What Americans know about World War I is probably nothing to brag about.
How it started may be a mystery to many. Why the United States got involved, just as befuddling. Baby boomers may know something about the Red Baron because of Snoopy.
And perhaps there’s a dim memory of an English teacher reciting verse by melancholy warrior-poets or talking about the war’s effect on the namesake character in “The Great Gatsby.”
Cambridge historian David Reynolds’ most recent book does a remarkable job of explaining why people should know more about the First World War – and why it is so difficult to fully grasp its legacy.
“The Long Shadow” is not simply a history of a century-old conflict.
Reynolds documents its profound impact on world powers as well as on embryonic nations, politics, warfare, the world economy, culture and literature.
“The Long Shadow” transcends conventional histories about World War I.
At times, it is almost a psychoanalysis of a world that was profoundly changed by a collective and horrific trauma. But that is no criticism.
It is the kind of book that challenges readers to think.