Mr. Peck presents a conventional picture of the 28th president as an idealist whose dream of an enduring peace was largely undone by his own rigidities. His pointillist picture of America on the home front will be sure to interest World War I buffs. He has much to say about war bonds and War Gardens, anti-German hysteria and the deplorable suppression of civil liberties. He also follows the doughboys to Belgium and France, where they discover the French fry but shell shock, too ... Mr. Peck seems almost unaware of the loose coalition of Atlanticists—East Coast bankers and editors, Republican internationalists—who pushed for a greater American role. He doesn’t mention, for instance, Paul Cravath, an influential, Anglophile New York lawyer who lobbied for American involvement ... Unfortunately, The Great War gets mired in its own trench warfare. It catalogs much but inspires little. Stirring moments, such as the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915—Winston Churchill’s audacious attempt to shorten the war, which ended in tragedy for thousands of troops—are drained of passion. Mr. Peck has a penchant for bald sentences ... Mr. Peck’s wide-angle lens becomes problematic.
Along the way, Peck shares plenty of details worthy of their own histories ... But amid a parade of other facts, these details too often feel included but not incorporated, their significance hard to judge. The overall sense is of the war as a mass of coincidence rather than one with clear causations ... [Peck] takes pains to clarify that his book is neither a biography of Wilson nor a defense of the man’s politics and policies. But as any historian of America in World War I well knows, neutrality is a difficult and delicate balance to hold ... It is the historian’s responsibility to connect these dots [when looking at an administration, and Peck fails to do so fully].
Peck proves a reliable guide to 'a nation that was rapidly growing up—and yet not mature enough to accept its global responsibilities' ... Students of 20th-century American and European history will enjoy this American view of the war and its long-term consequences.