________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 18 . . . . January 15, 2010


The War to End All Wars: The Story of World War I.

Jack Batten.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2009.
154 pp., hardcover, $24.95.
ISBN 978-0-88776-879-8.

Subject Heading:
World War, 1914-1918-Juvenile literature.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Greg Bak.

*** /4


The Second World War grew out of conditions left behind by the First World War. But the need to battle through another universal conflict in no way diminished the sacrifices and accomplishments of the soldiers who fought the earlier war. Looking back, the men of the Great War emerged as figures of even greater gallantry.


Jack Batten offers a concise overview of the traditional historiography of the First World War. The War to End All Wars presents a well-crafted narrative of the war, describing the most famous battles and paying special attention to the Canadian war effort. The book, itself, is beautifully designed, a square-ish hardcover with maps printed inside the dust jacket, numerous illustrations and generous white space.

     Batten offers sufficient information to draw in the reader but keeps moving at the brisk pace required to tell the story of World War I in 154 pages (including index!). Batten mostly focuses his tale on the aspirations and limitations of the men in charge of the war effort. This contains an otherwise unwieldy narrative, but it lends the book an air of regressive dustiness: war histories that do not address the experiences of common civilians, women as well as men, are no longer the norm.

     The first chapter of the book may have been intended to deflect this criticism. Batten starts with the war story of Ray Goodyear, a typical Newfoundland infantryman. This chapter ends on the patronizing note that Goodyear "couldn't have answered the deeper questions: Why were millions of men killing one another? What brought nations into such terrible conflict with other nations? What started the Great War?" (p. 7) Batten spends the rest of his book describing the causes and course of the conflict, but without reference to the story of Goodyear or any other common soldier.

     Batten makes space for some of the anti-war activities and ideas that emerged during the drawn-out struggle, including those of the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and of the French mutineers of 1917. Nonetheless, the quotation at the head of this review demonstrates Batten's fundamental thesis that the First World War was a necessary and even a noble war. His assessment of the global impact of the war is limited to its positive, nation-building role in Canada and Australia. In the end, the inclusion of anti-war material buttresses a conventional "war is hell" attitude without due regard for legitimate grievances with the causes and conduct of the war. Batten does not account for a title - The War to End All Wars - that might seem strange to young adult readers since the many subsequent wars belie the statement and Batten fails to discuss its historical resonance.

     Batten's overview of the First World War treats land, sea and air campaigns within a single coherent narrative. The story is presented in a handsome book, replete with rich, black-and-white photographs, many of which occupy entire pages. The decision to include maps on the reverse of the dust jacket allows the reader to have the maps open while reading the text.

     The War to End All Wars is a well-crafted summary of the traditional historiography and will serve junior-high and high school students in providing basic information about the war.


Greg Bak is an archivist with Library and Archives Canada in Gatineau, PQ.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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