One hundred years ago on April 6th, 1917, America entered WWI and changed the world forever.
Over the course of the War, America went from an isolationist, frontier power to a major player on the international stage, both economically and politically. Ask you average American about the importance of World War I, however, and you’ll get a lot of blank stares. This is a real pity, as much of our modern social, economic, and political world has its roots in the Great War.
So, in honor of today’s illustrious occasion, I present to you a book list about America’s involvement in WWI, and how that experience shapes our history today. If you have some free time this April, consider picking up one of these books and spare a thought for all those brave doughboys a century ago, many of whom gave their lives to usher in a new era in world politics, whether they meant to or not.
T H E B O O K L I S T:
Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson
American pro-War sentiment rode high once a German U-boat sank the Lusitania, a British passenger liner traveling from New York to Liverpool, England in 1915. An excellent, gripping read, it’s a terrific place to begin understanding why America entered World War I in the first place.
The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America, by Michael S. Nieberg (2016)
Though resistant at the start, by 1917 Americans were clamoring to enlist and fight “Over There.” Nieberg outlines this transition admirably while also giving voice to the many dissenters, such as many German Americans, who didn’t want American involvement in the War. Kirkus Reviews called it “A valiant attempt to dispel America’s collective amnesia over the First World War.”
The World Remade: America in World War I by G. J. Meyer (2017)
Weaving together many disparate strands of history, Meyer creates a compelling and interesting account of America’s participation in WWI, covering everything from political battles and battlefield maneuvers to the social upheaval on the home front. An excellent place to start if you’re looking for a broad understanding of America’s role in WWI.
The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, by Adam Tooze (2015)
Focusing on the final years of the Great War, Yale historian Adam Tooze offers an interesting idea: that America entered the War in order to reshape Europe on its own terms, thanks in no small part to its newfound economic ability to manipulate a highly fragile, interconnected global economy. “What Adam Tooze has done,” says a Telegraph review, “is to reconstruct a vast global web, and to show how the slightest vibrations on its threads had consequences everywhere, almost regardless of individual fears and hates or venomous ideologies.” “Epic in scope” and “boldly argumentative,” the New York Times called his book “splendid interpretive history” and ensured that it would give readers lots to think about.
First Over There: The Attack on Cantigny, America’s First Battle of World War I by Matthew J. Davenport (2015)
Here Davenport explores America’s first real battle of WWI, where the American First Division “Big Red One” wrested the French town of Cantigny from German hands. It makes an excellent companion for a visit to the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park, too. 🙂
Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I by Mitchell Yockelson (2016)
In a mere forty-seven days, under the leadership of Gen. Pershing, millions of untested American troops managed to beat back the Germans and bring about the end of WWI almost single-handed. Yockelson explores this extraordinary feat by relying on accounts of the men who participated in the battle, from the famous (Patton and MacArthur) to the common Army grunt.
Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I, by John Eisenhower (2002)
Military historian John Eisenhower takes the reader through every American battle of WWI, while showing how leaders like Gen. Pershing transformed the American Expeditionary Force into a capable modern army that was more than capable of facing down global powers.
The Yanks Are Coming: A Military History of the United States in World War I, by H. W. Crocker III (2014)
A quick military history of America’s involvement in WWI, featuring a number of short biographies of the great generals and heroic fighting men that made America stand out “Over There.”
The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War, by Richard Rubin (2013)
The last known American WWI veteran died in 2011. Thank God, then, that journalist Richard Rubin made it his personal mission to track down and interview as many of them as he could find before the last of them left this earth. A lively, engaging, and vivid read that brings to life a conflict that’s largely been forgotten in American history, as told firsthand by people who lived through it.
World War I and America: Told by the Americans Who Lived It, Edited by A. Scott Berg (2017)
Inside this collection of primary sources, you’ll find newspaper clippings, speeches, poems, diaries, magazine articles and more, all covering different aspects of America’s participation in WWI. It’s much more than just an excellent resource for term paper quotations, however. Berg’s collection shows bit by bit how America dealt with the War from many different angles—and how much impact it had on the country’s citizens, despite its short length.
Over There: America in the Great War, by Robert J. Dalessandro (2016)
Need some pictures of American soldiers in WWI? Then look no further than this gorgeous book, which contains over 360 rare photographs of American soldiers training, fighting, and dying.
My Fellow Soldiers: General John Pershing and the Americans Who Helped Win the Great War, by Andrew Carroll (2017)
While he features a new and surprising “intimate” portrait of General John “Black Jack” Pershing, Carroll also explores the WWI experiences of many other famous Americans in their early military careers, such as Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, and even a young Harry Truman—-not to mention a host of common soldiers, nurses, and other Army personnel. A highly readable and interesting take on America’s entry into WWI.
The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers, by Elizabeth Cobbs (2017)
When most people think of women participating in WWI, most think of Red Cross nurses. But there were also the “Hello Girls,” women who signed on with the Army Signal Corps as telephone operators (a difficult job in and of itself) and risked their lives to make sure American troops could communicate on the battlefield. These “female wire experts,” demanded by Gen. Pershing himself, were integral to keeping lines open between commanders and troops. Author Cobbs shines a new light on a little known aspect of women’s involvement in WWI.
Chicago Transformed: World War I and the Windy City, by Joseph Gustaitis (2016)
Didn’t think I’d leave Chicago out of this, did you? Of course not! 😉
Author Gustaitis shows how Chicago changed thanks to WWI—mostly thanks to major labor shortages, which helped encourage African American migration to the city, bringing a new ethnic group into the larger mix…while nearly killing off the massive pre-War German presence in the city.
War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918, by Michael Kazin (2017)
With so many Americans eager to enlist thanks to all that crazy propaganda, it’s easy to forget that there were still many who people who actively protested the War—and they did so together for three years, despite vast differences in background, race, and religion. By the end of the War, public opinion turned in their favor…but not without consequences. A thoughtful look at the consequences of a forgotten movement.
…It’s time for some recordings of “Over There!” 🙂
Here’s the first ever recording of this song, from November 1917, by singer Nora Bayes.
Or you could listen to George M. Cohan himself sing it, in his only known studio recording ever. He does a pretty good job, too!
…And this one is just because I couldn’t resist! James Cagney is the best, and so is Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).
And if you want, the lyrics are here.