For those interested in learning about what was arguably one of the most important and equally terrible conflicts in all of human history, there are many books about World War I that truly tell the story better than the rest. At the time, millions of lives would be lost, and the world’s geopolitical layout would forever be changed – all due to this one, world-changing event. Why did it happen? How could the assassination of one man directly lead to the death of millions of others?
Some of these books about WW1 entertain smaller minutia and periods of the war, while others tackle the meaning of the whole, big picture. Regardless of which of the many valuable lessons you seek to learn from this war, it is highly likely that any one of these books will have you covered. The following 40 picks are some of the absolute greatest and most educational books about WW1 ever written.
The Guns of August
Barbara W. Tuchman
The great leader, Winston Churchill himself was emphatic about this war being the drama of all human dramas. The Guns of August parallels that same theme with a deep nod to the drama that was World War 1. In particular, we’re taken on a journey through the drama-filled first three months of the global conflict. Author Barbara W. Tuchman highlights the voices of generals, trench-fighters, citizens, and many others sucked into the war at this early time.
Churchill in the Trenches
Churchill in the Trenches provides an excellent historical resource with its telling account of Winston Churchill’s struggled rise to military prowess at a chaotic time and place. His rise through the 6th Battalion, his gaining of the trust of the military masses, and an eventual leading role in the fate of a world at war are all documented here. This is also the first such standalone rendition of his life since the 1920’s.
The First World War
Whether you are an historian, student, military scholar, or simply a world war history buff, The First World War by John Keegan tells the whole tale in a great, logical format. One might accurately consider this an actual historical chronicle of the entire war. What caused it? Who fought it, and where was it fought? From small details, to the larger picture, this book about World War I has it covered.
Toward the Flame
Lieutenant Hervey Allen starts the reader off with he and his fellow troops on the march inland from the edge of the French shoreline. This march “toward the flame” then goes on to culminate gloriously in the Battle of the Village of Fismette. Readers of this intimate WW1 memoir learn the true meaning of soldier-dom at this unfortunate juncture of human history.
Ring Of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I
Alexander Watson’s Ring Of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I provides the ultimate, in-depth take on the specific involvement of Germany and Austria-Hungary during the war. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand dealt a huge blow to the royal succession of the Austria-Hungary throne. The Germans would turn out to be the instigators, and soon after, many countries were casting bullets at one another. This is the tale of the geopolitical struggle of these two nations, central to the entirety of the conflict.
A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front
In this irreplaceable contribution to the greatest of WW1 publications, author Winston Groom explains what it was that made this conflict begin. Opportunism, misunderstandings, direct greed and hate: these are the perfect ingredients for war, and this time period was certainly no exception to that general rule. Go on a journey through the governmental logic and the soldierly experience as told from a primarily British viewpoint at the time.
To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918
In many World War 1 books and scholarly circles, the first world war has often been referred to as “the war to end all wars”. This great piece by Adam Hochschild carries on that same theme as it delves into the deeper meanings of this terrible world conflict. For those seeking more understanding as to the moral debates and connotations of this war specifically, this book is a top source. Personal stories and their deeper meanings connect here.
Breaking Point of the French Army: The Nivelle Offensive of 1917
In this piece, mankind’s bravery and humility are equally explored by way of French General Robert Nivelle. Bravery and conviction would lead the general and his forces to a juncture now known as The Nivelle Offensive. Crushing and humiliating defeat would then lead this self-assured force to be the embarrassment of France and a sure display of weakness for the enemy. What would become of one of the war’s most fascinating lessons?
The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War
One person can truly change the world. In the case of the world’s first collective war, one, lone person’s actions went on to spark the ultimate powder keg. Tim Butcher’s The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War is the tale of that single person: Gavrilo Percip. Did he know that his actions would change the coming history of an entire planet? Learn about the deepest core roots and a single vendetta that started it all.
A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
This New York Times Bestseller by author G.J. Meyer tells the collective story of a war that brought the world to its knees and lead to the loss of over 20-million souls. Why did it happen, who was involved, and what were the tactical approaches that steered the great conflict in the direction that it went? Learn about the entirety of the event in this revealing World War I publication.
March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution
Author Will Englund takes readers on an incredible journey into the questions of who and why with regard to the war. This was a pivotal time in history with many fascinating minds at work. This is the in-depth look at who these people were, what they were thinking, and the overall human side of World War I. There were revolutionaries, reactionaries, military masterminds, and more at work here, and this is their story.
Goodbye to All That: An Autobiography
Robert graves was a poet, writer, and soldier in World War I. This is his eye-opening autobiography of his life and time in service during the conflict. Trace his steps beginning as a child in the Victorian Era, then as a young and very patriotic captain for the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Where would the war take him, and what would his eyes, ears, and heart experience fighting in this forsaken war of trenches? Follow along with this awesome, firsthand account.
July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914
This renowned World War I account was published fairly recently, in 2014, but offers all of the best resources and knowledge gleaned from the passage of time and a collective of expert, historical reflection. Rather than focusing on the war itself, Author T.G. Otte takes an authoritative look at the beginnings of the war and what started it all. The perfect atmosphere and events were to blame, or were they?
For those looking for a raw and uncut glimpse into humanity, sociology, and psychology, there’s no need to look futher than Hell’s Foundations, the story of Gallipoli and a town rocked by war. What happens to this town when its men disappear to war, and just a few, battered veterans return at its conclusion? The story of this real-life social experiment created by WW1 is told here.
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East
This New York Time Bestseller explains an important part of world history. The formation of the Middle East as we know it today could have only occurred had just the right events and personalities taken the field in the days of World War 1. The fall of the ottoman Empire gave way to the region known today, but not without some unbelievably heinous acts met by eventual barbarous courage.
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is author Christopher Clark’s renowned take on World War 1. In this national bestseller, Clark discusses the unraveling narrative that was the perfect precursor to the initial sparks of war. Learn about the intricacies of alliances, diplomacy, and battle at the time. A close look is also taken at the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and how it set off the bomb that was WWI.
The Zimmermann Telegram
Hitting the top of the list of books about World War I again, expert Barbara Tuchman brings us The Zimmermann Telegraph. The year was 1917, the world was at war, and anything could happen now to sway the tide of the conflict. One of the world’s greatest breakthroughs in cryptology and espionage would then take place. What would be learned would change the war, and subsequently, the world forever.
The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order: 1905-1922
This historically important book on World War 1 comes to us courtesy of the late, celebrated journalist and historian Edmond Taylor. In this piece, Taylor doesn’t just explore the war itself, but rather takes a tour of the historical environment that would exist before the war. Everything would change in the “old empires” when war broke out. Learn about this unique geopolitical region before, during, and after the first world war.
World War I: The Definitive Visual History
For the more visual learner as well as those simply fascinated with visual media pertaining to WWI, R.G. Grant’s World War I: The Definitive Visual History is a rather rich and unforgettable experience. Delve deep into amazing pictures of the war, graphical data, hand-written pieces, and much more. By land, air, and sea, enjoy this rich visual history of all sides of the conflict.
World War I: A Short History
Michael J. Lyons
The overall history of World War 1 is laid out clearly for all to see in this acclaimed piece by Michael J. Lyons. The overall battles, strategies, and political forces at work are captured quite accurately by Lyons. Beyond this more broad look however, readers are also exposed to a healthy proportion of some of the minutia and fine details of what this war looked like. From the soldier, to the average civilian, experience the true history here.
The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World
Greg King and Sue Woolmans
Archduke Ferdinand was an extremely important character just before the war broke out. His assassination invoked the rage of a nation and a retaliatory response that would soon envelope the world. This is the deep depiction of this particular event and the ramifications that would ensue. Rare sources, unpublished letters, and intimate knowledge are the reader’s to be had.
The World Crisis, Vol. 1
Winston S. Churchill
Winston Churchill was himself a key player in much of the war as well as the leadership of the British side of the effort. The World Crisis, Vol. 1 is Churchill’s own rendition of the war and the first volume of a five-volume set. Gain invaluable insights from the mind of the master tactician himself and learn what the war meant from a perspective living out these fascinating times.
Hell’s Observer – The Epic World War 1 Journal of Private William J. Graham, American Expeditionary Forces
William J. Graham
The American Expeditionary Forces were a pivotal application at this great time of war. Private William J. Graham was a member of this respected force – a member of a force bound for the conflict of world war. Hell’s Observer Pvt. is the epic, first-person journal of Private Graham and his struggle to survive and fight to a winning conclusion in the war. Up close, eye-opening and emotionally personal are words that describe this one quite well.
With Their Bare Hands: General Pershing, the 79th Division, and the battle for Montfaucon
Blood, sweat, tears, and bare hands are what ultimately won a worthy end to this global atrocity. Such were General Pershing and his forces’ efforts at the Battle of Montfaucon. They are also the core subjects addressed in this telling piece by author Gene Fax. Here, the world-renowned expert dissects this pivotal battle, the key players, and the heroics that won it all for the greater good of humanity.
To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
This World War 1 book is Ian Kershaw’s famous review of Europe from 1914 until 1949. This era would see an empire and an heir to the throne befallen to violence and the retaliatory acts of entire nations plummet a world into war. After the war, what would the world and immediate regions look like as they geared up unknowingly for a coming, second world war? Kershaw takes the reader on a comprehensive, historic tour of Europe before, during, and after the conflict.
Storm of Steel
Storm of Steel was actually published just after the conclusion of the war but still remains incredibly powerful and a vital resource today. This is the worldwide bestselling tale of the German war machine of the time. Told via the viewpoint of a real German soldier of the time, the incredible experience of WW1 is put on full display. Author Ernst Jünger was that soldier and is here the sharer of this awesome set of memoirs.
The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End
In this chillingly forward piece, author Robert Gerwarth puts forth evidence of what he calls a war that never actually ended. Even though the nations involved officially waved the white banner of peace in 1918, there were still to be many years of associated atrocities and barbarisms to follow. Who were the forgotten, and who continued to fight tormenting battles beyond the official dates of truce?
Testament of Youth
Little did she know, Vera Brittain would eventually become an historic legend and standard-setter for an entire age of memoirs to come. This scholastically treasured piece is her full account of the war, her personal involvement in it, and some moving afterthoughts to behold. She was younger then, and this is the story of her youth during WW1 – a valuable testament of survival and adaptation for ages to come.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
T. E. Lawrence
If war could be considered an art form or even a scholarly, intellectual pursuit, this would be the World War 1-based manual. T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, lays out what it really meant to fight and war during the time. Take a look at multiple campaigns, battles, adversaries, and approaches, in this telling testimony of the art of war at the time. Critics attach this work closely to the famous tradition of Melville and Doskoevsky.
Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia
Who was the legendary Lawrence of Arabia? What is truth and what is merely legend when it comes to this mysterious character of the annals of history? Author Michael Korda puts fact to the famous name, providing us with an epic biography of an epic figure in history. Learn about the strategist, the scholar, the soldier, and the adventurer, T.E. Lawrence. This is arguably the best biography of this mystical figure of the WW1 era as well as an acclaimed, New York Times Bestseller.
Imperial Germany’s Iron Regiment of the First World War
John K. Rieth
As many know, German forces were front and center during World War 1. In this tell-all memoir of service during the time, the reader gets to experience the specific duty of infantry service under the 169th German regiment. Stunning, first-person accounts take you right into the chaos of battle and the valor of victory. For a riveting dose of action along with the tale of military tact at the time, Imperial Germany’s Iron Regiment of the First World War is a top pick.
The First World War
Hew Strachan is a celebrated historic writer, having earned the prestigious 2016 Pritzker Literature Award. In this work by Strachan, a direct connection is made between this war of a century ago and modern times. Learn all about this global travesty, and discover how its ramifications continue to reach unendingly into the future of mankind. In addition, this comprehensive selection is widely used as an educational resource throughout the world.
The Great War and Modern Memory
The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell is coveted as a scholastic classic along the lines of World War 1 books and publications. In fact, its many prizes include the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and several others. The reader of this great can expect a rhetoric-filled, theory-laced, deep analysis into the war and its long resounding after-effects. This is achieved by way of examining not only anecdotally analyzing history’s tale, but as well, the works of other authors and characters close to the conflict.
The World Remade: America in World War I
There are many approaches and viewpoints entertained out there for the sake of discussing this great war. This particular piece takes the unique approach of telling the story by way of the American position at the time. The youngest and weakest military power would eventually go on to make a name for itself, helping to put an end to the years of gruesome fighting. Get ready for a great arrangement of US historical facts and curiosities that would shape the future forever.
Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War
Max Hastings, acclaimed military historian and author of Inferno, brings us the specific subject of Europe at war during this time. What were the reasons that war erupted so quickly? What were the European costs and benefits to the action? Where would it all leave the region’s nations for the sake of the future? The words of this trusted source give a revealing and unabashed look at Europe and its place in the first world war.
The War That Ended Peace: The Road To 1914
Once 1914 rolled around, everything would soon change. The world would not yet know of peace again until four years later, and only after millions of souls would be forcefully departed by way of violence in many theaters and by many weapons. The War That Ended Peace: The Road To 1914 is Margaret MacMillan’s comprehensive reporting of this momentous event. This multi-award winner dissects the path to war and the diverse cast of players that would change the world forever.
The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
The second work in Alistair Horne’s coveted trilogy, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, is a deep dive into the Battle of Verdun. This 10-month, epic confrontation saw out the lives of over 700,000 people and would play a marked role in the overall tide of the war. Horne’s emotion-packed tribute to this battle is nothing short of raw, thorough, and enlightening.
Robert K. Massie
Robert K. Massie’s Dreadnought is a classic telling of World War 1 known for its superb and engrossing narrative throughout. Explore the personalities at work behind the opposing forces, missed opportunities, cultural implications, misunderstandings, and more. Dreadnought makes this important lesson in history exciting, riveting, and highly interesting.
With the Help of God and a Few Marines: The Battles of Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood
Albertus W. Catlin
The Marines have long been held in high regard as an American fighting force not to be reckoned with. This WWI book tells the dramatic story of this specific force at work during the war and on the French front in particular. Get inside the minds of these soldiers and experience the battle of the trenches. Author Albertus W. Catlin was a part of that force, and his voice here is nothing short of authoritarian on the subject.
1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War
Thanks to author Charles Emmerson, anyone wanting to take a tour of prewar Europe and several other regions may find the opportunity in astoundingly rich format. 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War gives a lush rendition of the beautiful world that existed before the peace was torn apart. Explore this lost world and find out what the world left behind in this most unique of books about World War 1.