Battle of the Journeymen

The 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I has long been anticipated, judging by the publication of dozens of new books on what was called, until World War II, the Great War, although the Ghastly War might be more appropriate.  Paul Jankowski, a professor of history at Brandeis University, has made a scholarly and valuable addition to that literature.  He doesn’t shy away from the battlefield carnage, but his principal contribution may be his efforts to look at the Battle of Verdun from both French and German perspectives and to contextualize the battle in the larger scheme and meaning of war.

Jankowski’s Verdun is not strictly a military history.  If it were, I’d have to consider it only moderately successful.  Moreover, I wouldn’t recommend it for a reader’s first look at Verdun.  For that I think Alistair Horne’s The Price of Glory is incomparable, although I haven’t ever attempted to wade through the dozens of reportedly excellent works on Verdun by French authors en français.

It’s said that Verdun is the most written-about battle of World War I.  That may come as a surprise because it was not decisive on the battlefield, and it wrought no political changes in the capitals of either Germany or France.  Nor was it the war’s bloodiest battle.  However, it was the war’s longest...

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