The best Battle of the Somme books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about the Battle of the Somme and why they recommend each book.

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Through German Eyes

By Christopher Duffy,

Book cover of Through German Eyes: The British and the Somme 1916

At first glance, this volume may seem out of place in a list of books about the British Army. However, Christopher Duffy’s work is one of the most interesting studies of the British Army on the Somme to have emerged in recent years. By using German sources, particularly interrogation reports from captured British, Canadian and Australian soldiers, he paints a unique picture of the British Army as viewed through the eyes of its chief opponent. The result is an unusual, illuminating, and delightfully readable study.


Who am I?

Spencer Jones is an award-winning historian who has written several critically acclaimed books about the British Army in the First World War. He teaches history at the University of Wolverhampton, serves as the Regimental Historian of the Royal Artillery, and is the President of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides.


I wrote...

Courage Without Glory: The British Army on the Western Front 1915

By Spencer Jones,

Book cover of Courage Without Glory: The British Army on the Western Front 1915

What is my book about?

The year 1915 was one of unprecedented challenges for the British Army. Short of manpower, firepower, and experience, the army needed time to adapt before it could hope to overcome the formidable German defenses of the Western Front. Yet the insistent demands of coalition warfare required immediate and repeated action. The result was a year of disappointments, setbacks, and costly fighting.

This book offers an important reassessment of a forgotten year of the war, and illustrates the tremendous difficulties faced by the British Army as it endured a bloody learning curve in difficult conditions. This book will be of great interest to anyone who studies the First World War, and of particular value to those who seek a greater understanding of the British Army of the era.

Bloody Victory

By William Philpott,

Book cover of Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century

The Battle of the Somme 1916 was the longest and bloodiest battle ever fought by the British Army. In popular imagination, the battle tends to focus on its first day – 1st July 1916 – when British forces suffered almost 60,000 casualties. Yet the battle was much more than this single, dreadful day and the fighting would rage for another 140 days. What happened? This meticulously researched book tells the full story of the Somme campaign and shows how it was planned and fought. It is immense in scope, taking the reader from the corridors of high politics to the smoldering shell holes of no-man’s land. Ultimately, it reaches provocative conclusions that may change your thinking about the battle.


Who am I?

Spencer Jones is an award-winning historian who has written several critically acclaimed books about the British Army in the First World War. He teaches history at the University of Wolverhampton, serves as the Regimental Historian of the Royal Artillery, and is the President of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides.


I wrote...

Courage Without Glory: The British Army on the Western Front 1915

By Spencer Jones,

Book cover of Courage Without Glory: The British Army on the Western Front 1915

What is my book about?

The year 1915 was one of unprecedented challenges for the British Army. Short of manpower, firepower, and experience, the army needed time to adapt before it could hope to overcome the formidable German defenses of the Western Front. Yet the insistent demands of coalition warfare required immediate and repeated action. The result was a year of disappointments, setbacks, and costly fighting.

This book offers an important reassessment of a forgotten year of the war, and illustrates the tremendous difficulties faced by the British Army as it endured a bloody learning curve in difficult conditions. This book will be of great interest to anyone who studies the First World War, and of particular value to those who seek a greater understanding of the British Army of the era.

The First Day on the Somme

By Martin Middlebrook,

Book cover of The First Day on the Somme

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. 


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.

The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

By Gavin Stamp,

Book cover of The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

This is my most personal choice. The architectural historian and critic Gavin Stamp, who died in 2017, was my husband. This was one of his best and most deeply felt books. It tells the story of the memorial arch at Thiepval in Belgium designed by Edwin Lutyens, which bears the names of 73,000 men whose bodies were never found after the catastrophic Battle of the Somme in July 1916. It shows how architecture can bestow dignity on loss, how it can both embody grief and to some extent relieve it. Gavin’s book looks beyond the monument itself to meditate on the greater tragedy of the First World War. 


Who am I?

Since childhood I have wanted to know why things look as they do. Every object expresses what was once an idea in someone’s mind. Looking from things to the people who made them and back again, we understand both better. This single question has led me through a lifetime of writing about material culture, architecture, applied art and craft. I have written books about Stonehenge, the Gothic Revival and antiquarianism in the Romantic age. I also hosted a podcast series, for the London Review of Books


I wrote...

God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain

By Rosemary Hill,

Book cover of God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain

What is my book about?

Without Augustus Pugin, Britain (and parts of the U.S. and Australia) would look different today. Born in 1812 he wrote the first architectural manifesto, transformed the Gothic Revival, invented the modern family house, and built some of the great landmarks of Scotland and London, most famously the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben). Pugin lived a dramatic and tragic life, often crossed in love and short of money. He died disillusioned and insane at the age of forty. This is his story. 

The Face of Battle

By John Keegan,

Book cover of The Face of Battle

Keegan popularized a new kind of military history, history focused on the experience of those “at the sharp end” of battle. Generals may as individuals have the most influence on the course of battle, but Keegan argues that, taken together, the men doing the fighting have more influence than the generals. He describes the experiences of men in three famous battles, and shows how tactics evolved but the demands of facing death remained all too familiar. I love this book for using history to find the psychology of men in combat.

Who am I?

Research Professor of Psychology at Bryn Mawr College. Since the 9/11 attacks I have tried to understand how normal individuals, people like you and me, can move to terrorism in particular and political violence more generally. I retired from teaching in 2015 to have more time to write. I’ve written about genocide (Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder), about self-sacrifice (The Marvel of Martyrdom: The Power of Self Sacrifice in a Selfish World), and about terrorism (Friction: How Conflict Radicalizes Them and Us). 


I wrote...

Radicalization to Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know

By Sophia Moskalenko, Clark McCauley,

Book cover of Radicalization to Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know

What is my book about?

Our book uses a question-and-answer format to tell everything we have learned about violence in intergroup conflict. Political violence requires individual motivations, small group dynamics, and a mass political base of sympathizers and supporters—all of these, and their interactions, contribute to the escalation of conflict to violent conflict. Individuals join a violent group for many reasons, including personal and political grievance, thrill and adventure, status, escape, and personal connection with individuals already fighting. Once engaged in a violent struggle, reasons for joining fade, and killing becomes an act of love, to save comrades now closer than brothers. This psychology of violent conflict can be found, not only in radicalization to terrorism, but in five classic books about soldiers in combat.

The Old Front Line

By John Masefield,

Book cover of The Old Front Line

Masefield, before his 50-year tenure as Britain’s Poet Laureate, spent the war writing dispatches from the front. This slim book from l917 is his honest, soberly graphic description of what the Somme battlefield looked like after the fighting moved on—an approach that conveys war’s horrors without any moralizing or exaggeration.


Who am I?

Novelist, essayist, and short-story writer W. D. Wetherell is the author of over two dozen books. A visit to the World War One battlefields in Flanders led to his lasting interest in the human tragedies of l914-18, inspiring his novel A Century of November, and his critical study Where Wars Go to Die; The Forgotten Literature of World War One.


I wrote...

A Century of November

By W.D. Wetherell,

Book cover of A Century of November

What is my book about?

This is the tale of Charles Marden, an apple grower and judge who sets off from his Vancouver Island home on an impulsive journey to Belgium, where his son, an Allied soldier in the First World War, has just died in battle at the very end of the war. Marden's single-minded mission: finding the exact spot where his son was killed.

Across western Canada the Spanish flu rages—the very disease that claimed Marden's wife three weeks earlier. Upon arriving in England, he learns that his son left behind a pregnant girlfriend. Soon his search widens to include locating the girl, too. Nearing the front lines, Marden seems to descend into the fires of hell as he navigates the mine-strewn killing fields of the trenches, still reeking with poison gas. Will he find the girl, and will he find an answer to the forces that drove him halfway around the world?

Good-Bye to All That

By Robert Graves,

Book cover of Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography

Best known as the author of I, Claudius, poet Robert Graves writes movingly about his experience in World War I. He began as a patriotic young officer of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, but life in the trenches, class conflict, bureaucracy, and loss of friends in combat made him a different man. A shell fragment pierced his lung at the Battle of the Somme; he was expected to die but somehow survived. His experience can be compared with Keegan’s account of the Somme. After the war he suffered from what today would be called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—startled at loud noises and any smell that reminded him of poison gas in the trenches. I love this book because it brings poetic sensitivity to the experience and effect of combat.

Who am I?

Research Professor of Psychology at Bryn Mawr College. Since the 9/11 attacks I have tried to understand how normal individuals, people like you and me, can move to terrorism in particular and political violence more generally. I retired from teaching in 2015 to have more time to write. I’ve written about genocide (Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder), about self-sacrifice (The Marvel of Martyrdom: The Power of Self Sacrifice in a Selfish World), and about terrorism (Friction: How Conflict Radicalizes Them and Us). 


I wrote...

Radicalization to Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know

By Sophia Moskalenko, Clark McCauley,

Book cover of Radicalization to Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know

What is my book about?

Our book uses a question-and-answer format to tell everything we have learned about violence in intergroup conflict. Political violence requires individual motivations, small group dynamics, and a mass political base of sympathizers and supporters—all of these, and their interactions, contribute to the escalation of conflict to violent conflict. Individuals join a violent group for many reasons, including personal and political grievance, thrill and adventure, status, escape, and personal connection with individuals already fighting. Once engaged in a violent struggle, reasons for joining fade, and killing becomes an act of love, to save comrades now closer than brothers. This psychology of violent conflict can be found, not only in radicalization to terrorism, but in five classic books about soldiers in combat.

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