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No Man's Land: 1918, The Last Year of the Great War (1980)

Tekijä: John Toland

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359473,316 (4.01)15
Covers the last year of World War I using eyewitness accounts, memoirs, diaries, and other contemporary accounts.

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näyttää 4/4
Since these are the centennial years of the First World War (1914-18), many Americans may be interested in brushing up. Most of us know little more than a few "facts" - that the assassination of an archduke triggered it, that the early combatants were France, England and Germany, that the USA entered the fray rather late, and that our entrance ultimately tipped the scales. Given all the newspaper and other articles, as well as TV shows, documentaries and movies that will flood our senses, particularly in the months before November 11, 2018, this may be a good time to begin boning up. And perhaps an even more important reason for doing some reading on the subject is that it is a very exciting story with monumental tidal shifts, and outcomes that reverberate even today. These were battles fought with the traditional artillery, machine guns, bayonets, and tanks, but also with poison gas, horses, barbed wire, swords, early versions of hand grenades and submarines, airplanes, balloons, bombs, incredibly limited communications systems (if you can call a pigeon a system) and many dead. Many, many dead. And not just from enemy fire though that alone accounted for twenty million. There was another twenty million killed by the Spanish flu which spread like wildfire through all the armies, beginning in the later war years and decimating both civilian and military populations.

From my perspective there are two ways to approach reading up on WWl and the obvious way is to find a single, comprehensive volume written by a renown author. I did not pursue this track and hence do not have anything to recommend. The alternative is to find separate volumes on the four major chapters of the event. The first part would be events and causes leading up to the War from about 1870 onwards; I would recommend "The Sleepwalkers" by Christopher Clark. For a follow-on book I suggest Barbara Tuchman's "Guns of August", which covers August, 1914, the first full month of the War. There is some overlap with Clark's book but it's minimal and always interesting to get a second viewpoint. After the early months of the War, the Eastern and Western Fronts became somewhat stationary for the next three years though there were many battles and many dead. Things changed in 1918, and there are a number of books written on just this year of fighting alone; I have read two. I highly recommend John Toland's "No Man's Land" and will share more comments in subsequent paragraphs here. Before reading Toland, I read David Stephenson's "With Our Back to the Wall" and I was very disappointed, finding the book very dry and dull, bogged down by way too many stats. 1918 was the critical year, so I followed another reader's recommendation and got Toland. Finally, I will soon be reading "Paris 1919" by Margaret Macmillan, about the Treaty ending the War, specifically the negotiations between Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George - what , no Germans??? All of these authors are 4+ stars and have won numerous awards for these and other publications. I have one last recommendation - consider buying a copy of "World War 1, the Definitive Visual History" by DK publishing. It offers many photos of battles, maps, brief articles etc - a wonderful supplement, particularly for those of you who, in the midst of reading about some of the first gas masks, would like to see a photo and more info. And don't forget to use Google and Google maps, and Bing.com as other sources to supplement your reading. And now for some more about "No Man's Land" -

Toland's book is very readable. It is told in a somewhat anecdotal style, jumping from one "scene" to another in every 3- 8 pages. His focus is very much on the individuals involved from each of the four armies including the Germans. There is an excellent balance in the pages devoted to the generals and politicians as well as the grunts and officers at the front lines. Toland does not just focus on detailed tactics and movements of each army in battle, but he also details the battles between generals and politicians in London, between French and English politicians, and between French, English and American generals.

A sample: (US General Pershing and French Marshal Foch are discussing a rcent battle, page 482-3) ".....Pershing replied equably, "We have met with very hard fighting. The Germans are putting up a very determined resistance." (para) This irritated Foch. "On all parts of the front," he said tartly, "the advances are very marked. The Americans are not progressing as rapidly." (para) "No army in our place," Pershing observed icily, "would have advanced farther than the Americans." (para) "Every general is disposed to say that the fighting on his front is the hardest." Foch waved at the map. "I myself consider only results." (para) "Results? In seventeen days we have engaged twenty-six German divisions." (para) This was an exaggeration and Foch said, "Shall I show you my figures on this?" (para) "No," was the crisp answer. The argument continues for a while. You'll have to read the book to see how it is resolved.

Some of the most interesting pages were the final 75 or so. The Germans are retreating. They have initiated contact with President Wilson to explore armistice terms. Wilson replies without consulting his allies. Riots and revolution are breaking out in every major city in Germany. Everyone wants the Kaiser to step down, including Wilson, but he refuses.

Ultimately, the armistice is signed and effective 11/11/18 at 11am. Foch tells Clemenceau that his job is finished but Clemenceau's is just beginning. The book ends with a quote from a sobbing Brit mom "...I am happy, for now I know that all my three sons who have been killed in the war have not died in vain." ( )
1 ääni maneekuhi | Jun 16, 2016 |
Excellent. ( )
  sterlingelanier | Sep 24, 2015 |
Not deep on strategy and does not really open any new theories. Good accounts of how the war affected people. Keeps the pages turning. ( )
  Whiskey3pa | Apr 4, 2009 |
1601 No Man's Land: 1918, The Last Year of the Great War, by John Toland (read 10 Dec 1980) This is an enthralling book. It is popularized history, with no profound insights but I ate it up. It is tremendously well-done as an account of what happened and I was struck by so many things about what is really a well-known story to me: e.g., how perilously close to defeat the Allies were in March and April 1918. It was really a very near thing. And it was so much fun to gradually read better and better news as the year went on. That is why 1918 is the best year to read about--I have read books on 1914, 1915, 1916 and 1917, as well as 1918, and none can compare with 1918 because only 1918 ends in joy. The account herein of Nov 11, 1918, is a classic and tears filled my eyes as I read "The celebration began in New York City before dawn with shrieking air-raid sirens. Light illuminated the Statue of Liberty. Factory whistles and church bells took up the cry as people came to the streets to form into unruly parades. Crews tied down ship and tug whistles, put on lights, and ran up flags. Some sailors threw calcium flares into the water. The clangor spread all over the city and no one could sleep. Dawn found Fifth Avenue a mass of merrymakers cheering and waving flags in ecstasy. Men were weeping unashamed. As the great flag was unfurled at the City Hall, a dozen musicians began playing patriotic songs with the crowd singing along..." and so on! Really a great and superb book. ( )
  Schmerguls | Dec 6, 2008 |
näyttää 4/4
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