The best books to truly understand the Western Front of WW1 (1914-18)

Who am I?

Nick Lloyd is Professor of Modern Warfare at King's College London, based at the Defence Academy UK in Shrivenham, Wiltshire. He is the author of five books, including Passchendaele: A New History, which was a Sunday Times bestseller, and most recently, The Western Front: A History of the First World War. He lives with his family in Cheltenham.

I wrote...

The Western Front: A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By Nick Lloyd,

Book cover of The Western Front: A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

What is my book about?

A panoramic history of the savage combat on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918 that came to define modern warfare.

The Western Front evokes images of mud-spattered men in waterlogged trenches, shielded from artillery blasts and machine-gun fire by a few feet of dirt. This iconic setting was the most critical arena of the Great War, a 400-mile combat zone stretching from Belgium to Switzerland where more than three million Allied and German soldiers struggled during four years of almost continuous combat. It has persisted in our collective memory as a tragic waste of human life and a symbol of the horrors of industrialized warfare.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Foch in Command: The Forging of a First World War General

Why did I love this book?

This is a magisterial biography of Ferdinand Foch, the man who would become Allied Generalissimo in 1918. Greenhalgh traces the development of one of France’s foremost soldiers, who overcame setbacks and trials, including the death of his only son in 1914, to guide the forces of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the United States to victory in 1918. Based upon meticulous research, this helped resurrect Foch’s reputation and place him, once more, at the centre of military histories of the Western Front. He emerges as a man of great courage, endless optimism, and a real understanding of what could, and could not, be achieved on the battlefield.

By Elizabeth Greenhalgh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Foch in Command as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ferdinand Foch ended the First World War as Marshal of France and supreme commander of the Allied armies on the Western Front. Foch in Command is a pioneering study of his contribution to the Allied victory. Elizabeth Greenhalgh uses contemporary notebooks, letters and documents from previously under-studied archives to chart how the artillery officer, who had never commanded troops in battle when the war began, learned to fight the enemy, to cope with difficult colleagues and allies, and to manoeuvre through the political minefield of civil-military relations. She offers valuable insights into neglected questions: the contribution of unified command to…

The First Day on the Somme

By Martin Middlebrook,

Book cover of The First Day on the Somme

Why did I love this book?

There is little that has not been said about this readable, engaging, and deeply moving account of the disaster on 1 July 1916 – the worst day in the history of the British Army. Middlebrook’s book was a revelation when it first appeared; utilising recollections and stories from veterans, whom Middlebrook met and interviewed, giving it an immediacy and power that captivated readers. The book charts the birth and development of Britain’s New Armies and their subsequent destruction on the Somme. Piece-by-piece Middlebrook examines how the battle was planned and prepared, before going on to detail the progress of the fighting at set-times, allowing us to grasp the ebb and flow of the battle. This remains a much-loved classic. 

By Martin Middlebrook,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The First Day on the Somme as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The soldiers receive the best service a historian can provide: their story is told in their own words - Guardian

'For some reason nothing seemed to happen to us at first; we strolled along as though walking in a park. Then, suddenly, we were in the midst of a storm of machine-gun bullets and I saw men beginning to twirl round and fall in all kinds of curious ways'

On 1 July 1916, a continous line of British soldiers climbed out from the trenches of the Somme into No Man's Land and began to walk towards dug-in German troops armed…

Book cover of The Swordbearers: Supreme Command in the First World War

Why did I love this book?

Published almost sixty years ago, this compelling study of four senior commanders who served (mostly) on the Western Front remains as fresh as when it was first written. Barnett’s prose is exquisite, bringing us directly into the world of Helmuth von Moltke, John Jellicoe, Philippé Pétain, and Erich Ludendorff, telling us how they coped (or not) with the enormous stresses and strains they encountered as ‘supreme commanders’. It is a stunning portrait of men (and their command systems) at war. 

By Correlli Barnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Swordbearers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Interprets the major events of World War I through an analysis of the actions and characters of four supreme commanders, Ludendorff, Petain, Jellicoe, and Moltke

Book cover of Haig's Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany's War on the Western Front

Why did I love this book?

This is a fascinating portrayal of one of the most important, yet neglected, figures on the Western Front: the army group commander and heir to the throne of Bavaria, Crown Prince Rupprecht. Boff follows Rupprecht through the war years with an assuredness and skill that comes from his great knowledge of the archive source material, describing the man who was ‘Haig’s enemy’ and on the receiving end of most of the great offensives conducted by the British between 1916-18, including the Somme, Arras and Third Ypres. But this is not just the biography of a senior officer; it is a portrait of an army as it tried to grapple with the complexities of total war and react to new tactics and technologies.  

By Jonathan Boff,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Haig's Enemy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the First World War, the British Army's most consistent German opponent was Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria. Commanding more than a million men as a General, and then Field Marshal, in the Imperial German Army, he held off the attacks of the British Expeditionary Force under Sir John French and then Sir Douglas Haig for four long years. But Rupprecht was to lose not only the war, but his son and his throne.

Haig's Enemy by Jonathan Boff explores the tragic tale of Rupprecht's war-the story of a man caught under the wheels of modern industrial warfare. Providing a…

Book cover of The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World

Why did I love this book?

Holger Herwig sheds new light on the Battle of the Marne (September 1914) in his exhaustively researched, yet fast-paced and readable account. For English readers, the Marne does not always gain the attention it deserves (British participation being relatively minor), but Herwig shows just how terrible the fighting was and why the French were able to snatch victory ‘from the jaws of defeat’. Because Herwig was able to utilise both German and French sources, it presents a fully rounded, three-dimensional portrait of one of the most decisive battles of the modern world, which ended Germany’s hopes of victory in the west in 1914. 

By Holger H. Herwig,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Marne, 1914 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For the first time in a generation, here is a bold new account of the Battle of the Marne, a cataclysmic encounter that prevented a quick German victory in World War I and changed the course of two wars and the world. With exclusive information based on newly unearthed documents, Holger H. Herwig re-creates the dramatic battle and reinterprets Germany’s aggressive “Schlieffen Plan” as a carefully crafted design to avoid a protracted war against superior coalitions. He paints a fresh portrait of the run-up to the Marne and puts in dazzling relief the Battle of the Marne itself: the French…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Western Front (WW1), World War 1, and the Battle of the Somme?

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