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 story of how intelligent, well-meaning leaders guided their nations into catastrophe. 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 -- Strobe Talbott, President, Brookings Institution 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
Number Of Pages: 704
Published: 1st July 2014
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 12.9 x 5.0
Weight (kg): 0.61