Book Review: The Making of the First World War


by Ian F.W. Beckett

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 264. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $28.50. ISBN: 0300162022

The Dozen “Decisive Moments” that shaped the Great War

In The Making of the First World War Prof. Beckett (University of Kent), author of several earlier works on the war, discusses what he calls the dozen “decisive strategic or political moments” that shaped the war, some of which are “scarcely remembered” today  The events are sometimes curious, or used in a symbolic way, but  Beckett makes convincing arguments that underscore their importance. 

The best illustration of what Beckett means by these “decisive moments” is the Belgians opening the dykes to flood the low lands along the River Yser River.  This action not only helped  stop the German advance in 1914, but also created the image of a gallant small nation heroically resisting an aggressive Great Power at all costs.  It also preserved for the Belgians a remnant of their country still under their control and defended by their own arms, preserving some political and military clout in Allied councils.  And this action also shaped the northern end of the Western Front for the balance of the war.  So this seemingly almost fruitless gesture of self-destructive defiance had propaganda, tactical, strategic, and political importance.

Beckett uses a similar analytical approach to look at the consequences of the other events on his list.  So Turkey’s entry into the war not only had dire consequences for the Ottoman Empire, and still resonate across the Middle East in the form of resurgent militant Islam, but also helped bring about the Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism as a political force.  He goes on in this fashion to look at the Gallipoli Campaign, the appointment of Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions, the very interesting, and truly “scarcely remembered” British documentary film The Battle of the Somme, the death of Franz Joseph, Germany’s resort to unrestricted submarine warfare, the Fall of the Tsar, Germany’s air raids on London, the Balfour Declaration, Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and the German Lys Offensive. 

The Making of the First World War is an essential read for any serious student of the subject, as it not only throws new light on many events, but also because it looks at the war from several different perspectives.


Note: The Making of the First World War is also available in paperback for $20.00, ISBN 030020664X, and also in several e-book versions

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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