A couple months back, I asked for recommendations (at an online forum I frequent) on good, somewhat entry level books about the history of World War I and World War II. Several people responded back that historian John Keegan was about the best route you could take in this area, so I hunted down his books on both of the aforementioned wars.
My main reason for reading the books is that I feel flat-out stupid about world history often. I went through high school and got A’s in all my classes, but at that time I was doing just enough to get those good grades (which really wasn’t that much) and nothing much sunk in. Then, in college, I took hardly any world history classes at all en route to an art major and writing minor. I know a shedload about art history, but in terms of world history I’m pretty much an idiot.
At any rate, The History of World War I was just what I was looking for. Keegan runs through just about everything he can in a tight 400 pages, opening with the political conflicts that flared up at the beginning, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, and finally the standdown and miscommunications that finally led to the war.
The most interesting (and utterly depressing) thing (to me anyway) about the war was the fighting itself. Living in the current age, it’s hard to imagine trench warfare and the absolutely gut-churning battles that went on (especially Ypres) back and forth for years and years, eventually leading to the deaths of millions and millions of troops on both sides.
I’m taking a break before reading the second book from Keegan, because while the first one wasn’t a difficult read, it was obviously heavy subject matter and I couldn’t bring myself to tackle World War II directly following it. If you’re looking to brush up on your own history reading and want a solid, but not overwhelming place to start, this is as probably good as any.