When I was in high school, I really didn’t go in for reading. Until, that is, I somehow encountered Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet...

When I was in high school, I really didn’t go in for reading. Until, that is, I somehow encountered Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. I remember hiding in the back of all my classes reading it while my teachers talked about something I know not what. I was hooked on World War I, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The Great War was such a strange and tragic thing. It seems to have been started for no good reason, been fought without reason, and ended unreasonably. It’s just hard to make sense of. Which is why–if you are as confused as I am–you should pick up Norman Stone’s terrific World War One. A Short History (Basic Books, 2009). The book explains the inexplicable in the fewest words imaginable. More than that, it’s wonderfully written. Stone has clearly thought long and hard about the war and he is full of pithy observations, sharp opinions, and harsh verdicts. No one really comes out unscathed, which, given the way the war was started, fought and ended, makes good sense indeed. If you don’t know anything about World War One, you should read this book. There is no better introduction. If you know everything about World War One, you should also read this book. There is no more challenging book on the subject.

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