Writing some thirty years ago, Brian Bond noted that ‘strictly speaking, total war is just as much a myth as total victory or total peace’.(1) Undoubtedly, too, some wars – even world wars – were more total than others. If in the First World War civilians suffered indirectly from shortages, separations, blockade, etc., it was still the solders that did most of the dying.
The quest for saltpeter, the ‘inestimable treasure’ of Tudor and Stuart monarchs, crucial for the production of gunpowder, is the subject of David Cressy’s work, which spans the reign of the first Tudor, Henry VII, to the industrialised warfare of the 20th century.
Timing counts for so much in publishing and that is never clearer than when a major anniversary approaches. With the centenary of the First World War not yet actually upon us, there has already been a rush of publications. Meanwhile, just as many of the grandest television and radio programmes promised by the BBC have already been aired. Do we know anything we did not know a year or two ago?
This book achieves two aims: to locate the Great War in the history of the 20th century, and to show how, as the 20th century unfolded, our understanding of the meaning and significance of the Great War changed as well.
Ryan Floyd’s Abandoning American Neutrality should be considered required reading about America’s entry into the First World War.
Research into the global and transnational dimensions of the American Civil War is indisputably in vogue.
Strategy: A History has to be the magnum opus of the academic life of Sir Lawrence Freedman. Rich in detail and deeply contextualising, this book is not only the longest but also the most diverse work in recent years on the evolution of strategy. The book is based on a life of scholarship as well as the most recent overviews on the topic.
Book compilations can be a difficult genre. Comprised of varied essays and authorial voices, it takes a clear and well-defined theme, and a sure editorial hand to maintain focus and quality.
Ask Americans when their country became the world’s dominant power and chances are most will point to the hard-fought victory in the Second World War. But as Adam Tooze shows in his latest work, that shift occurred a generation earlier and before American forces had even fired a shot in what was once called the Great War.
Although it is now a full 70 years since the close of the Second World War, there is little sign of a decline in either academic or public interest in the history of the war. In fact, there seems to have emerged a growing interest in the experiences not of those who held commands or public office, but rather of those who served and fought as ordinary soldiers and sailors.