Do we need another history of the First World War? The answer in the case of Norman Stone’s short book is, yes – because of its opinionated freshness and the unusual, sharp facts that fly about like shrapnel. How good to learn, for instance, that the taxi drivers who took French troops to the front in the crisis of September 1914 – the famous taxis of the Marne – kept their meters running and that the German commander Hindenburg, dependent on his staff, thought he had so much time on his hands in August 1918 that he asked his wife to send him various classics of German literature. Such zooming into close-up lets particular incidents illustrate lasting truths, like the self-serving venality of Parisian taxi drivers, a foretaste of Vichy, and the essentially symbolic role of the vain, lazy Field Marshal who, when President of Germany in 1933, allowed himself to be manipulated into appointing Hitler as Chancellor.
Norman Stone must be tired of being compared to the late A J P Taylor. But he shares that master of narrative history’s eye for the key detail and propensity for short sentences, ‘Bren-gun’ style, without Taylor’s irritating, and sometimes frivolous, obsession with paradox or admiration for the old Soviet