costly campaigns of the entire war. A good background to the campaign is followed by useful accounts of each of the battles, something quite difficult to find. [read full review]
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My Seventy-Five, The Journal of a French Gunner August-September 1914, Paul Lintier. The diary of a talented young French author covering the first two months of the First World War, covering mobilisation, the advance to the French frontier and the long retreat, the counter-attack on the Marne and the eventual stalemate on the Aisne. A fascinating view of one of the most important campaigns of the First World War. [read full review]
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Home before the Leaves Fall, Ian Senior. Looks at the fighting in France in 1914 from the outbreak of war to the defeat of the German invasion at the battle of the Marne. Focuses mainly on the role of the German and French armies in the fighting, the two side's plans, the way in which they unfolded and unravelled after the fighting began and the reactions of Joffre and Moltke. [read full review]
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Artillery in the Great War, Paul Strong and Sanders Marble. An examination of the way in which artillery was used during the First World War, tracing the development of artillery tactics, starting with the early clashes of 1914, in which different pre-war doctrines were tested in combat, before following the way that artillery tactics evolved during the conflict to produce the highly effective British artillery of 1918. [read full review]
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Great War Lives: A Guide for Family Historians, Paul Reed. An unusual approach to family history, looking at the wartime experiences of twelve very different British soldiers (including the only black pilot in the RFC and a rare example of a major war poet of low rank). Each of these biographies is followed by research notes which explain where the information was found. [read full review]

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August 1914 - Surrender at St. Quentin, John Hutton. A study of an infamous incident during the British retreat from Le Cateau in 1914, when the commanders of two infantry battalions decided to surrender under great German pressure, only for another officer to intervene and extract their men. Looks at the pressure the two men were under, their subsequent court martial and their different reactions to being disgraced. [read full review]
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German Soldiers in the Great War, Letters and Eyewitness Accounts, ed. Bernd Ulrich and Benjamin Ziemann. A study of the changing attitude of German soldiers during the Great War using their own letters home from the front, along with other contemporary documents, and looking at the role of disobedience in the eventual defeat of the German army. [read full review]
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British and Commonwealth War Cemeteries, Julie Summers. A look at the impressive achievements of the Imperial War Graves Commission in building and maintaining tens and thousands of cemeteries and memorials to the dead of the two World Wars and a look at commemoration of the dead in the post-war world, including the National Arboretum [read full review]
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Tracing Great War Ancestors: Finding Uncle Bill, Tim Saunders and Richard Hone (DVD). A mix of a practical guide to tracing any ancestor who served in the Great War, one of the presenter's efforts to trace his own Uncle Bill, and a look at the four main medals awarded during the war. Low key but both informative and encouraging. [read full review]
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British Postcards of the First World War, Peter Doyle. A look at the very wide range of postcards produced in Britain during the First World War, tracing their evolution as the war progressed, from the enthusiastic cards of 1914 to the sombre reflection of 1918. For most soldiers the postcard was the easiest way to communicate with their families back in Britain, so the changing nature of the cards provides a useful insight into the changing mood of the soldiers. [read full review]
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Women in the First World War, Neil R. Storey & Molly Housego. A look at the pioneering role played by women during the First World War, and the prejudice that the early volunteers had to overcome before they were accepted. Only as the war dragged on into 1916 and conscription was introduced did the government realise how essential their contribution would be, and by 1918 many of the organisations more familiar from the Second World War were already in place. [read full review]
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Underground Warfare, 1914-1918, Simon Jones. Looks at the British, French. Turkish and German efforts at underground warfare on the Western Front and at Gallipoli, examining major and minor attacks, defence warfare and the changing technology used to dig ever more elaborate tunnels and galleries in this largely hidden form of warfare that still produced some of the most dramatic images of the Great War [read full review]
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Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage, Peter Forbes. Beginning with the discovery of mimicry in nature in the mid-Nineteenth century Forbes traces the development of our understanding of the processes behind mimicry and camouflage, both in nature and during the two World Wars. [read full review]

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French Poilu 1914-18, Ian Sumner. A valuable addition to the Warrior series, this book looks at the day-to-day life of the French infantryman during the First World War. Sumner looks at the pre-war organisation of the French army; the operation of conscription before and during the war; the training received by new recruits; the equipment used by the infantry, including their personal weapons and the trench artillery and their food, pay and life in the trenches. He also includes a section on the infantry tactics used by the French during the war, supported by a first hand account of an infantry attack early in the war [see more].
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Rehearsals - The German army in Belgium, August 1914, Jeff Lipkes. This is a well researched, harrowing and utterly convincing examination of the atrocities committed by the German army as it invaded neutral Belgium in August 1914. Too often dismissed as fantasy or propaganda, this work helps redress the balance, looking at the mass executions of civilians that followed the invasion. [see more]
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coverThe First World War , John Keegan. An excellent narrative history of the First World War, especially strong on the buildup to war. Good on detail without losing the overall picture. Keegan keeps to a factual account of the war, leaving out the judgement calls that dominate some books. [see more]
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Routledge Atlas of the First World WarThe Routledge Atlas of the First World War, a good historical atlas that makes the overall nature of the war clear. Contains over 150 maps, covering just about every major aspect of the conflict from the pre-war tensions that led to war to the Armistice in 1918. [see more]
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Banks, Atlas of the First World WarA Military Atlas of the First World War, Arthur Banks. Banks provides a series of 250 very detailed maps that give the reader a good idea of what happened on the different fronts of the First World War, taking you beyond the static trenches of the Western Front. [see more]
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The Old Lie - The Great War and the Public School Ethos, Peter Parker. This book looks at the Public School ethos, and how it distorted the views of the generation that greeted the war with such enthusiasm in 1914. Parker does this by looking at the literature produced about Public Schools and by their old boys. [see more]
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Short History of World War I , James L. Stokesbury. A shorter, and perhaps more accessible narrative history of the war.
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The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War , editor Hew Strachan. This book tackles the war by theme, each chapter written by a different expert. It tackles areas that the more narrative histories do not, such as the role of women, the poliitical impact of the war, and propaganda
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Fiction

The Shropshire Lads, Graham Holbrook. This is a very entertaining historical novel set in and around the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War. The book follows a group of Shropshire volunteers from the pre-war period, through training, into combat in the trenches and then into a classic adventure tale. [see more]
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Flyboys [2006] A very under rated modern film which follows the adventures of the Lafayette Escadrille, American pilots who volunteered to fly for France in the First World War before the US entered the war. Set in 1916 it’s aerial combat scenes are impressive and benefit from modern special effects [see more]
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