Book Review: Brill's Encyclopedia of the First World War


by Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeifh, & Irina Renz, editors

Leiden/Boston: E. J. Brill, 2012. Two vols., pp. xii. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $275.00 the set. ISBN: 9004207392

This is an important new reference work on the Great War.

Originally published in German in 2009, this work opens with a series of thematic essays by various scholars which take up about half the first volume.  These essays are grouped into four categories:

  • States,” has country profiles of Germany, France, Belgium, Britain, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Italy, and the U.S., reviewing their policies, objectives, and leadership
  • Social Aspects,” has essays on specialized topics such as women, workers, soldiers, religion, and economies.
  • “The Course of the War,” examines various phases of the war, its origins, strategies of the alliances, military rule and war crimes, and its end.
  • “Historiography” looks at the history of the history of the war, and has a very interesting essay on the war and the former German Democratic Republic

The balance of the work consists of numerous short essays on persons, events, battles, weapons, and so forth.  Some of these entries are quite long, taking up several 7”-by-10” pages (e.g., “Alpine Warfare,” Demobilization,” etc.), while others are just one or two paragraphs.  All of the entries are quite good, usually written by specialists in the field (over 150 scholars contributed to the volume).  While most entries are rather standard, the sort of thing one reasonably expects in such a work (e.g., “Armed Forces,” “Peace Initiatives,” etc.), others cover matters often neglected (e.g., “Superstition,” “Rumors,” “War Weddings,” “Film,” etc.). 

Betraying it origins, however, the set has rather more entries related to Germany and Austria-Hungary than to other countries.  This is useful in that it provides the reader with a deeper look at wartime developments and movements in those countries (e.g., the German “Auxiliary Service” or “Emergency Money” programs).  But it also means that there are some startling omissions (e.g., Serb Field Marshal Radomir Putnik, American Admiral William Sims, etc.). 

Nevertheless, this is an important new reference on the Great War which throws interesting light on facets of the conflict that are often overlooked in similar works by scholars from erstwhile Allied nations.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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