Review of Holger Herwig’s The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914-1918

I recently read Holger Herwig’s sweeping narrative of the First World War from Germany and Austria-Hungary’s perspective.

Holger Herwig, The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914-1918 (Bloomsbury Academic, 1996), via Goodreads.

This book can only be described as a tome, researched and written over ten years and running to a thousand pages. One is left with a sense of the grim futility of the Central Powers’ cause. A waxing empire bids for power; an ancient one holds on to it in a death-grip. Poor short- and long-range planning leads to fruitless operations and hunger at home. The early date of food shortages shocked me. The slaughter is numbing.

The Isonzo River, scene of almost all of Austria-Hungary’s battles with Italy. From World War I Today.

The book does suffer from some of the faults of such a vast accumulation of information: weight of statistics, paraphrasing of campaigns, and occasional repetition of facts. These are minor next to the scale of the achievement, however.

My preference is for more micro-level military history – I enjoyed Herwig’s Marne, 1914 a great deal – but this is a solid macro-level analysis of Germany and Austria-Hungary’s war effort in 1914-18. Would that the latter had never occurred.


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