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The definitive history of the political, cultural, military and personal forces which shaped Europe's path to the Great War.
The First World War followed a period of sustained peace in Europe during which people talked with confidence of prosperity, progress and hope. But in 1914, Europe walked into a catastrophic conflict which killed millions of its men, bled its economies dry, shook empires and societies to pieces, and fatally undermined Europe's dominance of the world. It was a war which could have been avoided up to the last moment - so why did it happen?
Beginning in the early nineteenth century, and ending with the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, award-winning historian Margaret MacMillan uncovers the huge political and technological changes, national decisions and - just as important - the small moments of human muddle and weakness that led Europe from peace to disaster. This masterful exploration of how Europe chose its path towards war will change and enrich how we see this defining moment in our history.
Read Justin Cahill's Review
Margaret MacMillan, I suspect, would enjoy playing ‘Diplomacy’, the famous board-game set in Europe just before the Great War broke out. Each player represents one of the great powers. Hours are spent forming and breaking alliances in the quest for victory. The outcome is unpredictable: I once beat two future national champions, who took the game far more seriously than me, while playing Turkey. Imagine Turkey ruling Europe. Now imagine the coffee.
This is precisely what MacMillan invites us to do – to imagine what might have been. Empires, nationalism, dreadnoughts, eccentric leaders, entangling alliances, inflexible train timetables – we like to think we know what caused the War. Macmillan accepts these factors set the scene. But she goes further: what made the July Crisis different? Why, after several earlier crises that set the great powers against each other, did they chose war this time around? If we rewind the tape of history and play it again, will we get the same outcome? Macmillan, for her part, doubts it. There are, she ultimately concludes always choices.
That, perhaps, is true. People make conscious decisions, although not always in the circumstances they would like. Yet, as Macmillan eloquently demonstrates, the social and diplomatic environment made war virtually inevitable. The First Balkan War, which broke out between Turkey and its soon-to-be-former dominions in eastern Europe in 1912, was, in essence, a practice run for 1914. Germany guaranteed to support Austria-Hungry. Russia partly mobilised, knowing it would bring Austria-Hungry and Germany against it. Britain remained aloof, but made it clear it would back France. If we rewind the tape to 1912, we don’t necessarily get a different result – just a delayed one. In 1912 no-one then was ready for War. By 1914, things had changed.
But this takes nothing away from Macmillan’s achievement. There are other, famous accounts of Europe’s road to war, including Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower and The Guns of August and Robert Massies’ brilliant Dreadnought. But it is Macmillan’s accounts of these earlier crises and their context that sets her work apart. Her chapters on relations between Britain and Russia and Austria-Hungry and Germany, on the international peace movement and the patriotic fervour spawned by Social Darwinism provide in depth analyses of issues usually given only cursory treatment.
As MacMillan admits, writing about the outbreak of the Great War is a well-trodden path. But if I was asked for a comprehensive, single-volume account I would recommend hers.
About the Author
Margaret MacMillan is the author of Women of the Raj and international bestsellers Nixon in China and Peacemakers which won the 2002 Samuel Johnson Prize. Her most recent book Uses and Abuses of History was published by Profile. She is now the Warden of St. Antony's College at Oxford University.
The War that Ended Peace tells the story of how intelligent, well-meaning leaders guided their nations into catastrophe. These epic events, brilliantly described by one our era's most talented historians, warn of the dangers that arise when we fail to anticipate the consequences of our actions. Immersed in intrigue, enlivened by fascinating stories, and made compelling by the author's own insights, this is one of the finest books I have read on the causes of World War I. -- Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State Once again, Margaret MacMillan proves herself not just a masterly historian but a brilliant storyteller. She brings to life the personalities whose decisions, rivalries, ambitions, and fantasies led Europe to "lay waste to itself" and triggered decades of global conflict. Hers is a cautionary tale of follies a century in the past that seem all too familiar today. -- Strobe Talbott, President, Brookings Institution The War That Ended Peace is a masterful explanation of the complex forces that brought the Edwardian world crashing down. Utterly riveting, deeply moving, and impeccably researched, MacMillan's latest opus will become the definitive account of old Europe's final years -- Amanda Foreman splendidly well written - fluent, engaging, well-paced and, despite the grim subject, often entertaining -- Richard Overy New Statesman magisterial...rich and suggestive... MacMillan is a wry and humane chronicler of this troubled world... lively and sophisticated... as MacMillan observes in a closing sentence that is well worth taking to heart, 'there are always choices' -- Christopher Clark London Review of Books She writes prose like an Audi - purring smoothly along the diplomatic highway, accelerating effortlessly as she goes the distance. This is a ground-breaking book, decisively shifting the debate away from the hoary old question of Germany's war guilt. MacMillan's history is magisterial - dense, balanced and humane. The story of Europe's diplomatic meltdown has never been better told. -- Jane Ridley Spectator The Canadian historian laces The War That Ended Peace with deft character sketches and uses sources incisively...MacMillan escorts the reader skilfully through the military, diplomatic and political crises that framed the road to war from 1870 to 1914. -- Tony Barber FT Margaret MacMillan, the author of Peacemakers , which won numerous prizes, is that wonderful combination - an academic and scholar who writes well, with a marvellous clarity of thought. Her pen portraits of the chief players are both enjoyable and illuminating. Among the cascade of books arriving for the anniversary, this work truly stands out -- Antony Beevor Times MacMillan is a perceptive guide to the thought processes of the key players -- Simon Griffith Mail on Sunday excellent, elegantly written book...as fine an assessment of the reason peace failed as any yet written -- Saul David Evening Standard Few historians have better credentials to write about the origins of the First World War than the Oxford scholar Margaret MacMillan...with its lovely elegant style, keen eye for human foibles and impeccable attention to detail, this is one of the most enjoyably readable books of the year -- Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times A sweeping but immensely readable account...an impressive feat -- Bronwen Maddox Prospect MacMillan's superb and very entertainingly written guide to this Europe - a Europe, as she shows, similar to our own in some ways, but very different in others - will be warmly welcomed by different kinds of reader. Those who "know" the subject will find new perspectives and new ways of looking at it, while those less familiar with it could hardly find a better introduction or a better basis for judging some of the centenary polemics we now face. -- Roger Morgan Times Higher Education [A] richly textured account of the road to war -- David Blackbourn Guardian Magnificent...The War That Ended Peace will certainly rank among the best books of the centennial crop. The Economist vivid, gripping and scholarly -- Piers Brendon Independent monumental...sharply observed, pacy book -- Lionel Barber FT Books of the Year the most balanced and readable study of the first world war's causes -- Tony Barber FT Books of the Year a fascinating must-read book for anyone who wants to understand the centenary of this event next August, and Ireland's place within it -- Ruairi Quinn Irish Times Books of the Year brilliant...the author is not merely a fine scholar...but she is also terrifically sensible, a rare combination -- Max Hastings Mail on Sunday Books of the Year ...one of the most incise and brilliant narratives of the causes of the greatest tragedy of the 20th century... The Sydney Morning Herald
Number Of Pages: 704
Published: 17th October 2013
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Dimensions (cm): 24.0 x 16.2 x 6.8
Weight (kg): 1.13
Edition Number: 1