The Making of the First World War

Ian FW Beckett

Yale University Press

New Haven and London


This is a book by a heavyweight historian.  It does not attempt to deal with the whole war but rather selects twelve key events which are analysed in detail.  Some of these are not the normal fare for British books on the era.

The events examined are:

  1. The Silent Killer – the flooding of the Yser, 21st October 1914
  2. The Widening of the War – Turkey’s entry into the war, 29th October 1914
  3. The Making of a Nation – Australia’s coming of age, 25th April 1915
  4. The Man and the Hour – the appointment of David Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions, 26th May 1915
  5. The Power of Image – the first public screening of “The Battle of the Somme”, 21st August 1916
  6. The Death of Kings – the passing of Kaiser Franz Joseph, 21st November 1916
  7. The Ungentlemanly Weapon – the German declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare, 1st February 1917
  8. The Path to Revolution – the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, 15th March 1917
  9. The Shadow of the Bomber – the first Gotha air raid on London, 13th June 1917
  10. The Promised Land – the Balfour declaration, 2nd November 1917
  11. The Moral Imperative – Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points, 8th January 1918
  12. The Last Throw – the opening of the German Lys offensive, 9th April 1918

Each event is accorded its own chapter and is dealt with in detail.  The writing style is lucid and accessible, which is not always the case for academic historians. The author’s views are analytical and to the point.  For instance, the chapter on Australia and Gallipoli deals with the development of an Australian national identity and a line of thought independent of the British government.  This is illustrated by the refusal of Australia and Canada to countenance military action against Turkey in 1922, which de facto stopped the British government of the day in its tracks. Indeed, the chapter on the entry into the war of the Ottoman Empire, and its internal political history, deals with an uncommon subject in British books and is most welcome.

Overall, this book is to be highly recommended.  Just realise that it deals with selected events that turned out to have more major ramifications than was perhaps thought at the time.