First World War For Dummies by Dr Sean Lang (John Wiley & Sons 2014, ISBN 978 1 118 67999 9, 396pp, illustrated, index, £15.99)
Part of me thinks that any book which has ‘For Dummies’ in the title is something to be avoided but there is no doubting that this series of publications, covering everything from language to computers is highly popular and a brand that many people turn to for an introduction to a subject. So why not the same for the First World War?
And indeed, why not? This particular publication has been produced in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum and is written by Dr Sean Lang a university lecturer and author of other titles in the series. From the start you have to recognise this is broad-brush history but with moments of clarity and detail, and looking at the structure of the book its twenty-two chapters cover everything from the origins of the war to the big battles on land but does not neglect subjects like the war at sea, women at war and also life on the Home Front. The final section looks at ‘tens’ – ten key generals to ten enlightening places to visit. The generals section is interesting as it does not contain Haig, but Rawlinson and Plumer. The enlightening places section was pleasing to see but sadly full of mistakes; there is no mine crater at the Newfoundland Park as stated and the museum at Verdun is the Memorial not the Historial, that’s at Peronne. But these are just niggles which caught my eye, and were rare in the rest of the book.
The text throughout is ‘chatty’ – remember this is designed to be a gentle introduction for people who are ‘dummies’. But not dumb – and that is the key; there are some good pieces throughout the book and it is well written and thoughtfully structured. For sure ‘old hands’ to the subject of the Great War would find little of interest here but if you wanted a good single volume overview written in an accessible way this is it, and if you are researching WW1 ancestors and want to see the wider picture without going too deeply – again this fits the bill more than adequately. In addition it is well illustrated, with some good schematics and useful maps, and easy to dip in and out of. Much more of a welcome to the WW1 Centenary than I thought it would be.
The book is available from the publishers website.