Book Review: A Short History of the First World War by Professor Gary Sheffield

Review by Barbara Taylor

A Short History of the First World War by Professor Gary Sheffield.

Oneworld Publications, 2014.

Paperback: ISBN 978-1-78074-364-6; £8.99. 256pp. Also available as an e-version.

Writing a book to cover the first truly global conflict in a concise and meaningful way might seem daunting. Professor Sheffield is not the first to write a ‘short history’, nor will he be the last. He has managed to produce a very clear account of the war; from its causes, through its conduct, to it’s far from satisfactory conclusion and aftermath. This work has been produced using the most up to date thinking on the subject; both the author’s own and analysis of other leading historian’s opinions. 

Very succinctly, the book shows how the Second Reich under the at best, unbalanced Kaiser, had by 1914 destabilised Europe, with the other great powers looking nervously over their collective shoulders. The Kaiser had by then become an irrelevance to his generals. The book goes on to illustrate the reasons for the collapse of the old empires (including ours) and the rise of US hegemony, also demonstrating how the legacy of the Versailles settlement has a direct link to the present world problems.

This book also delivers quite a bit of ‘myth busting’, so that anybody new to subject won’t go running away with any of ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ nonsense. The book has a number of photographs of the major protagonists and five general maps of the main battlefronts that the present reviewer has to claim a bias as she drew them! For me this book was quite a page turner; history at its most accessible for all abilities.

This is an inexpensive book, only available (hard copy) as a paperback, but my only gripe is that it is a pity the publishers didn’t feel inclined to have it printed onto slightly better paper.

In short, I would recommend this book to anyone who has had their appetite whetted by The First Day on the Somme and is ready to study the war in some more detail.

Barbara Taylor

January 2015

Professor Gary Sheffield

Professor Gary Sheffield holds the Chair of War Studies at the University of Wolverhampton. Educated at the University of Leeds (BA, MA) and King’s College London (Ph D), he is also the Honorary President of the Western Front Association. He has published a number of books and articles on military history, especially on the British army in the two world wars.

Gary Sheffield

Click to see full BMMHS event listing pages.

Contact us at

Copyright © 2020 – All Rights Reserved

Images © IWM & NAM