Lloyd’s book will be cherished by military history buffs. It may not, however, satisfy those who seek to study the past in a wider context. Most 21st-century historians recognise the importance of social, political and above all economic forces, which are scarcely discussed here. The book is short on novelty and big ideas. If war is too important to be left to the generals, the best modern war history ranges far beyond their headquarters.
Senior and junior commanders disagreed on priorities and methods. Lloyd guides us through the many meetings where generals and politicians proposed and debated potential war-winning strategies. Accounts of these conferences make lively reading, with egos clashing, nerves snapping and tempers flaring. In March 1918, when the Germans were slicing through the British line, the normally steady Pétain declared: “The Germans will defeat the British in open country after which they will beat us as well.” The French prime minister Georges “Tiger” Clemenceau rebuked him: “Should a general speak or even think in this way?” Professional pride mattered; so did patriotism.