Book Review: The Legacy of the Great War, Ninety-Years On


by Jay Winter, editor.

Columbia, Mo: University of Missouri Press, 2009. Pp. xix, 217. Illus., biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN:0826218725

During 2007 and 2008 a series of "chats" were held among various historians in Kansas City and Independence , in Missouri , about the "Great War" of 1914-1918.  Participating at various times were Jay Smith, Ian Ferguson, Paul Kennedy, Holger A. Herwig, Gary Sheffield, John Horne, Len Smith, John Milton Cooper, Margaret MacMillan, and Robert Wohl, some seasoned veterans of the historiography of the war and others relative newcomers.  This work is a transcript of those chats, to which John Keegan has committed a foreword and Hew Strachan an epilogue.

The discussions cover the origins of the war, the conduct of total war, why men fought, war termination and its consequences, and a final one titled "The Great War: Midwife to Modern Memory," reminding us that the war continues to shape our world

The chats synthesize much recent scholarship on the First World War, a struggle the dynamics and consequences of which we have only begun to understand in the past 25 or 30 years, during which a new generation of scholars have examined some of the long-held "truths" about the conflict.  On some issues a new consensus has emerged.  But several subjects remain particularly thorny, most notably the complex question of "who" caused the war, as well as the "fairness" of the Versailles settlement, and at least one scholar argues that the world might have been better off if Germany had won.

As a result, The Legacy of the Great War is definitely for anyone interested in the war and of modern history.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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