World War One: A Layman’s Guide

Author: Scott  Addington

Publication date: Nov 26, 2012 – Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (E-book)
April 25, 2014 – CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Paperback)

Pages: 679 KB, approximately 152 pages

WWIAs I read Scott Addington’s World War One: A Layman’s Guide I could not help but write this review in my head.  I highlighted relevant statements and sentences and became more and more annoyed at the flippant manner in which the book was written.  Of course the lack of footnotes annoyed me even more.  I would read sentences like “German casualties are not known, but are thought to be similar in numbers” and I would ask, why are they not known?  Were the records destroyed, were none kept; I think that is part of the story.   Then I discovered one of the mysteries of the Kindle.  When you start a Kindle book, it takes you to the beginning of the main text skipping over the cover, the table of contents, and anything else that may be there.  In the case of this book, that everything else included an introduction.  So I went and read the introduction after I had finished the book and found that most of my complaints were not bugs, but features.  Addington specifically addressed all of my major complaints, the book was “written in a more conversational style” and “It doesn’t pretend to be academic in nature.”  This explained sentences like, “the Austro-Hungarians were jumping up and down with rage.”  The book was also “Unashamedly bias[ed] towards the Western Front,” thereby explaining the short shrift given to the Eastern front and the total neglect of Africa and the Middle East.  Lastly, I agree with Addington that “people who hold a decent knowledge of the subject should perhaps walk away and read something else as you are not the intended audience.”  So if you know little or nothing about the First World War and can handle entire nationalities “jumping up and down with rage” and the like, this book might be for you.  If you can get past the writing style it does provide a decent overview of the war on the Western Front. 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! A World without World War I

 Author: Richard Ned Lebow

Pages: 256

Publication Date: 2014 – Palgrave Macmillan

ISBN : 978-1-137-27853

Ferdinand Lives coverRichard Lebow writes of a world in which, as the title indicates, Archduke Franz Ferdinand lives. and the First World War is averted.  Lebow then presents two different possible outcomes for this world.  In both cases avoiding the First World War also avoids the second along with its associated horrors; the world also misses out on the Soviet Union and the rise of communism.  Lebow makes well-reasoned cases for both outcomes, a happy one where war is no more and the United States is a somewhat racist, intolerant backwater; and a less happy one in which a great European war still occurs, only much later in the 20th century and with the use of nuclear weapons.  Lebow, a professor of International Political Theory, argues that there was a brief window (1914-17) when a general European war was possible, if the world made it through that period without a spark, war would be avoided for the near future.  Obviously, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand provided the spark in the historical world.  In both of the worlds imagined by Lebow, there is no spark and peace is maintained.  The future of Europe in the world without a world war hinges on the development of democracy or lack thereof in Germany.  As Germany goes, so goes Europe and the world. 

I don’t have the expertise regarding the causes of the First World War or the developments in Europe directly following the war to argue against any of Lebow’s points and based on what I do know, they seem reasonable.  Those more knowledgeable may scoff at my naïveté.  The book is primarily written in a non-fiction style, Lebow continually acknowledges that he is discussing things that did not happen and compares them to the historical world.  There is no mistaking this for an alternate history novel; however, on occasion he changes tactics and writes as if this is a novel, outlining the lives of particular individuals, and providing details and dates for events that happened in the alternate worlds.  The cross over between non-fiction and novel did not work for me.  I also found the long descriptions of the differing lives of musicians, artists, and scientists to be unnecessary and dull.  I eventually began skimming over paragraphs at a time.  I would not really recommend this cross between alternate history novel and non-fiction narrative.  This was not a bad book, but once I had finished it I did not feel like I had gained anything.

I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher, courtesy of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.