The best books on the Western Front of WW1 (1914-18)

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Elizabeth Greenhalgh

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

Why 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.


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The First Day on the Somme

By Martin Middlebrook

The First Day on the Somme

Why 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. 


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The Swordbearers: Supreme Command in the First World War

By Correlli Barnett

The Swordbearers: Supreme Command in the First World War

Why 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. 


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

By Jonathan Boff

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

Why 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.  


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

By Holger H. Herwig

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

Why 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. 


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