In less than two hundred pages, author Doug Gangler takes readers on a tour along the 700 kilometer (420 mile) long Western Front of World War 1; covering important and moving sites from WW1. The book is organized into ten geographic chapters; starting with Brussels and ending with Mulhouse (aka the Vosges.) He includes Paris, too. Each region is given plus or minus twenty pages. In the reviewer’s opinion, the book’s greatest strength is the author’s ability to condense four years of conflict in each region by focusing on the most important people, places and events in the region and by drawing parallels from geographies or other periods of history. For example, while introducing readers to the Somme he talks about the development of tanks by both sides in less than two pages of text; but it works. Doug also highlights some of the major places to visit in each region; and he provides a relatively concise bibliography to point readers toward some of the better WW1 books. To quote from the book’s preface: “While “A Journey” is accurate in its presentation of history, it has not been written solely as another straightforward historical account. This author’s conjectures and opinions—all derived from many years of trips, in-depth readings, and personal experiences along the Front’s entire winding path—are found throughout.” In this regard, “A Journey…” is a good concise introduction to warfare on the Western Front during WW1 and an interesting read.
The reviewer’s reluctance to wholeheartedly endorse this book (4 instead of 5 stars) is because it lies somewhere in between a battlefield guidebook and an in-depth history of the war. However, a reviewer needs to be careful not to review the book based on his expectations. Rather, he should review it based on the author’s intentions. Quoting from the preface again: “The goals are to spur readers’ enthusiasm regarding the sites, to generate interest in reading more books about the Great War, and to spark a desire to join in the discussion of the war as a critical marker in world history.” The reviewer believes that Doug Gangler achieves these goals by writing a good, introductory history of Western Front warfare that introduces readers to key sites on that battlefield and he is reminded of one of his own tour experiences: While he and the husband were stomping in the woods “intensely” exploring the old front line, the wife was perfectly happy in the car reading a “less-intensive” book on American volunteers in France during the Great War. Both participants learned new things that day.
“A Journey to the Western Front: 100 Years after the Cataclysm” was written by Doug Gangler and published in 2018 by Champion Books, Champion, PA.