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Why 1914

Why 1914?

Why 1914? is "the best short introduction to the causes of the first world war I have come across.  Derek Robinson is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist.”
                                Nicholas Lezard - The Guardian

Here's a taste of what you get:

“The Black Hand recruited Gavrilo Princip and two others to murder the Archduke.  All three young men had incurable tuberculosis. They were ordered to kill themselves when the Archduke was dead. Phials of cyanide were handed out. What could possibly go wrong? In the event, everything.  Especially the cyanide.”

"To find war news in July 1914 you have to look at Ireland.  Home Rule had been passed.  Ulster, largely Protestant, detested the Catholic south.  Gun-running was on an industrial scale.  The government was trapped in an Irish bog.”

"In 1914, Kaiser William II, commanding the most powerful army in Europe, was not so much a loose cannon as a whole battery of loose cannons.”

"Admiral Tirpitz, Navy Minister, held the job for 19 years and followed one plan throughout his career:  more battleships, and then more battleships.  The Kaiser said that ‘with every new German battleship there was laid a fresh pledge for peace’.  Yet Tirpitz was using his battleships to frighten Britain into silence.”

"On 15 August 1914, Lieutenant Bernard Montgomery wrote in his diary: ‘At least the thing will be over in three weeks."

”If Germany seized the Channel ports, this would be hugely damaging to Britain’s strategic position. Britain went to war for Belgium’s sake, and for her own.”

"In 1914 the German army did not talk to the German navy.  For eight days in August an armada of ships transported the British army to France without disturbance.”

"The British infantry’s  name for its rapid rifle-fire was ‘mad minute’: a trained rifleman could fire fifteen rounds a minute.  This was often mistaken for machine-gun fire.”

"Confidence of success fuelled German troops’ drive for victory.  All Germany shared this confidence:  friends and family wrote letters to German soldiers with the address ‘in or near Paris’. (The postal service being neutral, sacks of this mail reached Paris.)”

"Winning the Battle of Ypres gave the Allies no strategic advantage but it became a heroic trophy simply  because Germany wanted it so badly.”

    The Paperback is available only directly from the author

In U.K.                                              £8
In Europe                                         £10
Rest  of World                                 £12.50

Preferred payment method  -  PayPal

Email your order to me at and you will receive a Payment Request.

 No need to have a PayPal account. All you need is a credit card.

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Click here to read
Elizabeth Ballmer's review
Why 1914?
   is now also available as an Amazon E-book.

Click here for details

Why 1914?
Initial reactions from readers have been very favourable - here is a selection
“I’ve just consumed  Why 1914? in a single sitting, fitting the old cliché ‘unputdownable’. It’s crisply written and brimful of fascinating facts, expertly woven together.  All in all, a resounding success.”
Steve Travis, Oxford

"You've managed to boil down to the essence a huge breadth and depth of knowledge.  It's excellent, and many thanks for it."
Elizabeth Ballmer, Bristol 


"Greatly enjoyed  Why 1914?.  I think it is a masterly synopsis of  an incredibly complex period. Charactistically brisk and forthright."
Graham Thorne, Essex


"I read it on my vacation, and it is one of the most enjoyable and readable histories I have ever read."        David Stengele, Tennessee

"Four copies of Why 1914? should be on the library shelf of all schools and colleges offering history at A-level, and a further copy in public libraries, for secret reading by adults."

Charles Manton, Hungerford

"Just finished ‘Why 1914?’ and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve learned more from your book than I did from 12 years of history lessons."    

Nick Vaughan, Faversham, Kent
What an excellent book this proved to be! It was a pleasure to get my hands on a straightforward, no-nonsense narrative history. I loved the incidental detail and the wry commentary." 
Edward Vincent, London   

Mentioned in Despatches

Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian chooses Why 1914 as one of his Paperbacks of the Year, writing: "The novelist Derek Robinson, 82 this year, just keeps going, and his prose is as sharp and sprightly as ever (there is something of Evelyn Waugh about its economy and grip)...   This year he has written and self-published the best introduction to the causes of the  first world war, Why 1914?, I have come across.  He is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist."

Robert Allison  puts A Good Clean Fight in his top 10 of desert warfare novels, saying, “Well above genre standards,  thanks to its energetic storytelling, its wealth of factual detail , and the author’s trademark gallows humour."                                                                                           Click to read the full article.

Reviewing A Splendid Little War, Nick Lezard writes: "Robinson has pulled off a remarkable coup. It's as bleakly intelligent as anything he has done but he has
also increased our historical understanding."
Click to read the full review.

Describing Derek Robinson's war novels, Antonia Senior said: "No one writes about war quite like Robinson, despite attempts to shroud him in echoes of other writers, such as Joseph Heller or Norman Mailer. He writes with a bleak savagery, in controlled, precise prose. There is humour – and it is dark and painful. There is love – and it is inadequate and messy. Most of all there is death. It comes from clear blue skies and grey clouds, from enemy fire and friendly mistakes. It
hovers, unseen, at  15,000 feet."
                                                                           Click to read the full article.

                                A Splendid Little War is now available in paperback. 

It's 1919. The  Great War is over but a civil war is raging in Russia.  Bolshevik Reds are fighting White Russians, and a volunteer R.A.F. squadron, flying clapped-out Sopwith Camels and DH9 bombers, arrives to duff up the Reds.  But the 'splendid little war' they are promised turns out to be big and brutal, a world of armoured train, anarchist guerillas, unreliable allies and pitiless enemies.  There is comedy, but it is the bleakest kind. A Splendid Little War shows war as it is: grim, funny, moving - but never splendid.

Reviews of A Splendid Little War
      The Daily Express
                                     American edition of GQ Magazine
                                                                                            The Independent      

                                                                                        Readers Write #37    November 2014

Missed opportunities,

                   death in the desert,

                                 and the Tsar rides again. 

Here’s a surprise.  Product placement has infiltrated the writing game.  It’s been part of the Hollywood economy for many years   -  if your hero drinks beer, make sure he always has a bottle of Old Frothenslosh and the brewery will write you a fat cheque.  Even fatter, if you you can get him to say he likes it because it’s old, stale, and has the head at the bottom, that being their slogan. Absurd?  Look at what Popeye did for the sale of spinach. And now Land Rover has handed six figures to someone so that he’ll write a new Bond yarn about which I know nothing except it’s a safe bet that a Land Rover has a supporting role,  and you can be sure it starts when Bond turns the key.

Which makes me look back at my career of missed opportunities.  In Goshawk Squadron, Woolley drinks nothing but Guinness,  and what did I get?  Not even a free crate of the stuff.   Lacey, in A Splendid Little War, keeps Merlin Squadron well stocked with Gentleman’s Relish, Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade, and Earl Grey tea.  I’m still waiting for a complimentary hamper from the makers.  That’s my failing: too generous to the food and drink industry.

Meanwhile, my non-fiction Why 1914?  attracts readers from all over.  Bill, from a military postcode in the US, ordered a copy and said he’s ‘very much enjoyed everything from Kentucky Blues to Kramer’s War’  and especially ‘your dark, fighter pilot humor’,  which is good to hear from a man who flew F4  Phantoms and F-111s. He adds: ‘Nothing you write is forced or false. If you wrote a procedure manual on how to teach dogs to bark, I’d read that too.’  As it happens, Bill, I once wrote a book explaining the laws of Rugby Union.  Believe me, what goes on in the front row of the scrum is enough to make a dog howl at the moon.   Kathryn, in Harrogate,  is a big fan of my stuff;  so is her sister and father, both of whom got a copy of Splendid for Christmas last year.   Having ordered a copy of  1914, she’s eyeing up the MacLehose Press reissued favourites: ‘The new covers are superb!’

Copies of  1914 also made their way to John in Iowa, an old pal currently rebuilding an even older (1929) DH Gypsy Moth;  to Meryl in Bunderim, Queensland;  to Alex in Kaiapoi, New Zealand;  and to readers scattered over the UK, including Geoffrey in Pembrokeshire, who borrowed a copy and then had to buy one (‘Masterly stuff and a compelling read’). Finally, I had a postcard from France, where Grant (another old friend) read 1914 on holiday and summed it up in one word: ‘Terrific’.  The postcard has a splendid picture of a French WW2 pilot in full gear   -   mae west, oxygen mask, goggles, radio link, white-spotted blue scarf, sheepskin jacket, chiselled features and a steady, confident gaze.

                                                                 French WW2 Pilot                                                               

Another copy of 1914 went to Paul in Oxfordshire, who describes himself as ‘a regular re-reader of your excellent books’.  For several years in the 1980s he worked in north-east Libya  (I’m guessing he was with an oil survey team)   and ‘I came across a lot of WW2 debris in the desert: unexploded mines and bombs, bullets, helmets, and a couple of aircraft including the Lady Be Good.’ This was a USAAF B-24D Liberator that disappeared after a bombing raid on Naples on 4 April 1943, assumed lost in the Med.  In fact the crew overflew their air base in a sandstorm,  couldn’t make radio contact, and finally ran out of fuel when they were 440 miles inland. The survivors of the crash-landing died trying to to walk to safety,  and the wreck of the Liberator wasn’t found until 1958.  There are echoes of my Desert Air Force story, A Good Clean Fight, which  -   unsurprisingly   -   Paul finds worth re-reading.

More surprises.  ASLW, set in the Russian Civil War of 1919, mentions the last of the Tsars, Nicholas II, who was killed with his Romanov family at Yekaterinburg. I’d always assumed that their bodies  were lost, but then a couple of good friends, Stephen and Jean, read the book and brought me up to date.  They were in St Petersburg in 1998 to see The Hermitage, a great Russian art gallery,  when they came across the climax to the huge, three-day ceremony for the reburial of the Tsar and his family in the cathedral.  There  were military cadets lining the streets,  officers carrying the coffins, a requiem service, church bells tolled, guns fired a 19-volley salute, Boris Yeltsin paid his respects. Even more surprising was the presence of three members of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards: a Lieutenant-Colonel, the Adjutant, and the Pipe-Sergeant-Major in full Highland dress, playing a lament.  Later, Stephen and Jean met them and asked why they were there. It was because the late Tsar had been Honorary Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment.  You can just make out the piper.  What the Russians made of his piping, history does not record.

                                                                 1998 Russian Funeral

Lastly, a quick round-up.  Fred, in Fairfax, Virginia,  found a review in a U.S. thriller writer’s blog that puts my ‘sharp, cynical dialogue by today’s premiere war novelist’  on a par with Philip MacDonald’s writing,  and he is no slouch with the pen.  And Ian, somewhere in the UK, having finished both of the aviation series and The Eldorado Network, reached this conclusion:  ‘I don’t care what anyone says, you’re the best thing since they started slicing bread.’  I think that was 1928.

My thanks to all who wrote.

Derek Robinson                                                                        

Previous Readers Write


DR_Who He?   When someone at a party asks what I do, I say I write Ripping Yarns.  It's a quick answer but a very incomplete one. I'm best known for my novels about the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force in the two World Wars and some might say the books are highly readable adventure stories.  Nothing wrong with that, but there's more than combat in the high blue yonder   -   there's also memorable characters, there's unexpected twists and turns of warfare,  and there's aircrew humour.   Especially the humour.  I did my National Service in the Royal Air Force.  I was never airborne; I was in a Ground Control Interception Unit, deep underground in a concrete bunker.  But I learned a lot about the special humour of flying people,  and it emerges naturally and unavoidably in my novels. Humour is one of the essential colours in the spectrum of life. You don't make a story more serious by removing the humour; you just make it less true.

The longer I do this job, the luckier I know I am.  For a start, I'm English and the English language is global. That's pure luck of birth. I might have been born in Hungary.  There are good Hungarian writers,  but it's a lot easier for me to find readers throughout the English-speaking world.  And I was lucky to have literate parents.  When I grew up there were always books and magazines about the house, unlike some other kids' homes. There was a good public library at the end of the street.  And there was the 1944 Education Act which created State Scholarships for bright lads and helped me get into Cambridge.
That's where I learned to write boringly. I was writing to impress, not to inform. Twelve years in advertising agencies (London and New York) kicked the crap out of my style. Every word had to work hard. I wrote ad copy and commercials for everything from Esso petrol to The Wall Street Journal.  Always I knew I wanted to move on, to be a fulltime writer  -  but I had nothing to say.  Nothing worth reading, anyway. (I was a late developer.) I wrote two bad and unpublishable novels and finally got it right with a story called Goshawk Squadron. Might have won the Booker Prize if Saul Bellow, one of the judges, had had his way. Not important. "The most readable novel of the year," Nina Bawden said of Goshawk in the Daily Telegraph. "I laughed aloud several times, and was in the end reduced to tears." That's worth more than any prize. The first novel bought me enough time to write the second, and so it goes. Lucky me.


MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) has published all of my flying novels  -  four Royal Flying Corps books and four Royal Air Force books.  Here are the new covers: 
      pce cake       hullo russia        A Good Clean Fight       Damned Good Show_new

                war story_new              hornets sting_new            goshawk squadron_new              

Click here to go to the MacLeHose website. where you can click on their individual covers for  purchase options, including e-books.
This will be the first time that all my flying titles are in print from the same publisher:  something that gives me great satisfaction. Equally satisfying is the work of Tony Cowland, who has painted the cover illustrations for all the books. Each cover looks dramatically different, yet together they have a family likeness. They form a splendid collection, and they appeared at The Mall Galleries (near Admiralty Arch)  in the Aviation Paintings of the Year Exhibition by the Guild of Aviation Artists. The standard was high. My congratulations to Tony on a memorable achievement.
Artist and Author  
Photograph: Chris French

All four of the Luis Cabrillo novels (following the career of  probably the best WW2 double agent and later con-man) are now available as eBooks from Amazon/Kindle. Here are the covers:

                              Artillery                  RedRag                 OpBam 
                            Click on a cover to go to the Amazon sales page.

The R.F.C. trilogy and the R.A.F. Quartet are also available as e-books.



        'Operation Bamboozle' is a fastmoving black comedy about what happens when a high-stakes con artist takes on the Mob in Los Angeles.  The result is a heady brew of disorganised crime, hot dollars, triple virgins and dead bodies in the begonias.   

         Luis Cabrillo is the con artist, Julie Conroy is his squeeze, and here's the opening sentence:   

      For a man who had been hauled out of Lake Michigan in 1949, headless, his legs and arms broken, and stabbed in the heart with a red ballpoint pen, Frankie Blanco was in pretty good shape in 1953.  

Click to see the News of the World Review


                        RED RAG BLUES                                                  

  He's a heel, bless him. 

 Luis Cabrillo rides again in this "dashing tale of Nazis and Mafiosi", as The Observer called it. 
In fact, Nazis and Mafiosi play second fiddle to the real dynamo in this story.  It's 1953, and Senator Joe McCarthy's witchhunt for Reds under beds is scaring America witless.

Cue Luis Cabrillo, ex-double agent, now con artist supreme. Dollars flow, hotly pursued by bullets. Luis doesn't know it, but FBI, MI5, KGB and CIA have him firmly in their sights. Not to mention Stevie, the only three-times married virgin in New York City.  This is a rich, fast and very black comedy.

(To read the full Observer review, click here.) 

MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) owns the book rights to all my RFC and RAF novels.  Sam Goldwyn Jr  owns the screen rights to Goshawk Squadron. In 1988, LWT made a six-part television series of Piece of Cake and they own the rights to that production.  I own the screen rights to any remake of Piece of Cake.  I own the screen rights to all my other novels. Quercus Books owns the e-book rights to all my fiction backlist, available through Amazon/Kindle.  Derek Robinson

Contact       I welcome comments and views about my books, though as a working writer I can't guarantee to have sufficient time to answer everyone.  

Click here to send me an email 

Main publications     Click any group heading to see details.

The RFC Quartet (WW1)
         pce cake          A Good Clean Fight          Damned Good Show_new           hullo russia          
                             The RAF Quartet (WW2)
The Double Agent Quartet
Other Novels/History
Rugby Books

Bristol Books

Availability of the books.   

All my fiction is available as e-books.  Maclehose Press publish (in print) all eight of my flying novels, available from any good book seller (who may have to order a copy). Or you  could try the websites listed below, often useful for tracking down both new and used books. 

 The two Bristle books, and A Darker Side of Bristol are published by Countryside Books .

Finally, I have a few copies of Pure Bristle, available at £2 each. 

Quercus Books  Amazon UK      Amazon USA      Fantastic Fiction   

Other websites you may find of interest:    Wikipedia     IMDB     Jeremy Northam Blog   

Major books and original publication dates:

1971 Goshawk Squadron
1973 Rotten with Honour
1977 Kramer's War
1979 The Eldorado Network
1983 Piece of Cake
1987 War Story
1991 Artillery of Lies
1993 A Good Clean Fight

1999 Hornet's Sting
2002 Damned Good Show
2002 Kentucky Blues
2005 Invasion 1940
2005 Red Rag Blues
2008 Hullo Russia, Goodbye England
2009 Operation Bamboozle
2013 A Splendid Little War

2014   Why 1914?