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Review: "14-18: Understanding the Great War"

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

"14-18: Understanding the Great War"

"14-18: Understanding the Great War"

About the Text

Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker’s book 14-18: Understanding the Great War explores several aspects of the First World War that are crucial to understanding the war's overall violence, brutality, and nationalist (often racist) sentiment that underpinned the conflict. In doing so, the authors provide a means of causation behind both the tremendous carnage and destruction inflicted by both soldiers and civilians alike. Specifically, they argue that the promotion and legitimization of violence by nations involved in the Great War served to bolster and expand racial prejudices and brutality in a manner that encouraged acts of destruction on a scale never before seen.

Post-WWI Map (Boundaries)

Post-WWI Boundaries

Post-WWI Boundaries

Post-War Problems

By focusing on the violent nature of wartime conflict, Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker also bring up another aspect of the Great War that is too often neglected by historians and scholars: the pain and suffering that World War I inflicted upon millions of people (both civilians and soldiers) in the days, months, years, and decades after the final shots were fired. Specifically, the authors examine how former soldiers and civilians attempted to come to terms with the devastation and violence they witnessed and inflicted as they returned home to the confines of a "normal" life following the war. By exploring these ideas, Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker are able to clearly demonstrate how WWI greatly differed from conflicts of the past, and how soldiers and civilians attempted to cope with the atrocities they witnessed. More importantly, however, their work serves as a testament to how the Great War helped set the stage for future conflicts of the Twentieth-Century.

My Review

Although 14-18 is not a complete history of the Great War, the ideas explored by both Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker offer a unique interpretation of the war that is both informative and compelling. One of the main strengths of the book is the clarity and conciseness of both authors with their overarching thesis. The authors leave no room for doubt in regard to the book's main points, and clearly state their overall aims and goals in the first few pages of their work (repeating and reasserting their main points on a regular basis throughout the book as well).

However, a clear shortcoming of this book lies in its lack of primary documents and materials. Although the authors do attempt to incorporate primary resources from time to time, their book often focuses heavily upon secondary literature instead. This, in itself, slightly diminishes the persuasiveness of their overall argument since the "facts" they state seem to be pulled from other historians rather than newspapers, diaries, and official government documents. Nevertheless, their book offers a nice addition to the current historiography on World War I and offers a unique perspective of the war that is too often overlooked and should not be forgotten.

All in all, I give 14-18: Understanding the Great War a 4/5 Star rating due to its content and ability to engage directly with its audience. I highly recommend it to historians, scholars, and history buffs that are interested in early Twentieth-Century Europe, as well as the First World War.

Definitely check it out if you get a chance!

Soldiers preparing for their next assault in the trenches

Soldiers preparing for their next assault in the trenches

Questions for Discussion

1) In what ways did the violence and brutality of World War One differ from conflicts of years prior?

2) Was propaganda an effective tool for nations involved in the Great War?

3) How did propaganda fuel the "dehumanization" of a nation's enemy during this time?

4) What role did patriotism and religion play in influencing the spread of hostilities and the upsurge of violence in WWI? Are these two aspects intertwined?

5) Does this book differ significantly from other written accounts of the First World War? If so, then how?

6) What arguments can be seen within this book? Are they persuasive? Why or why not?

7) Does the author(s) have an intended audience? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy this book?

8) What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this monograph? Can you identify any specific areas that could have been improved? Are there any areas of this book that could have been left out?

9) Do you see any particular biases that the authors possess within this work? Particularly since they are French and focus heavily on German atrocities during the war?

10) What historiographical interpretations are the authors challenging or building on? Does their work fit nicely within current scholarship?

11) Did the authors provide an even-handed analysis of each chapter presented?

12) Did you find this work to be engaging?

13) What did you learn from reading this book?

Suggestions for Further Reading

Bridgland, Tony. Outrage at Sea: Naval Atrocities in World War One. Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Books, 2002.

Hart, Peter. The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Vintage, 2000.

Meyer, G.J. A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918. New York: Bantam Dell, 2006.

Works Cited

Articles / Books:

  • Audoin-Rouzeau, Stephane, and Annette Becker. 14-18: Understanding the Great War (Hill and Wang: New York, 2000).
  • "Campaign Atlas to The Great War." Accessed December 19, 2016.
  • "World War 1 Online History Course & Lessons." School History. Accessed December 19, 2016.

© 2016 Larry Slawson


Norine Williams on December 15, 2016:

Yes, ("society") SET THE STAGE to where we are today in race relations and religion.

HOLY SPIRIT "reveals" *ALL!*