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WWI: History and Fiction

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 27, 2021

Commonly referred to as the Great War, World War I began on this day, July 28, in 1914. One of the deadliest conflicts in history, it became known as "the war to end all wars." By the time the fighting ended on November 11, 1918, an estimated 20 million people would die as a result of the conflict. This roundup includes a selection of standout historical accounts, valuable perspectives, and riveting novels about the Great War.

The Onset

Sometimes what's more interesting than the conflict itself are the inciting events leading up to it. These excellent histories lay out the story of the war's buildup.

The Guns of August
If you like your history to read like fiction, try this Pulitzer Award-winning account. Beginning with the funeral of Edward VII, renowned historian Barbara W. Tuchman traces each step that led to WWI.

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
Award-winning historian Christopher Clark maps out the paths to war in an action-packed narrative, detailing the mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals that drove the crisis forward in a few short weeks.

The Allied Powers

These are histories that primarily come from the perspective of the ultimately victorious Allied Powers, consisting of France, Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan and the United States.

The Western Front: A History of the Great War, 1914–1918
In this narrative history, Nick Lloyd offers a sweeping chronicle of the dramatic technological and tactical advances, as well as superior generalship, that helped determine the outcome of the war.

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914–1918
If you're looking for a primer on this complex war, G. J. Meyer's comprehensive, accessible volume is well-organized, elegantly written and full of lively facts and little-known stories.

From the Other Perspective

Here are histories reflecting the experiences of the Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria and their colonies.

Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I
In this compelling history, Alexander Watson refocuses popular discussion with a view of the war from the perspective of its losers: not just the leaders in Berlin and Vienna, but the people of Central Europe.

The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914–1918
Drawing on his own research, German-Canadian historian Holger H. Herwig offers a thoughtful analysis of the military efforts coming from Vienna and Berlin. He also discusses the disastrous effects of the conflict in Germanic society.

History in Novel Form

If you're someone who prefers to glean your history from historical fiction, you’re not alone! Reading novels set in a particular time period can be a great way to "experience" history. Here are a few to consider:

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