The 17 Best Books on World War I to Buy

Photo collage from World War I.
Hohum / Wikimedia Commons

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Fought from 1914 to 1918, World War I transformed European politics, economy, culture, and society. Countries from across the world battled in a conflict now largely remembered for waste and loss of life. 

Keegan's book has become a ​modern-day classic, representing the most popular view of the Great War: a bloody and futile conflict, fought in chaos, causing the unnecessary death of millions. Three concentrations of black and white photographs and a selection of quality maps accompany a superbly written narrative that expertly guides the reader through a complex period.

Stevenson tackles vital elements of the war missing from more military accounts, and is a good addition to Keegan. If you only read one breakdown of the financial situation affecting Britain and France (and how the US helped before they declared war), make it the relevant chapter here. 

Recommended by several University lecturers as the best single-volume introduction for students, this is a relatively small, and thus more easily digested volume which should be affordable. A superb overall account of events, with enough bite to keep Great War experts interested.

Clark has won awards for his work on German history, and here he tackles, in great detail, the start of the First World War. His volume debates how the war began, and by refusing to blame Germany--and instead blaming all of Europe--has been accused of bias.

This award-winning volume looks at the whole of the First World War through the eyes of the what are, in too many English language books, the vague and evil "other side," and this book refocused the popular discussion.

 

This is a good English language book on the 'other' side of the war: Germany and Austria-Hungary. The subject is getting more attention now, but this book was previously hailed as the best.

The culture which surrounded World War I was rich and can provide plentiful reading, but its the poetry which has set the tone for decades. This is an excellent compilation of poetry about the war.

Not a book focused on Europe, but on how Europeans destroyed the old Middle Eastern order and failed to replace it with stability. This is a quality popular history on another often overlooked topic.

Although not enough for a study in itself, this quality book will accompany any discussion of the First World War, whether you want a few extra figures for an essay or a ready-reference for your novel. Facts, figures, summaries, definitions, timelines, chronologies--there is a wealth of information here.

John Keegan's view of the Great War has opposition, and Gary Sheffield's revisionist work offers an entirely different view of the conflict. Sheffield argues that the Great War was entirely necessary for stopping military imperialism, a controversial view that has angered many readers.

There are a lot of books on the Somme published for the hundredth anniversary, so we've only picked the best and you might want to shop around. MacDonald’s is a classic work which will need something twice the size to improve on. This book is touching, informative, newly repackaged, and can be very inexpensive.

This is an older volume--but still a great one--about one of the most cynical decisions made in a very cynical war, how it went very wrong for the initiators, and little better for the defenders. There are a few things in this book that wouldn’t be written now--stereotypes for example--but is otherwise excellent.

 

Passchendaele was the battle that painted a picture of futility for the British. It marked World War I as pointless and fumbling, and is treated with due care in this book by MacDonald.

This recent book is a balanced and fair examination of the battle of Gallipoli; an event often clouded by partisanship and remembered in the British national consciousness as a massive mistake. Crucially, Carlyon isn't afraid to point out how all nations on the allied sides made mistakes.

Many English language books focus on the Western Front, and it's worth reading a book dedicated to the massive events of the east. Root's is the best, treating the theater with the detail and the balance it needs.

Although a truly excellent new examination of events, with many revealing facts and interpretations, the content of this volume doesn't progress beyond 1914. By the time Strachan has finished his projected three-part work it may be the dominant modern text.

This collection of eyewitness accounts, taken from many areas across the Western Front, certainly isn't pleasurable reading, but it will augment your knowledge of the conflict.