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The Road to the “War to End All Wars”

With the approach of the centenary of World War I on 28 July, historians have been busy reassessing the central question: why? Why did an assassination in Sarajevo lead to an all-consuming four-year conflict with the staggering cost in human life of almost nine million combatants and an estimated thirteen million civilians?

The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria may have been the catalyst, but the causes of the war dated back several decades and included competition among the major European powers in colonial empire-building abroad, the settling of scores from earlier conflicts, and fears over the rise of the newly unified Germany.

Several recently published books look into the causes of the war and are listed below. Miranda Carter’s George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I takes the reader back to the nineteenth century and Queen Victoria’s vain hope that unifying the royal houses of Europe by marriage would lead to lasting accord. (It didn’t.) A couple of earlier titles of note are included as well: Robert K. Massie’s Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War and Frederic Morton’s Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-1914.


Amazon Says: Drawing on unpublished letters and rare primary sources, King and Woolmans tell the true story behind the tragic romance and brutal assassination that sparked World War I In more...
Amazon Says: Drawing on unpublished letters and rare primary sources, King and Woolmans tell the true story behind the tragic romance and brutal assassination that sparked World War I In the summer of 1914, three great empires dominated Europe: Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Four years later all had vanished in the chaos of World War I. One event precipitated the conflict, and at its hear was a tragic love story. When Austrian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand married for love against the wishes of the emperor, he and his wife Sophie were humiliated and shunned, yet they remained devoted to each other and to their children. The two bullets fired in Sarajevo not only ended their love story, but also led to war and a century of conflict. Set against a backdrop of glittering privilege, The Assassination of the Archduke combines royal history, touching romance, and political murder in a moving portrait of the end of an era. One hundred years after the event, it offers the startling truth behind the Sarajevo assassinations, including Serbian complicity and examines rumors of conspiracy and official negligence. Events in Sarajevo also doomed the couple’s children to lives of loss, exile, and the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, their plight echoing the horrors unleashed by their parents’ deaths. Challenging a century of myth, The Assassination of the Archduke resonates as a very human story of love destroyed by murder, revolution, and war. less...
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Amazon Says: When a Serbian-backed assassin gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June 1914, the world seemed unmoved. Even Ferdinand’s own uncle, Franz Josef I, was notably ambi more...
Amazon Says: When a Serbian-backed assassin gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June 1914, the world seemed unmoved. Even Ferdinand’s own uncle, Franz Josef I, was notably ambivalent about the death of the Hapsburg heir, saying simply, “It is God’s will.” Certainly, there was nothing to suggest that the episode would lead to conflict—much less a world war of such massive and horrific proportions that it would fundamentally reshape the course of human events. As acclaimed historian Sean McMeekin reveals in July 1914, World War I might have been avoided entirely had it not been for a small group of statesmen who, in the month after the assassination, plotted to use Ferdinand’s murder as the trigger for a long-awaited showdown in Europe. The primary culprits, moreover, have long escaped blame. While most accounts of the war’s outbreak place the bulk of responsibility on German and Austro-Hungarian militarism, McMeekin draws on surprising new evidence from archives across Europe to show that the worst offenders were actually to be found in Russia and France, whose belligerence and duplicity ensured that war was inevitable. Whether they plotted for war or rode the whirlwind nearly blind, each of the men involved—from Austrian Foreign Minister Leopold von Berchtold and German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov and French president Raymond Poincaré—sought to capitalize on the fallout from Ferdinand’s murder, unwittingly leading Europe toward the greatest cataclysm it had ever seen. A revolutionary account of the genesis of World War I, July 1914 tells the gripping story of Europe’s countdown to war from the bloody opening act on June 28th to Britain’s final plunge on August 4th, showing how a single month—and a handful of men—changed the course of the twentieth century. less...
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Amazon Says: NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • The Economist • The Christian Science Monitor • Bloomberg Businessweek • The more...
Amazon Says: NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • The Economist • The Christian Science Monitor • Bloomberg Businessweek • The Globe and Mail From the bestselling and award-winning author of Paris 1919 comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, a fascinating portrait of Europe from 1900 up to the outbreak of World War I.   The century since the end of the Napoleonic wars had been the most peaceful era Europe had known since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the first years of the twentieth century, Europe believed it was marching to a golden, happy, and prosperous future. But instead, complex personalities and rivalries, colonialism and ethnic nationalisms, and shifting alliances helped to bring about the failure of the long peace and the outbreak of a war that transformed Europe and the world.   The War That Ended Peace brings vividly to life the military leaders, politicians, diplomats, bankers, and the extended, interrelated family of crowned heads across Europe who failed to stop the descent into war: in Germany, the mercurial Kaiser Wilhelm II and the chief of the German general staff, Von Moltke the Younger; in Austria-Hungary, Emperor Franz Joseph, a man who tried, through sheer hard work, to stave off the coming chaos in his empire; in Russia, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife; in Britain, King Edward VII, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and British admiral Jacky Fisher, the fierce advocate of naval reform who entered into the arms race with Germany that pushed the continent toward confrontation on land and sea.   There are the would-be peacemakers as well, among them prophets of the horrors of future wars whose warnings went unheeded: Alfred Nobel, who donated his fortune to the cause of international understanding, and Bertha von Suttner, a writer and activist who was the first woman awarded Nobel’s new Peace Prize. Here too we meet the urbane and cosmopolitan Count Harry Kessler, who noticed many of the early signs that something was stirring in Europe; the young Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a rising figure in British politics; Madame Caillaux, who shot a man who might have been a force for peace; and more. With indelible portraits, MacMillan shows how the fateful decisions of a few powerful people changed the course of history.   Taut, suspenseful, and impossible to put down, The War That Ended Peace is also a wise cautionary reminder of how wars happen in spite of the near-universal desire to keep the peace. Destined to become a classic in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, The War That Ended Peace enriches our understanding of one of the defining periods and events of the twentieth century.   Praise for The War That Ended Peace   “Magnificent . . . The War That Ended Peace will certainly rank among the best books of the centennial crop.”—The Economist   “Superb.”—The New York Times Book Review   “Masterly . . . marvelous . . . Those looking to understand why World War I happened will have a hard time finding a better place to start.”—The Christian Science Monitor   “The debate over the war’s origins has raged for years. Ms. MacMillan’s explanation goes straight to the heart of political fallibility. . . . Elegantly written, with wonderful character sketches of the key players, this is a book to be treasured.”—The Wall Street Journal “A magisterial 600-page panorama.”—Christopher Clark, London Review of Books less...
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Amazon Says: One of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the YearWinner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (History)The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is hist more...
Amazon Says: One of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the YearWinner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (History)The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is historian Christopher Clark’s riveting account of the explosive beginnings of World War I.Drawing on new scholarship, Clark offers a fresh look at World War I, focusing not on the battles and atrocities of the war itself, but on the complex events and relationships that led a group of well-meaning leaders into brutal conflict.Clark traces the paths to war in a minute-by-minute, action-packed narrative that cuts between the key decision centers in Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris, London, and Belgrade, and examines the decades of history that informed the events of 1914 and details the mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals that drove the crisis forward in a few short weeks.Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers is a dramatic and authoritative chronicle of Europe’s descent into a war that tore the world apart. less...
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Amazon Says: David Herrmann's work is the most complete study to date of how land-based military power influenced international affairs during the series of diplomatic crises that led up t more...
Amazon Says: David Herrmann's work is the most complete study to date of how land-based military power influenced international affairs during the series of diplomatic crises that led up to the First World War. Instead of emphasizing the naval arms race, which has been extensively studied before, Herrmann draws on documentary research in military and state archives in Germany, France, Austria, England, and Italy to show the previously unexplored effects of changes in the strength of the European armies during this period. Herrmann's work provides not only a contribution to debates about the causes of the war but also an account of how the European armies adopted the new weaponry of the twentieth century in the decade before 1914, including quick-firing artillery, machine guns, motor transport, and aircraft.In a narrative account that runs from the beginning of a series of international crises in 1904 until the outbreak of the war, Herrmann points to changes in the balance of military power to explain why the war began in 1914, instead of at some other time. Russia was incapable of waging a European war in the aftermath of its defeat at the hands of Japan in 1904-5, but in 1912, when Russia appeared to be regaining its capacity to fight, an unprecedented land-armaments race began. Consequently, when the July crisis of 1914 developed, the atmosphere of military competition made war a far more likely outcome than it would have been a decade earlier. less...
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Amazon Says: "A classic [that] covers superbly a whole era...Engrossing in its glittering gallery of characters." CHICAGO SUN-TIMES Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Robert K. Massie has writ more...
Amazon Says: "A classic [that] covers superbly a whole era...Engrossing in its glittering gallery of characters." CHICAGO SUN-TIMES Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Robert K. Massie has written a richly textured and gripping chronicle of the personal and national rivalries that led to the twentieth century's first great arms race. Massie brings to vivid life, such historical figures as the single-minded Admiral von Tirpitz, the young, ambitious, Winston Churchill, the ruthless, sycophantic Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow, and many others. Their story, and the story of the era, filled with misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and events leading to unintended conclusions, unfolds like a Greek tratedy in his powerful narrative. Intimately human and dramatic, DREADNOUGHT is history at its most riveting. From the Trade Paperback edition. less...
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Amazon Says: Thunder at Twilight is a landmark of historical vision, drawing on hitherto untapped sources to illuminate two crucial years in the life of the extraordinary city of Vienna— more...
Amazon Says: Thunder at Twilight is a landmark of historical vision, drawing on hitherto untapped sources to illuminate two crucial years in the life of the extraordinary city of Vienna—and in the life of the twentieth century. It was during the carnival of 1913 that a young Stalin arrived on a mission that would launch him into the upper echelon of Russian revolutionaries, and it was here that he first collided with Trotsky. It was in Vienna that the failed artist Adolf Hitler kept daubing watercolors and spouting tirades at fellow drifters in a flophouse. Here Archduke Franz Ferdinand had a troubled audience with Emperor Franz Joseph—and soon the bullet that killed the archduke would set off the Great War that would kill ten million more. With luminous prose that has twice made him a finalist for the National Book Award, Frederic Morton evokes the opulent, elegant, incomparable sunset metropolis—Vienna on the brink of cataclysm. less...
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