The best books on the Great War

Tim Cook Author Of The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War
By Tim Cook

The Books I Picked & Why

Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I

By Michael Neiberg

Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I

Why this book?

There is no shortage of books on why Europe, and then much of the world, went to war in 1914. Margaret MacMillan or Christopher Clark have offered deep insights, but my favourite short, readable, and scholarly history is Michael Neiberg’s Dance of the Furies (2011). Neiberg skillfully braids together the complex interplay of societies gearing up and marching as to war, laying forth for the reader all of the the dark legacies, alliances, diplomatic errors, and tragic decisions that would lead to the relentless slaughter.


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War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War

By William Philpott

War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War

Why this book?

This brilliant book pulls together many strands of the war, as presented through the lens of attrition. In his sweeping narrative, Philpott focuses on the land war – how it was fought and why, and how it evolved over 4 years – but War of Attrition also examines the politics and diplomacy of war, and the war at sea, in the air, and at home. Pound for pound, the best book yet written on the war-fighting years.


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Enduring the Great War: Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies

By Alexander Watson

Enduring the Great War: Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies

Why this book?

Amid the industrial war of fire and fury, a key question remains on how the soldiers survived. Watson’s book explores the experience for British and German soldiers, drawing upon their letters and diaries. Enduring the Great War offers new ways to understand the war of the trenches, how morale was sustained, and it provides an inner portrait into the men who took in the grinding warfare.


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Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War

By Martha Hanna

Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War

Why this book?

Soldiers and loved ones wrote tens of millions of letters during the war, as they supported one another and tried to close the gap of distance and time. These literary sources provide a glimpse into the war in the trenches and that at home, and one of my favourite books is Hanna’s Your Death Would be Mine. Based on a rich collection of letters between a French soldier and his wife, the reader peers into the secret war shared between those in uniforms and those who waited for them at home.


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The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century

By David Reynolds

The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century

Why this book?

The Great War haunts us still, more than 100 years later. Reynolds’ brilliant book explores why that is the case, unspooling the many legacies of the war, from its impact on geopolitics and ideological systems to the long shadow of war shading culture and commemoration. A sweeping history by a master historian that shows why the Great War still matters, and will always matter.


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