The first thing to be said about this book is that no one associated with it seemed to know what to call it or how to describe its contents. The essays which make up the book are not in any sense about the ‘making’ of World War I. They do not describe either elements that ‘made’ World War I in the sense of causing it, or elements that caused World War I to play out the way it did. Even the blurb does not get the contents entirely right. It says that the twelve particular events dealt with in the essays ‘continue to shape the world today’. No they don’t – or not all of them, anyway. How exactly does the death of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph resonate today? Did Ken Burns, the documentary film-maker, pore over the film The Battle of the Somme (1916) before embarking on his series on the American Civil War? Titles can sometimes be difficult, and I must admit that nothing very striking comes to my mind to describe the essays to be found in this volume. ‘Turning points’ has the same problem as ‘making’. In the same way that some of these subjects did not ‘make’ World War I, the war did not particularly ‘turn’ on many of them, either. The best I can do is Essays on the First World War; which was no doubt rejected by the publisher because it sounds so dull.
Essays in search of a title
Deep knowledge of an appalling conflict
The Making of the First World War
by Ian F.W. Beckett
Yale University Press (Inbooks), $36.95 hb, 248 pp, 9780300162028
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Robin Prior was born in rural South Australia. He studied at the University of Adelaide, completing a doctorate in 1979. He was an ARC Fellow at Adelaide for three years before taking a position with the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He was Head of the School of History from 1998 to 2004 and Foundation Head of the School of Humanities and Social Science from 2004 to 2007. He is now Visiting Professorial Fellow at the University of Adelaide. He has published widely on World War I: Command on the Western Front, Passchendaele: The Untold Story (1996) and The Somme (2005) with Trevor Wilson, and Churchill’s ‘World Crisis’ As History (1983) and Gallipoli (2009), as sole author. He is an editor of The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (1995). He is working on a book on Britain in 1940.
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