Book Review On

“Woodrow Wilson And WWI” Essay, Research Paper

Woodrow Wilson and World War I by Professor Robert H. Ferrell is a chronology of every aspect of the first World War and the period in which it took place. Ferrell wrote this book to provide an unbiased dissertation of one of the scariest events in the history of the United States and the entire world. In the editors? introduction done by Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris, Ferrell was praised for his thoroughness in presenting a factual account of the period.

Ferrell took great measures to cover every aspect of the war. He told of President Wilson?s famous speech before the inevitable declaration of war on Germany and its allies, went into detail about everyone even remotely involved in the war, and went so far as to include maps and diagrams of every major battle in the Great War. If any complaint is to be made about Ferrell?s work, it would be that he went into too much detail, including what some readers may feel is ?extraneous? information.

Ferrell, though a renowned history professor at Indiana University, resisted the temptation to prove his intellect and prestige. The book is very comprehensible and has very few of the ?ten dollar words? that can be found in most any historical documents. In approaching the subject from various angles, Ferrell created a documentary that would appeal to almost any reader, from a devoted scholar of history to a curious military strategist, and even a History student writing a review of his book.

Much research was involved in Ferrell?s book. At the end, there are approximately fifty pages of endnotes and an extensive bibliography, referencing the vast collection of literature Ferrell consulted in putting his work together. He borrowed facts from encyclopedias, historical journals, censuses, and magazines, not only from the United States, but from the other involved countries as well.

The book?s most impressive detail and imagery is found in Ferrell?s description of Woodrow Wilson?s demeanor before and during his address to Congress that would change the course of The United States forever. Instead of just summarizing the address, the author added color, vividly describing Wilson?s apprehension just before his address- one of the most famous in the history of the United States:

Alone except for Ellery Sedgwick, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, unaware of the latter?s observing eye, he walked to a little fireplace over which hung a large mirror, and stared into it, distraught, chin shaking, face flushed. He placed his left elbow on the mantel and gazed steadily at himself, until he composed his features. Then he strode into a corridor and through the swinging doors of the House Chamber.1

Such detail enhances the value of the book and adds to the overall experience of the reader. In similar instances throughout the book, Ferrell was able to keep the book interesting enough to make the reader want to continue turning the pages.

That is not to say that every page of Ferrell?s work was exploding with excitement. In his chapter about the AEF, (American Expeditionary Forces, the name given to the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe,) he lapsed into dreary and superfluous detail on several occasions. Ferrell wrote about a dozen generals and nearly every transaction that they made to supply their troops with food, water, and medical supplies. While such information is important to supply sergeants, the figures are unessential to the meaning of the book, whose primary purpose is to explain the litany of the Great War.

Each chapter is appropriately titled and positioned to make an impression on the reader- Ferrell broke the period up into comprehensive, thematic sections. The book covered the period from 1917 to 1921. The author separated the five years into fourteen chapters, with subjects varying from the declaration of war, military life on the battle front, to questions of civil rights for women and minorities back in the United States.

It was said in the editors? introduction that the Ferrell?s purpose for writing Woodrow Wilson and World War I was to provide an objective stance on World War I enhanced by the increased availability of pertinent information. In my view, Ferrell did not by any means remain objective, but he was balanced, with high praise of Wilson and the United States offset by his harsh criticisms of some governmental policies.

He wrote ?President Wilson announced the Armistice with the eloquence of which he was a master…?2 This excerpt about the war drawing to an end shows Ferrell?s admiration of Wilson?s command of the language. The author expressed his favorable opinion outright in this instance; in other places throughout the book Ferrell frequently interjected his opinions, either by subtle word choice or by blatant judgments. The author was not afraid to express his disapproval of Wilson and Congress. Quite extensively, Ferrell expressed and explained his disapproval of Wilson?s refusal to increase the size of the military in preparation for the war until the United States? active involvement.

Since there is no preface or ?mission statement? by Ferrell, the reader is not told what the author?s goal was in writing the book. In the Editors? Introduction, editors Steele and Commager said that Ferrell makes the reader feel like he is actually involved in the events of World War I. It is doubtful that Ferrell?s purpose was to make the circumstances and happenings of the time into a virtual reality of the mind. With no preface or introduction, the reader can only venture a guess as to why Ferrell decided to write the book.

If his purpose was to get the reader caught up in the emotion and intense patriotism surrounding the war, he fell far short of his goal. While much of the book was interesting, it was far too dry and dull in some many places to keep the reader on his toes and eager to turn every page.

The author?s purpose was most likely to give a realistic version of the Great War. Encyclopedias are strictly factual, dehumanized by historical robot writers with no emotion. Authors of magazine articles often get so caught up with their emotions that they sometimes abandon the facts pertaining to their topic. And newspapers are notorious for twisting the truth around to almost beyond recognition.

What Ferrell did in Woodrow Wilson and World War I was to mesh the positive qualities of these three flawed sources together. He did not come across as a total drone in this book- there were a lot of facts but they were blended well with illustrations and interjections of Ferrell?s opinions. To attempt to remain completely objective in writing a dissertation of one?s country at war would not only be nearly impossible, but inaccurate as well.

One of the most important parts of history is the way it affects people and how they react to it. For an author to deny his own opinions is to hide the truth- at least the truth as he sees it. If Ferrell?s purpose was to tell the story of the United States, its Commander in Chief, and its involvement in World War I from his heart as well as his head, Woodrow Wilson and World War I was a complete success.


Ferrell, Robert H., Woodrow Wilson and World War I., (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985)


1Robert H. Ferrell, Woodrow Wilson and World War I., (New York: 1985) 1

2Ferrell 134


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