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Hew Strachan, The First World War: A New Illustrated History.

Hew Strachan, The First World War: A New Illustrated History, London: Simon and Schuster, 2003. xviii + 350 pp, photographs, maps, index. $50.00.

Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of Military History at Oxford, has been involved in number of publications relating to the First World War in recent years. He has edited the Oxford History of the First World War and has published To Arms, the first volume of a three-part history of that conflict.

The volume under review is derived from a television series for the BBC, which has not, regrettably, been shown yet on Australian television.

For Professor Strachan the war was a global conflict and he explicitly rejects the thesis that it was a 'conflict waged between states whose similarities were more marked than their differences--a sort of European civil war' (p. 67). His chapter on global war outlines the conflicts in the Far East and Africa, as German colonies are wound up and Von Spee's fleet sails to its destruction off the Falklands. Turkey's entry into the war and its subsequent role are covered in a chapter appropriately titled Jihad!

This is not just a study of campaigns. The author investigates the ideologies driving the participants and notes that these ideologies remained driving forces 'deemed to be so fundamental that they sustained the war despite its length and its intensity ... It was emphatically not a war without purpose' (pp 63-64). He discusses the outbreak.

The economic aspect of the war is well covered. Strachan notes the debilitating effect of the blockade on Germany. Not only were the shortages per se severe but the ersatz food created to replace it lacked nutritional value, causing weight loss and illness. There was suspicion between classes and between the city and country.

The book is well produced with excellent photographs. A feature is a section containing coloured photographs produced by using potato starch, a process now apparently lost. The maps are adequate and I would have preferred some more detailed ones. This book provides an excellent overview of the First World War and is recommended.

Ric Pelvin
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Author:Pelvin, Ric
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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