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Book review: Great Britain's Great War, by Jeremy Paxman

Many of us have a stereotypical idea of the First Word War, shaped largely by films, books, and even television comedies (Blackadder). We think of it as an immense collective folly that afflicted the whole of Europe, in which millions of brave soldiers were killed or maimed by pig-headed generals who stayed safely at the back out of harm's way (lions led by donkeys). We find it incomprehensible that so many men could serve, willingly in many cases, in the appalling conditions of trench warfare.

In this very readable account Paxman reveals the reality behind the myths that have accumulated around the war. His book is not just a history of what happened during the fighting; it is also a social history of Britain at that time, in which he shows how people came to understand themselves and their country in a different way. Many things we take for granted today - democracy, passports, vegetable allotments, and British Summer Time, for example - had their origins in the war. [More]

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