Jack Sheldon, on 11 December 2011 - 02:04 PM, said:
I think that currently the best one volume history of the war is 1914 - 1918 The History of the First World War by David Stevenson. He is a first class scholar and writes very well. I admire Lyn MacDonald's work and have all her books. However, occasional inaccuracies creep into her work (just like that of the rest of us, I suppose). Not surprising, given that so many of her witnesses were old when when interviewed them. Nevertheless, she gives a really good atmospheric flavour of the times.
I have to add my support to Stephenson. I read it earlier this year, and was so absorbed that I finished it, went back to page 1 and re-read it. I can't remember any previous book which I did that for. His analysis is excellent, his prose erudite. It is so packed full that it seems incredible that he only used a single volume. Without doubt the best single-volume history available.
One thing that I found intriguing was his round-up of the post-war period. As I read of the circumstances which created the financial storm of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression I couldn't help but compare those circumstances with the situation currently faced by so many countries in THIS decade. The parallels are not comforting.
McDonald is good for colour. But she has simply transcribed whatever she was told, without verifying whether it stands up to scrutiny historically as to time, place and known events. That makes her interlocutors suspect as a cast-iron source of fact. Add in that they were interviewed decades after the events described and there is always a risk of 'contamination', that they have remembered partially, or tailored their memory to fit a certain point of view. It dishonours no veteran to subject their testimony to hard critique.
Fromkin has been criticised recently on the Forum for style. His book is composed of very many short chapters, some only 2 or three sides long. I'd agree it's not everyone's cuppa, but I found it highly readable. He lays out his evidence very well and makes his argument equally well. The benefit of this style is that it breaks down the argument into a series of short, easily comprehended facts. You can break off to consider what he says without having to wait until the end of a long, densely-argued chapter. The narrative flow is sequential and logical. When you finish it you will come away thinking that you have a pretty good understanding of the immediate causes of the war.