Pony Queen Jace

Looking for WWI or WWII Book Recommendations

81 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

On 3/2/2017 at 2:51 AM, Jo498 said:

I guess the short version is that Germany lost in those first two months because they could not win at the western front in those first weeks (as they had hoped) and in a war of attrition they could not have won in the long run, regardless of how long the stalemate was held and despite the 1917 revolution and peace with Russia. In any case a friend of mine who is quite knowledgeable and who gave "The guns of August" to me told me when we discussed the books later on that despite the impression in Tuchman's book that Germany was very close to pulling it off against France in those first weeks most historians today believed that it wasn't really possible or at least that it was not as close as it could appear from such books as Tuchman's.

I think this is selling Germany's chances a bit short.  Germany probably didn't have much chance of winning the war in 1914 without some very unlikely decisions/breaks going their way.  After that happened, Germany has forced to fight a two front war with only the weakest of the five "great powers" as an ally.  But 1917 was just so crazy with Russia dropping out of the war that Germany had an opportunity once again.  If they had just accepted American support for England as the price of not having to fight American troops in France*, then the military situation looks dramatically different on the Western Front in 1917-1918.  The French armies were mutinying in 1917, and it is impossible to say how the Spring 1918 German offensives would have gone if the Americans weren't arriving in huge numbers.  While the US armies made very little impact in terms of fighting, they had a huge impact on morale and the strategic situation for both sides.  With 100,000 fresh American troops arriving every month, both the Germans and the Allies knew that each passing week made a German victory less likely.  Without that knowledge, it is quite possible (perhaps even likely) that the Allies would have been the armies that shattered in 1918. 

* Yes I know that the timeline does not match this. I'm talking about IF the Germans had accepted this and avoided blunders like Zimmerman telegram and unrestricted submarine warfare. 

EDIT:  I have been listening to Hardcore History recently, yet another great recommendation from this board.  The WWI podcast is really enjoyable.  Once I finish the free ones I'm going to buy the Ostfront podcast, since i love reading about the WW2 Eastern Front. 

Edited by Maithanet

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2 minutes ago, Maithanet said:

EDIT:  I have been listening to Hardcore History recently, yet another great recommendation from this board.  The WWI podcast is really enjoyable.  Once I finish the free ones I'm going to buy the Ostfront podcast, since i love reading about the WW2 Eastern Front. 

Yeah, buy the Ostfront episodes, they are well worth it. The Punic Nightmare series is fantastic as well.

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Frankly, I don't really know much about the situation 1917. What I was referring to was only the situation in summer 1914 with the German plan to win at the Western front really quick so that they would not have to fight a two front war. When I read "The guns of August" a few years ago I had almost the same impression Ghjhero describes above: That it was an extremely close thing and only because of some problematic decisions and the heroic Paris taxi drivers Le Miracle de la Marne could happen. So I talked to that friend who has been a history buff since he was a teenager and even studied some history at university (but then became a lawyer) and he said that the Germans would really have needed several lucky breaks to pull it off. We did not talk about slightly alternative scenarios later on, such as no or less American involvement, only about the beginning until the Marne battle.

There is probably an alternative history book out there with the premise of Germany winning and a rather different 20th century.

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24 minutes ago, Jo498 said:

Frankly, I don't really know much about the situation 1917. What I was referring to was only the situation in summer 1914 with the German plan to win at the Western front really quick so that they would not have to fight a two front war. When I read "The guns of August" a few years ago I had almost the same impression Ghjhero describes above: That it was an extremely close thing and only because of some problematic decisions and the heroic Paris taxi drivers Le Miracle de la Marne could happen. So I talked to that friend who has been a history buff since he was a teenager and even studied some history at university (but then became a lawyer) and he said that the Germans would really have needed several lucky breaks to pull it off. We did not talk about slightly alternative scenarios later on, such as no or less American involvement, only about the beginning until the Marne battle.

Then it sounds like we're in agreement, Germany's army was losing efficiency at a rapid rate when the Battle of the Marne happened.  They were able to get close to Paris, but every step they took meant their supply lines were that much longer, their troops that much more exhausted, and the threat of an inadvertent gap in the lines that much greater.  And in the end, that is what happened - they lost momentum, a gap opened, and they had to retreat or be destroyed. 

I know that Turtledove's Timeline 191 series involves England and France help CSA gain independence ==> USA, Germany, Austria Hungary form the Central powers in WW1 vs Russia, England, France, CSA and Canada.  Not surprisingly, the Germans and US win that version, since American material assistance was essential to England, and Canada, hugely important on the Western Front, was instead fighting at home. 

WW1 (unlike WW2, IMO) has a lot more crazy twists and turns that were difficult to foresee and shifted the balance of power significantly.  The decision to invade Belgium, the unexpected collapse of Russia in 1917 after significant military victories in 1916, the bungling of the Zimmerman telegram and unrestricted U-Boat war, the unwillingness to commit the Germany Navy after the Battle of Jutland demonstrated that victory was at least possible.  With the benefit of hindsight, any one of these could have been exploited for a potential German victory. 

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Just mentioning that anyone who wants a more detailed and scholarly reading of 1914 should read Holger Herwig's Marne

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13 hours ago, Maithanet said:

WW1 (unlike WW2, IMO) has a lot more crazy twists and turns that were difficult to foresee and shifted the balance of power significantly. 

I'm not sure I agree with that. Once the Germans failed to win a decisive victory in 1914 they were pretty much on a slow road to defeat from there. Their economy was slowly grinding to a halt from the effects of the British blockade and the war had quickly become a war of attrition, a war the French and British had significantly more resources to throw into.

13 hours ago, Maithanet said:

the unwillingness to commit the Germany Navy after the Battle of Jutland demonstrated that victory was at least possible. 

I'd certainly disagree with that for example.

The main lesson of the Battle of Jutland was that the German battlecruisers were probably better designed than the British ones, I'm not sure you can extrapolate the same rate of casualties to the main battle fleets. Even if you could the best the Germans could hope for would be a pyrrhic victory against the Grand Fleet, which still leaves the rest of the Royal Navy and the French Fleet to blockade Germany.

17 hours ago, Maithanet said:

While the US armies made very little impact in terms of fighting, they had a huge impact on morale and the strategic situation for both sides.  With 100,000 fresh American troops arriving every month, both the Germans and the Allies knew that each passing week made a German victory less likely.  Without that knowledge, it is quite possible (perhaps even likely) that the Allies would have been the armies that shattered in 1918. 

 

That's an interesting point. I remember FLOW making a similar argument in a discussion about the First World War a few years back.

It's kind of hard to say anything definitive about the influence the American involvement had on anything as esoteric as the morale of the French armies. Yes, they were refusing the launch offensives but they were continuing to fight defensively and by 1918 the Allied forces had developed the tactics which would allow them to successfully advance towards Germany at the end of the war. What American involvement did dictate was the timing of the German offensive so alternatively the British might have launched a successful offensive before the Germans without the pressure American involvement put on them.

Anyway, I haven't reached the end of the Hardcore History podcasts on the Great War but one historian he references quite a bit is Peter Hart. His books 1918, focusing mainly on the British Army in 1918, is quite a good look at the final stages of the war.

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Posted (edited)

On 3/4/2017 at 6:31 AM, ljkeane said:

I'm not sure I agree with that. Once the Germans failed to win a decisive victory in 1914 they were pretty much on a slow road to defeat from there. Their economy was slowly grinding to a halt from the effects of the British blockade and the war had quickly become a war of attrition, a war the French and British had significantly more resources to throw into.

I would agree that a German defeat was likely after 1914, because they were facing a superior opponent.  However, I think that German victory (or at least non-defeat) was very much still possible for Germany until at least 1917.  I would not say the same about the Germans in WW2, where defeat was completely inevitable once they failed to destroy the Soviets in the first six months. 

Quote

I'd certainly disagree with that for example.

The main lesson of the Battle of Jutland was that the German battlecruisers were probably better designed than the British ones, I'm not sure you can extrapolate the same rate of casualties to the main battle fleets. Even if you could the best the Germans could hope for would be a pyrrhic victory against the Grand Fleet, which still leaves the rest of the Royal Navy and the French Fleet to blockade Germany.

The Germans were unlikely to defeat the British in a pitched Naval battle.  However, the decision to remain in port for the rest of the war was virtually just as bad as being sunk at Jutland.  The advantage of a "fleet in being" for the Germans was pretty small when the blockade could continue.  In contrast, the potential benefits of defeating the British Navy and lifting the blockade were huge.  So the decision not to throw the dice in an unlikely, but not impossible, hope of victory, seems strange.  They certainly weren't as concerned about throwing away 50,000 lives in the army - that is just a regular week in plenty of WW1 battles. 

Quote

 

That's an interesting point. I remember FLOW making a similar argument in a discussion about the First World War a few years back.

It's kind of hard to say anything definitive about the influence the American involvement had on anything as esoteric as the morale of the French armies. Yes, they were refusing the launch offensives but they were continuing to fight defensively and by 1918 the Allied forces had developed the tactics which would allow them to successfully advance towards Germany at the end of the war. What American involvement did dictate was the timing of the German offensive so alternatively the British might have launched a successful offensive before the Germans without the pressure American involvement put on them.]

 

It is pretty clear that the both armies had been degraded dramatically by 1917-18.  The final collapse of the Germany army in the summer of 1918 was predicated by a collapse in morale.  They could see that defeat was inevitable, and that further sacrifice was pointless.  At times men yelled "you're just prolonging the war!" when others chose to stand and fight instead of retreat. 

We cannot know for sure what impact the tide of fresh American men had on morale of both sides, but it was undoubtedly significant, and it may have proved decisive.  At the very least, it seems likely that the Germans could have sued for peace after the success of Operation Michael.  But instead the Germans made no such offer, because they knew that the Allies would never accept anything but surrender when their victory was assured in a long war. 

Edited by Maithanet

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Has anyone is this thread ever read The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Chris Clark? I got it for Christmas last year and have just cracked it open. Was curious what you knowledgeable folk might think of it. 

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I am not knowledgeable but I got stuck in the "Sleepwalkers" fairly early although the beginning with Balkan coups and similar stuff reads almost "Ruritanian", truth can be as spectacular as fiction. (As in the assassination of the Archduke: Barely missed by a bomb but let's continue to drive around in an open vehicle...)

Probably my fault, it is generally considered quite good (though lengthy) and I hope I'll try again some time.

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Having just finished Beevor's Berlin: Downfall 1945, I can add my recommendation to others. A brilliant and very readable book on a rather harrowing subject. I will definitely check out 'A Woman in Berlin' by Anonymous after reading Beevor. I've just embarked on Giles McDonough's 'After the Reich' as history does not come to an . in 45. [Apologies to 1066 & all that] 

 

Less military books on WWII I would recommend are Gitta Sereny's "Albert Speer:His Battle with Truth". Speer's closeness to Hitler, his obvious intelligence and his dubious assertions of not knowing about the holocaust are fascinating. The other first hand testimony I would recommend is Hugh Trevor Roper's " The Last Days of Hitler" written in 1947. Roper, then an intelligence officer and future historian, was charged by the British to find out what had happened to Hitler, as he had disappeared. This reads like a rollicking detective novel set in the smoke filled ruins of Berlin. By the way, Beevor's Downfall deals with the disappearance of Hitler from the Russian perspective.

 

Trevor-Roper's great historical rival was A.J.P. Taylor who wrote the rather essential "War by Time Table", a extended essay on the origins of the First World War. Incredibly influential work and very readable with an original point of view.

 

I would also recommend, if the OP is interested in the Ottoman/Asia theatre of war,  "On Secret Service East of Constantinople" by Peter Hopkirk. Hopkirk is a brilliantly knowledgeable & engaging author with a sense of humour. Germany's meddling in the Middle East and getting the Ottomans to declare jihad against the Russians & British, and the secret squirrel adventures across the middle East Persia & Afghanistan is pretty breathless stuff. I knew nothing about the German agent Wilhelm Wassmuss before this, who was considered by the British to be the German Lawrence of Arabia. He has unfortunate role in the Zimmerman Telegram affair, which was not known when Tuchman published her book which I won't spoil here. Highly recommended especially for the Battle of the Erzerum which goes to prove that no army should take on the Russians in the depths of winter. 

 

 A less grim, 'All Quiet on the Western Front" or "Goodbye to All That", fantastic books both but so sad, is Siegfried Sassoon's 'Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man'. A darkly funny book in parts.

 

I've also finished recently, so its fresh in my mind and was thoroughly engrossing was Luke McCallin's fictional Gregor Reinhardt Trilogy. A Berlin police officer, co-opted into the German Army as an intelligence officer, the first two books are set in Sarajevo and the last in Berlin just after the war has ended. As Balkans history makes my head hurt, these very well researched and at times quietly brutal stories are brilliantly realised in a part of the world that doesn't often get covered in the anglo world. 

 

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On ‎2‎/‎27‎/‎2017 at 9:27 PM, Ghjhero said:

So I recently finished The Guns of August and I thought it was fantastic! What book might be considered a sequel of sorts? I know it stalemates in the trenches from here on out, which sounds to be about as boring as it gets. So would it be better to find a book that details the end of the War? I would like to know how and why Germany lost in the end. What does the Board recommend to someone who wants to learn more about The War to End All Wars?

Recommending a book I have yet to read may be a bit odd, but I've had Alexander Watson's Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I on my TBR list for a while. It examines the Great War from their perspective. It may be of interest to you based on what I gather from your post above.   https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20821472-ring-of-steel

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While not technically a war book everyone needs to read the good war by studs terkel before they die.  I am so glad he collected so many of the stories while they existed in living memory. 

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If you like historical fiction the Century Trilogy by Ken Follet is really engaging. The first book, Fall of Giants, gives an interesting perspective on the event that lead to WWI, both politically and socially, as well as some "first hand" accounts of the actual major battles. Same with the second book and WWII. I enjoyed it because the story revolves around several families, English, Welsh, American, German, and Russian. So you see things from all sides.

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On 10/24/2016 at 7:31 PM, Werthead said:

The most powerful book I've ever read on WWII is The Nine Hundred Days by Harrison E. Salisbury, about the Siege of Leningrad. It completely pushes your understanding of what human beings are capable of doing to survive to new levels. Harrowing, powerful, incredibly grim but also uplifting.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer is a very good general overview of both the military conflict and the lead-up to it. It's written in a novelistic fashion and Shirer was an American journalist working in Berlin up to the outbreak of US-German hostilities, which means he was an eyewitness to quite a lot of events which adds a lot.

Both of those books are old (both pubilished in the 1950s and 1960s, and the early parts were written alongside the conflict) so they lack the modern historiography and greater access to records. Of the modern books on the conflicts, John Keegan's overview of WWI (just called The First World War) is very hard to beat and Antony Beevor's books on Stalingrad and Berlin (Stalingrad and Berlin: The Downfall) are very strong works.

 

On 10/24/2016 at 8:02 PM, Manhole Eunuchsbane said:

About 2 3rds through Antony Beevor's Stalingrad right now, it's pretty good aside from Beevor's obvious Soviet sympathies. 

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On 13/07/2017 at 8:16 AM, Pony Queen Jace said:

 

About 2 3rds through Antony Beevor's Stalingrad right now, it's pretty good aside from Beevor's obvious Soviet sympathies. 

Beevor wrote the book after getting access to the Soviet archives and having unfettered access to their documents, something that was not possible beforehand and I suspect may not be possible in the future, so clearly he was going to take a greater interest in all the new information flooding out of the Soviet side. The Germans, on the other hand, had meticulous records of the battle kept available at all times: Beevor pretty much had the same info from there as William Craig's Enemy at the Gates did 25 years earlier, so there wasn't much that was new.

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I can recommend several books on WW2 I've read in the past few months:

 

An Army at Dawn, Rick Atkinson. Focuses on America's first experiences with WW2 in North Africa. the fits part of the Liberation Trilogy detailing the United States' experiences in the European Theatre.

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, James D. Hornfischer. Details the battle off Samar during the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific Theatre. Excellent battle narrative of Taffy 3's heroic encounter with a much, much larger Japanese fleet.

Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany, Donald L. Miller. I'm currently about halfway through this account of the US Eighth Air Force and it's bombing campaigns in Europe. Riveting so far. Plus, last I heard, Spielberg and Hanks are currently filming for an HBO miniseries a la Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

 

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On 8-3-2017 at 9:37 PM, Astromech said:

Recommending a book I have yet to read may be a bit odd, but I've had Alexander Watson's Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I on my TBR list for a while. It examines the Great War from their perspective. It may be of interest to you based on what I gather from your post above.   https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20821472-ring-of-steel

I was going to suggest Ring of Steel, but you beat me to it. I've read it, and I've come away with a better understanding of the conflict itself than I had beforehand. It's a matter of nuance, and Watson's nailed it. The focus is on the perception from the Axis-powers, and to me the most powerful chapter was the first, where Germany and Austria essentially goading themselves into war without wanting to.

The central theme of the book is the German and Austrian war effort, and the respective people's drive and suffering. Watson is very thorough, and doesn't whitewash anything. He gives us a great perspective without a sense of inevitability. He also mentions the atrocities in some detail, and especcialy the difficulties of the Austrian Empire (it really does come across as a weaker little brother to Germany). Watson also takes care not to take a side, even though he explains things from an Axis-perspective.

In short, highly recommended for anyone interested in the subject.

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On 3/17/2017 at 1:44 AM, Joey Crows said:

If you like historical fiction the Century Trilogy by Ken Follet is really engaging. The first book, Fall of Giants, gives an interesting perspective on the event that lead to WWI, both politically and socially, as well as some "first hand" accounts of the actual major battles. Same with the second book and WWII. I enjoyed it because the story revolves around several families, English, Welsh, American, German, and Russian. So you see things from all sides.

I highly recommend this series, especially if you liked Follett's Pillars of the World.  

In Fall of Giants, you get the perspective of different characters throughout the build up, duration, and armistice of WWI. The characters living and struggling in most the major participating countries, UK, Germany, USA, and Russia. You get perspectives of characters fighting the was and what those on the home front dealt with.

Then in Winter of the World you get pov characters that are the children of the characters in Fall of Giants as they toil through the rise of fascism in the 1930's and then WWII.

Finally in Edge of Eternity, it's the grandchildren's turn as they live through the cold war, the fall of the iron curtain, and the civil rights area.

It can be soap-operatic, but I kind of liked that. If you've read Follett's Pillars of the World and World Without End, you know what I mean. It is no dry recounting of history. It really made me feel through the eyes of the characters what it was like to live through those times and adds to my knowledge many facts about the time. The scope of this series is grand. Follett does a great job of writing engaging fictional characters along with real life historical figures as they live through and are affected by the major historical moments of the 20th century.

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I just assumed the topic was about fiction or memoirs rather than histories etc., there being such a tradition of war literature.

The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning is a novel of WWI I read recently and liked very much.

Edited by Castellan

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