Attrition: Fighting the First World War

Written by William Philpott
Review by Doug Kemp

This is a thoroughly well researched account of the Great War. It is not just another routine history of the familiar events, but, as the title suggests, focuses on the fundamental nature of the conflict, which was one of attrition. A hundred years after the start of the war, the seemingly pointless deaths of so many thousands of young men fighting over a few square miles of territory is the widely accepted essential characteristic of 1914-1918; yet Philpott convincingly makes the case that for the military leaders, such as Joffre, Foch and Haig, who are now generally notorious for being callous warriors, the Great War was about the relentless wearing down of the opposition’s resources, primarily through killing as many Germans, Austrians etc as possible. It was this gnawing away at the aggressors that led to victory, not the ad hoc capturing of mud-churned land.

I have to say that the act of reading this book was also, to some extent, an act of attrition. The writing at times is rather clumsy and wooden, and there are far too many spelling and typographical errors. This is an expensive book, and the lack of effective proof-reading is just not acceptable for a leading publisher.