Tim Cook: Historian gives Canada its first readable history of WW I

Historians in the News

In 1938, the first volume of A. F. Duguid's planned 11-volume history of the Canadian forces in the First World War dropped like an artillery shell on the desks of Canada's book reviewers. They were appropriately impressed by the detail and the accompanying volume of appendices (which answered such burning questions as "what was the daily beet ration for animals of Lord Strathcona's Horse in December, 1914?"), and one even suggested that Duguid covered the subject so exhaustively that it need never be done again. A few, however, were presumptuous enough to observe that it was a book to be consulted rather than read.

Nearly 30 years later, and more than a decade after Duguid's series had been quietly cancelled, G. W. L. Nicholson's Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919 appeared. More objective than its predecessor (many of the senior officers who vetted Duguid's manuscript having long since died) and an equally impressive research achievement, it too suffered from the affliction of earnestness. Dry and dense, it was hardly the sort of book to curl up with by the fireplace.

With At the Sharp End, the first of a two-volume set on Canadians fighting the Great War (the second volume will appear in 2008), Tim Cook has done what Duguid and Nicholson didn't: produced an impeccably researched and immensely readable account of Canada's soldiers of the Great War. The First World War historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Cook has emerged as one of the country's most prolific writers on military history, having turned his hand to such subjects as gas warfare, the abuse of prisoners of war, education in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and alcohol consumption in the trenches.

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