I read Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler some years ago with pleasure and profit. Now at the urging of the Missus I am rooting around in To Hell and Back, his big-picture history of the 20th Century, particularly the early chapters on the runup to and the aftermath of World War I. It's a somewhat mind-bending experience in that I studied this stuff with some avidity in college 55 years ago (I was a late starter). I loved it then and I'm surprised that I remember specific bits and pieces that seem to have stuck with me down through the years (also the entertaining showmanship of Jim Sutton at the U of Louisville as he flourished his deck of 5x7 note cards in a dauntless effort to keep his night students awake).
But what gives me a bit of the yim yams is how different it looks from the vantage of great age. Or rather, I suppose "yim yams" is too strong. There is no radical discontinuity. I'm still the same person. I didn't bring much to the table back then (did someone mutter "callow?"). I've got a lifetime to measure it against now. In a way, I suppose you might say the same is true of Kershaw. He's a bit younger than I but still, he's got a lifetime of experience to draw on. At least as to Germany (which is pretty much the center of his story so far) he has pretty much earned the right what he damn pleases.
One perhaps trivial point on which I'm specially appreciative: he gives lots of casualty figures, both for wars and for battles, More satisfying still, he breaks down the general category into the specifics of dead and wounded. Numbers are important here: it's good to get a sense of just how awful (in the strict sense) all this was.
Related point: to the best of my recollection, in my youth we passes pretty lightly over the Russian Civil War. I don't think I ever grasped that it was actually more costly in human terms (for the Russians) than the great war itself. And the Kronstadt Rebellion, where the revolution turned on, as it were, its own. Trotsky said he would have them "shot like partridges" and proved as good as his words.
Another, perhaps larger, point: the radical reorganization of society as a whole with a dozen or so new nations, all of the, "democracies" of a sort. And actually not such a bad sort. Maybe only Czechoslovskia got its sea legs but for so many, it was an inspiring new departure. In any event--I've got other things I want to get to, but I think I'll have to stick with Kershaw--I'm dying to know how it works out.