Though Daniel Hughes and Richard DiNardo call their book an "institutional history" of the imperial German army, a more precise description of it would be an examination of the imperial German way of war. In it they detail the evolution of the army's doctrine and strategic planning, from the post-Napoleonic ideas of Carl von Clausewitz and their application by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder to the subjection of their preparations to the test of war in 1914. As they explain, the experience of combat on the Western Front forced the army to abandon their emphasis on mobile warfare and the battle of annihilation in favor of a less costly employment of positional warfare while trying to defeat the Russians in the East. While the army attempted to switch back to mobile warfare in 1918, the units in the west (most now manned primarily by wartime inductees) had to relearn the prewar concepts, only now mobile warfare was reapplied without a clear strategic goal to pursue.
While this focus dominates Hughes and DiNardo's book, readers will find much besides this within its pages. Rooted in a vast range of sources in both German and English, its descriptions of the various branches of the German army, its analysis of the army's place within the German constitutional structure, and its assessment of its institutional deficiencies provides readers with an in-depth examination of a feared fighting force. Though missing any description of the combat experience of the soldiers themselves, this is nonetheless the most comprehensive single-volume study of the imperial German army available in English, one that is both a valuable starting point for the novice and a useful reference work for those more knowledgeable about the subject.