cover image The Great War: Perspectives on the First World War

The Great War: Perspectives on the First World War

Robert Cowley. Random House (NY), $29.95 (528pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50909-4

The founding editor of Military History Quarterly has assembled yet another eminently readable collection (after No End Save Victory and With My Face to the Enemy) of essays by MHQ's regular contributors. The depth and breadth of the""Perspectives"" vary somewhat, as some of the items (such as Jan Morris's character sketch on the audacious British Admiral Fisher) can more accurately be called opinionated, colorful snippets. On the other hand, some treatments of individuals (Cowley's piece on German artist Kathe Kollwitz, whose grief for a son killed in battle she expressed in sculpture; historian Thomas Fleming's account of the""collision between love and war"" that separated Teddy Roosevelt's son Quentin from his beloved fiancee; and aviation expert Michael Spick's look at German ace Oswald Boelcke) achieve an extraordinary amount of both new information and emotional impact in few words. As for the battles, readers may miss accounts of the U-boat war and the Italians' valiant efforts, but two pieces by Timothy Travers and Cowley, which add up to a summary of the Battle of the Somme, provide a balanced exposition on one of the bloodiest battles in history. There are also stories of generals who got it right (the brilliant Russian Brusilov, responsible for the""summer-long dissection of the Austrian army"" in 1916) and treats for hardware aficionados, in studies of the flamethrower and the Paris Gun. The war, as Sir Michael Howard points out in his prologue,""was for all governments a leap into a terrible dark""--and yet they were all more afraid of what they might lose in peace than in the battles they knew they would have to fight.