World War I still looms large in our imaginations today. These astonishing volumes place its reality before us with exceptional clarity. Few will choose to read them from cover to cover but, dipping into them week by week, they give new and moving insights into what was meant to be ‘the war to end all wars’.
And yet Hargreaves and O’Keeffe’s labour of love has two outstanding qualities, which few academic histories can match. First, the week-by-week style gives a rare sense of total immersion. On and on the war continues, for hundreds and thousands of pages. You get a real sense of time stretching endlessly out, as day follows day in the trenches. Things happen, but often they have no meaning beyond the individual tragedy. And yet, as one entry puts it: “What is tragedy if it is not personal?”
And second, it is gloriously readable. All human life is here: courage and cowardice, heroism and horror. It may cost £100, but it’s worth every penny.