Book Review: 1916: a Global History by Keith Jeffrey

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

There has been a flurry of new books dealing with World War I since the middle of 2013 and the approach of the centennial of the war.  There have been several good books, a few great books, many mediocre books, and even a few very barely readable books.  1916: A Global History by Keith Jeffrey is one of the great books to come out about the war recently.

First the numbers, there are 378 pages of text divided into twelve topical and thematic chapters.  It includes 26 pages of notes, and extensive bibliography, and an index.

1916 is not the typical rehashing of the war on the Western Front with a slight twist, the book takes a new look at familiar episodes on a global scale.  Every chapter has as its focus an events or episode from the war that either culminated or began in that particular month.  For example, the first chapter examines the Dardanelles operation as it was in January 1916 that the last allied troops were evacuated from that sad peninsula.  So it goes with each chapter covering another episode in depth.

I found the chapters on the Brusilov Offensive, Africa, the Somme, and the USA of particular interest.  The chapter on Africa and the participation of Africans in the war is quite enlightening as too often the war in Africa is dismissed as a sideshow in a few paragraphs at best.  Jeffery shows that the war in Africa was just as much an upheaval for that continent in its own way as was the war in Europe.  One point that he makes very explicitly is the sheer number of Africans that were affected by the war either by being drafted into service by the colonial armies or having said armies march through their territory.  Another interesting facet is the explanation of how the war helped to raise the consciousness of the subject peoples and contributed to the later push for independence, although I am not sure how much the average person thought in such terms he makes it clear that many later independence leaders had their eyes opened by service in World War I.

Overall this is an excellent book.  It provides some new insights and does not accept conventional wisdom at face value.  The organization and way the book is structured truly present a global view of a war whose scholarship for too long has ignored or only brushed theaters other than the Western Front in northern France.  1916 stands out amongst the crop of new World War I scholarship as a worthy book to read.  I highly recommend it to everyone but especially those who think the war was only won in Flanders fields or the forest around Verdun.