Arts & Culture

The Great War revisited at the library

It was supposed to be “The War to End All Wars.” World War I (also known as “the Great War”) lasted from 1914 until 1918. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the conflict.

The war began when the heir of the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo (now in Bosnia and Herzegovina) in August of 1914. The Serbian government refused to allow the Austrians to investigate the murders, which in turn caused the Austrians to declare war on Serbia. This eventually brought the entire continent of Europe into the war, killing millions of young men.

The introduction of aerial and submarine warfare, poison gas and other weapons intensified and needlessly prolonged the conflict. The war brought down three governments, two of which had ruled for hundreds of years. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was designed to settle the conflict and promote peace, but instead allowed conflicts to exacerbate and eventually led Europe and the world down the path to World War II.

The Manatee Public Library has many books and documentaries on the subject. If you’re looking for a general book on the war, try picking up Simon Adams’ “World War I” or David F. Burg’s “Almanac of World War I,” both of which are concise histories. Winning the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1963, Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” is a classic work that focuses on the earliest stages of the war.

Anthony Livesey’s “Great Battles of World War I” is a good survey of specific battles of the war. Ian Ousby’s book, “The Road to Verdun: World War I’s Most Momentous Battle and the Folly of Nationalism,” discusses the longest battle of the war which continued through almost all of 1916. For a different perspective, seek out Adam Hochschild’s “To End all Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918,” which examines the effect of the war on social life on the home front. Taylor Downing’s “Secret Warriors: Key Scientists, Code Breakers, and Propagandists of the Great War” captures the scope of the war as it was fought not only in the trenches, but in the air and sea, as well as its impact back home.

Interested in movies and documentaries? Don’t miss the Oscar winning classic film “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930), starring Lew Ayres, and based on the novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque. It tells the story of a group of young German men who face the reality of war in the trenches, and features an unforgettable ending. There is also the documentary “Sinking of the Lusitania: Terror at Sea,” which recounts the 1915 sinking of the luxury ship by a German U-boat causing a loss of more than 1,000 lives, including Americans, and which helped draw the United States into the war. Find more films on the library’s online catalog (

Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. David Breakfield is a reference librarian at the downtown Central Library.