The American Heritage History of World War I by S.L.A. MarshallAllow me to give some background before my actual review. I love background. Helps to put things into context which I believe is necessary at times.
American Heritage was a quarterly magazine dedicated to covering American History for mainstream audiences that ran from 1947 - 2007. It was not intended to be an academic periodical aimed at professors, professional historians and university students. In addition to the magazine the company would also publish books that focused on certain subjects and they often got well known historians to write them. The American Heritage History of World War I by S.L.A. Marshall is one of those books.
Several historians who would go onto mainstream success worked at one time for American Heritage. Among the many Notable staff and contributors were Barbara Tuchman, Stephen Ambrose, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and David McCullough. Not surprisingly the above named individuals have been the target of rather catty reviewers over the years. A quick once-over of their respective works here (Goodreads) and elsewhere will show that there are many who attack their books with vitriol.An outstanding example comes from Sean Wilentz. Reviewing David McCulloughs book on John Adams in The New Republic, Wilentz claimed that McCullough and film maker Ken Burns followed the American Heritage style: popular history as passive nostalgic spectacle marching under the banner of narrative. Ouch.
Well ,as I wrote at the beginning of this review, the magazine was not aimed at academics. It was a business and its focus was on providing a high quality product that the lay reader would actually want to spend money on. I have a B.A. in history and in the years before I became a university student I read several of the AH books. They were excellent for a twelve and fourteen year old boy who had a love of history, but wasnt ready to jump into the deep end. Overviews and general histories suited me at that time. The American Heritage products served as appetizers that pointed me in other directions and helped me to dig deeper into the subject matter. That isnt a bad thing. For the reader who wasnt that focused American Heritage served to expand their knowledge and round them out. Again not a bad thing ,despite what some of the more haughty historians of the world might think.
The American Heritage History of World War One was written by S.L.A. Marshall. One of the more controversial military historians of the Twentieth Century. However at the time of this books publication his research was unchallenged (at least in the public eye) and his works sold well. He was a natural selection. The book is an overview of World War One. It covers the four years in a surprisingly short 380 odd pages and is loaded with illustrations and photographs. It isnt a dedicated military history and therefore is lacking in maps that detail the battlefield movements of the various participants. As other reviews have noted there are also errors sprinkled throughout the book and Marshall is very free with his editorializing. Marshall was always outspoken and by the time he wrote this book he had a lot of clout. Combine that with the fact that he had been commissioned to write the book (he was a celebrity historian and his name had cachet) probably stymied the editorial process somewhat. One thing that you cant say about S.L.A. Marshall was that he was an easygoing and affable personality. Im sure he was involved with putting it together and had a powerful voice in terms of the editing.
As history goes this book isnt anything groundbreaking. It wasnt groundbreaking in 1964 when it was first published. However it can still serve as a useful introduction for the average American with a mild interest about a war that so many (Americans not Europeans) know so little about. If one were to combine this book with John Keegans more recent book The First World War one would find ones self have a good start on knowing more about a war that is still effecting us in 2015.
This book has a place in my modest library and Im pleased to have found a copy. It might not please those who consider themselves to belong to the Intelligentsia, but I like it.
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Two eager Yale students were skunked at the book fair, but had a good time. Last March, Heritage Auctions sold a signed and inscribed first edition of F.
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Published by American Heritage Publishing Co. Seller Rating:. Condition: GOOD. Spine creases, wear to binding and pages from reading. May contain limited notes, underlining or highlighting that does affect the text.