It took me several months to get through this book, and when I finally did, I didn't feel that I had learned much. The book is a lengthy recitation of facts about the first year of the first world war. The problem is that, since it is not a general history of the topic, the reader gets very little impression of what was happening when, and why that was the case. Instead, the reader is deluged with a flood of facts, including minutiae and details of the daily experiences of hundreds of individuals, from political and military leaders to ordinary soldiers and civilians.
For a World War I completist, anything by Max Hastings is a contribution, but unless you have a strong interest in the subject, this is just detail that you really don't need, and are probably not interested in. The detail just reinforces how horrible the exsperience was for most, but the sheer repetition of the same thing over and over was why I kept having to put the book down – when were we going to get to 1915 so it would be over?
And again, like the recent book on FDR that I reviewed, it is irritating to have a book that stops arbitrarily at the end of the first year of the war. Fortunately, although Hastings tries to focus on that first year, he unavoidably spends a great deal of time talking about the long-term effects of the war on, for example public attitudes towards the government and the war. Actually, these are some of the best parts of the book, but they are not strictly speaking what the book is supposed to be about. There are other books about the war, and numerous celebrated books about the beginning of the war. A book about the first several months of the fighting, while defensible in terms of the point at which it stops, when the armies had settled down to the trench warfare that would occupy the next four years, doesn't end up being as satisfying as it sounds.