It was the Big One. The Great War. The War to End All Wars.
The slaughter on both sides was so horrendous that no rational person could conceive of another such conflict. Just to make sure, they even negotiated a treaty to outlaw war forever: the now infamous Kellogg-Briand Pact signed of 1928, which was intended to renounce war, with all disputes peacefully settled in the future.
Tragically, twenty years after the end of the first Great War, the world was back at it on a scale that dwarfed all earlier wars.
Nevertheless, the First World War was the first modern war and spawned -- besides a lot of wishful thinking -- a small library of war literature. In fact, some of the best anti-war writing of any era took its inspiration from the Great War.
As always, my selections (in alphabetical order) were guided by a couple of simple criteria: 1) with so few choices, general accounts tended to trump specific studies, and 2) intelligent and engaging always trumped intelligent and difficult.
If you think we've missed something indispensable -- and surely we have -- let us know.
Top Ten World War I Books
All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque Remarque served in the German army during the war and was wounded five times. Some regard this as the greatest war novel of all time. Honorable Mention: Company K, by William March.
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway When poor vision kept him out of the service, the eighteen-year-old Hemingway volunteered to serve in France and later Italy as an ambulance driver. His war-time love story is often cited as the greatest American novel to come out of World War I. Honorable Mention: To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War, by Jeff Shaara.
The First World War, by Hew Strachan The best one-volume history of the war from one of its leading historians. This is a condensed version of a larger, multi-volume project. Honorable Mention: The First World War, by John Keegan.
Goodbye to All That: An Autobiography, by Robert Graves English poet Graves' bitter account of his life has been called by scholar and critic Paul Fussell "the best memoir of the First World War."
The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell Winner of the National Book Award and hailed as one of twentieth-century's 100 Best Non-fiction Books, Fussell challenges the way we think about the war in this landmark study.
The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman Tuchman captured the Pulitzer Prize and won international acclaim with this classic account of the opening month of the Great War. Honorable Mention: The Zimmerman Telegram, by Barbara Tuchman.
Once An Eagle, by Anton Myrer The acclaimed novel of two wars and two very different Army officers. A favorite among military professionals, it has been on the Army Chief of Staff's list of recommended reading and the Marine Commandant's Reading List. It doesn't get much better than this.
The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, by Alistair Horne A classic account of one of the battles that represents the horror of trench warfare. More than one million men died fighting for a scrap of land "little larger than the combined Royal Parks of London."
A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front, by Winston Groom Novelist (Forrest Gump, Better Times than These) and historian, Groom vividly chronicles another of the templates of trench warfare.
The World Crisis, 1911-1918, by Winston Churchill Churchill's brilliant account of the war years when he served in several capacities: First Lord of the Admiralty, an infantry commander in France, a Member of Parliament, and the Minister of Munitions. As usual with Churchill, splendidly written.
A former history professor, Tom Miller is a novelist and essayist. His reviews and essays have appeared in numerous books, journals, and newspapers, including The Encyclopedia of Southern History, American History Illustrated, the Chicago Tribune, and the Des Moines Register. He also is a former Army officer and Vietnam veteran.