International Relations Western Front (World War I)
Edward G. Lengel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0151


The western front in World War I is generally understood to include land military operations in Belgium, France, and Germany from August 1914 to November 1918, although for the purposes of this article some mention is given to books describing the French home front, since that is where most of the fighting took place. While books about the western front in World War I are fairly common, especially in English, many if not most of them are written by non-historians for a general reading public, with no pretense to original or archival research. Moreover, the advent of electronic publishing has subjected readers to a barrage of minor, often self-published pieces of widely varying quality. This list, while not limited to academic studies, seeks to focus on books that are based in extensive primary research and advance original or otherwise influential theses about ground-based military affairs on the western front from 1914 to 1918; it also includes a selection of some of the most authentic and compelling personal accounts of that theater of war.

General Overviews

A new general history of World War I seems to appear every few years, and many more may be expected during the centennial of 2014–2018. Many of these are illustrated or otherwise popular histories of the war, often written by nonhistorians and relying heavily on secondary source material; others focus on cultural, diplomatic, political, or broad strategic aspects of the conflict. This list includes general histories of the war that provide primary coverage to the military conflict on the western front. Two early works, Falls 1959 and Marshall 1964, present narratives that remain influential today, with Falls 1959 arguing for British primacy in the eventual Allied victory and Marshall 1964 placing critical emphasis on the pigheadedness of generals on both sides in producing high casualty lists. Gilbert 1994 and Holmes 2000 reflect growing interest in the so-called social history of warfare with narratives that somewhat downplay the roles of generals and highlight the experiences of fighting men. Keegan 1998 and Strachan 2005 provide straightforward narrative accounts of the war, with Keegan 1998 returning to Marshall’s emphasis on great men and battles, and Strachan 2005 drawing attention to the war’s global and non-military implications. Mosier 2001 breaks free of standard war narratives by advancing an idiosyncratic and controversial thesis that highlights the role of the United States in winning the war.

  • Falls, Cyril. The Great War. New York: Putnam, 1959.

    Falls, a veteran, presents a revisionist study arguing against the perception that the war saw no progress in military thinking. He also puts new technologies such as tanks and aircraft in perspective, contending that their impact on the war was minimal, and emphasizes the primacy of the western front and the British contribution to victory.

  • Gilbert, Martin. The First World War: A Complete History. New York: Henry Holt, 1994.

    A broad-ranging, humanistic study of the war with particular sympathy to the experiences of individual combatants.

  • Holmes, Richard. The Western Front. New York: TV Books, 2000.

    Originally written as a companion to a television documentary, this book advances no new arguments of note but provides a readable, concise summary of combat on the western front with special attention to the day-to-day experiences of soldiers.

  • Keegan, John. The First World War. London: Hutchinson, 1998.

    A comprehensive, straightforward military history of the war, with emphasis on the British perspective. While not advancing any bold new theses, Keegan adequately digests recent significant scholarship on the subject and presents an effective summary of the war’s major themes.

  • Marshall, S. L. A. The American Heritage History of World War I. New York: American Heritage, 1964.

    Reprinted in numerous editions since its original publication, this work presents a simplified view of events that focuses on certain notable individuals, significant battles, and events. Highly critical of military leadership on both sides of the conflict.

  • Mosier, John. The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

    A tendentious military study of the war, with primary emphasis on the western front over the first two years of the war. Argues that the United States made a decisive military contribution in 1918, and downplays the role of the British army in final victory.

  • Strachan, Hew. The First World War. London: Penguin, 2005.

    Published as a companion to a television documentary, and presenting a one-volume condensation of Strachan’s voluminous scholarly work on the subject. Presents World War I as a multifaceted, global conflict, somewhat deemphasizing military developments on the western front.

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