The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End

Written by Robert Gerwarth
Review by John Coffey

This book is a fascinating account of civilian and paramilitary events before, during and after the 1914-18 wars in Europe and west Asia, including the Turkish Empire. The armies involved, and their generals and politicians, are well described, with relevant quotations, but do not dominate the telling.  For me, this was a compulsive read. Once started I had to keep reading to the end – which I did in three days. It is a coherent story, well told, complete, well annotated, and quite horrifying. I have read a lot about this era over the decades, yet I had no idea of the sheer universality of cruel barbarity that these militaries practiced. Gerwarth’s presentation of this period of history shows how inexorably the chaos of divided loyalties to empire, ethnic group, religion, humanism, and political creed became a monstrous specter when they fell into conflict. He has practiced extraordinary diligence in his range of references, which fill 150 pages. For me, Gerwarth’s book is a fitting companion to Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow.