Great Books of the Great War (from Max Hastings, Margaret MacMillan, and others)

Upcoming Books on WWI from Max Hastings and Others

max hastings

In June 2014 we will reach the start of one the darkest centennials in world history: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which became the final catalyst for the First World War. In preparation for this oncoming anniversary, the reading lists are beginning to fill up with forthcoming titles providing fresh examinations of the conflict.

Roughly half the scholarship about World War I seems to focus on the opening phase, with all the complicated and seemingly foolhardy occurrences that led Europe and ultimately much of the world to begin slaughtering each other. June to October 1914 is a tricky time period; a seemingly endless stream of books flow from writers’ pens in an attempt to understand just how the European Great Power system disintegrated so quickly. This is a truly fascinating period in human history when so many momentous and ultimately tragic events seem to have rested on such small maneuvers and occurrences as train schedules and the love affairs of Austrian generals. At the same time, there are so many moving parts that it’s easy for an author to become mired or lose focus.

Which is why I was delighted to learn that Max Hastings will be releasing Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War this September. As yet little is known of the book, which will be published by Knopf. Sir Max has almost exclusively written on WW2, but after writing his magnum opus of that conflict – 2011’s Inferno – it seems he will be turning his considerable talents to an earlier conflict. Hastings excels at putting a human face on his narrative, but managing not to lose the analysis and thoughtfulness that make his works such excellent history. The opening months of the Great War should give him a superb palate to work with. (For more commentary on Inferno, check out a review from James White of Code 451 published in January 2012.)

max hastingsRight beside Max Hastings will be the October publishing of Margaret MacMillan’s latest 1914: The War That Ended Peace. Best known for her wonderful account of the Treaty of Versailles – Paris 1919, published in 2002 – MacMillan now turns from the closing to the opening phase of World War I. Likely 1914 will focus on the political aspects of the descent to war, which is traditionally MacMillan’s specialty. The book is currently listed as being nearly 900 pages, so an in-depth treatment seems likely and highly anticipated. Two additional books about 1914’s troubles will also release by April 15th: The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark and July 1914 by Sean McMeekin. Like I said, a lot of historian have a lot to say about 1914.

As always seems the case, the 3 years of war after 1914 seem to get the short end of the stick. Still, in May we will see the release of Peter Hart’s The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War. Already the author of several books about World War I battles, notably Gallipoli and The Somme, Hart now takes a look at the war as a whole. Early reports indicate he will not go into great detail about every battle but focus of strategy and tactics of each belligerent, with focus on decisive battles.

As we have not even reached the centennial yet, we can expect a great deal more scholarship to appear on the First World War in the next few years. Cross your fingers that Hastings will consider writing histories of all the years of the conflict.

Selected Books by Max Hastings

Inferno Editor The Korean War Bomber Command

For a full bibliography of Max Hastings’ works, click here.

For more great books and recommendations, check out our Reading Room.

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