Read The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned Peace for the First World War by Margaret MacMillan Online


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 that killed millions, bled its economies dry, shook empires and societies to pieces, and fatally undermined Europe’s dominance of the world. It was a war that could have beenThe 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 that killed millions, bled its economies dry, shook empires and societies to pieces, and fatally undermined Europe’s dominance of the world. It was a war that 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 Archduke 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 history....

Title : The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned Peace for the First World War
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ISBN : 9781846682735
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 704 Pages
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The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned Peace for the First World War Reviews

  • Kalliope
    2019-05-12 18:55

    I want to kick myself for not being able to attend when Margaret Macmillan visited Madrid recently to present her book.She is the great grand daughter of David Lloyd George (1863-1945), the British politician from the Liberal party who was Chancellor of the Exchequer when WW1 broke out but became Prime Minister during the contention.But it is not thanks to her kinship but to her own academic acumen that she is the current Warden at Saint Antony’s College, a think tank for historians. For me this also means, facetiously, that I think I know exactly where she lives.I have read this magnificent account of the years leading to the outbreak of the war, soon after reading The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, which deals exactly with the same topic and which was also an extraordinary read.And may be this was a good thing, or a bad thing, for if I was more familiar with many of the facts, my opinion was also already shaped. I had liked in particular Clark’s non-Anglo way of looking at the developments, and was also well convinced by his persuasive arguments.So, I was a bit taken aback when after an excellent introductory chapter on the general self-satisfaction and complacency that was enjoyed by Europeans at the turn of the twentieth century (similar to the way we feel now?), she chose then to proceed with Great Britain as the grounding stone of her understanding of the period. This was very different from Clark’s dramatic start with the troublesome Serbia.After zeroing in on Great Britain, she then proceeds, in a very engaging, very flowing and with a very clear language, with her review of the other great powers. That is: Germany, followed by Germany and then Germany again. Then France and back to Britain, to which Russia, and again Britain follow. We then move to Austro-Hungary and revisit once again Germany. This was a very different approach from Sleepwalkers, which had put the Balkans at the forefront. Which means not treating them as a conglomerate but as Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Rumania, and all their crossed relationships.For it is in Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Austro-Hungary, and not the Balkans, nor the Ottomans, nor Italy and her Libya, where she is searching for the igniting impetus. This is because she identifies the Naval race, which begins early enough in the new century between Britain and Germany, as the most important destabilizing factor. The rivalry between these two contenders with the huge amount of resources, and pride, invested in this race meant that they were playing with fire. An opportunity to prove that this investment had been worthwhile and fully justified would be difficult to resist.But don’t mistake me. I am not saying who out of these two historians is right. I am not qualified to emit such an opinion. Macmillan’s is certainly a superb procession through what was going on with these superpowers. At the end of the nineteenth century Europe was a balance of balances, but within a relatively short time span two opposing big blocks had formed. The account of how this happened appeared at times a bit befuddling in Sleepwalkers as I indicated in my review. Macmillan’s version seemed clearer. In her walking us through the various determinant players I felt more observant. Or may be in my second walk I no longer felt as blindfolded by my ignorance.After the survey of the various powers Macmillan then unfolds the chronology and takes stock of the Russo-Japanese war, the first and second Moroccan crises, the Bosnian annexation, the Libyan invasion, the first and second Balkan wars, and the blazing assassination.But her attention is well focused on the decisions of the few individuals, very few of them, who in the five years prior to the war eventually decided the start it. For she maintains that we can point fingers and that none of the signalled candidates were exceptional figures. There was no Bismarck among them.Macmillan however also realizes that individuals in their decision-making are shaped by their world. Large historical trends, such as Imperialism, technological and scientific developments, financial Budgets, Nationalisms and domestic tensions, Peace movements, rivalries in the reigning families etc. All of these constitute the scenario in which the doers had to act. And it was later on in my reading that I realized that when she was surveying the big powers she was actually developing these continuous and broad themes as well.Her account of the last years moves fast and dynamically. One feels the anxiety of impending doom as one peels off the last sheets of the calendar and we approach the abyss when that fatal 4th of August faces us. Her epilogue is a welcomed survey of what happened to the main personalities as some fell into the void while others didn’t.One can easily guess that Macmillan is a pacifist. And her final thesis is that the war need not have happened. For even if her account follows the logic of events that seem to lead you in a deterministic path, she insists that the final failure was the inability to stand up to those who said there was no choice left but to go to war. There are always choices.Macmillan considers that a certain amount of blundering took place all along leading Europe to the war. So, after all, and in spite of my first impression, she and Clark do not seem to disagree. Blundering...Sleepwalking. What is the difference?In an interview Margaret Macmillan said that President Kennedy, when he was advised by his military that he should send the missiles during the Cuban crisis, decided not to because his recent read of The Guns of August had made him think otherwise.I was also then relieved to learn that Angela Merkel has lately read Sleepwalkers, and hopefully will have read Macmillan's account as well for these two books complement each other so well. In spite of our current complacency, with the current Crimea crisis we want our political leaders to walk and discern in full alertness.

  • Matt
    2019-05-11 20:50

    Lately, those around me have discovered something disconcerting: my attempts to shift all conversation to the topic of the First World War. I can’t help it; I’m obsessed. At dinner, if my wife asks me about my day, I reply: “Better than the English on the first day of the Somme.” When my little daughter says, “Dada, milk,” I tell her she’s as helpless as an Austro-Hungarian field marshal. At the bar, when others try to talk about the National Football League, I’m busy trying to kick-start an exchange on the League of Nations. It didn’t used to be this way. Just a couple years ago, World War I was simply something I ignored while reading about World War II. Now, though, it’s a topic I can’t get enough of. The personalities! The miscalculations! The repercussions! World War I was a true fork in the road of world history. Had it not occurred, things today would be unimaginably different. With the centennial of World War I’s opening salvos less than a year away, this is a great time to get interested. Publishers are releasing a glut of new books timed to take advantage of the upcoming anniversary. Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace is one of these releases. It covers the first fourteen years of the 20th century and ends just as Germany invades Belgium. (This invasion was somehow the result of the assassination of an Austrian archduke in a Bosnian city by a Serbian assassin. It’s entirely illogical and complex until you’ve read your fifth or sixth book on the subject. Afterwards, it’s still illogical and complex, but you will be able to explain it to your disinterested friends after you’ve consumed a bottle of wine). MacMillan previously wrote a well-received book on the post-war Peace Conference called Paris 1919. That volume did not start until the guns fell silence. In this book, she covers the years of tremulous “peace” in Europe, before the guns started firing. This was a time of new alliances, rearranged power dynamics, and small, local conflicts that either a) made likely peace could be maintained through treaty and the threat of force or b) made war absolutely inevitable.This territory has been covered before. One of my favorite books, Robert Massie’s Dreadnought, covers all the same beats: the German naval buildup; the formation of the Entente Cordiale; the Moroccan crises; etc. Like Massie, one of MacMillan’s great strengths as a writer is her biographical sketches of the figures – both well-known and obscure – who move across the cluttered stage. Usually with just a paragraph or two, she perceptively (and entertainingly) fleshes out the people whose decisions cumulatively moved Europe towards its cataclysm. This skill is priceless, because these people are characters. They run a ridiculous gamut of complexities and contradictions. The hysterical Kaiser Wilhelm, so much like the schoolyard bully, always talking tough, usually backing down. The tragically dim Nicholas II, who would have been better off as a village postmaster, seeking solace in his happy marriage while his nation dissolved internally. The ludicrous Count Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, who eagerly sought a war as a way to convince his mistress to divorce her husband and marry him. These are people too outré to have actually existed. But they did. And no matter how many times I read about them, it’s still interesting. Unlike other writers, who have taken a standard, chronological approach, MacMillan’s book is more thematic and analytical. She starts in 1900, at the Paris Exposition, and uses this hopeful moment to set the scene for all that is to come.Germany’s pavilion was surmounted by a statue of a herald blowing a trumpet, suitable perhaps, for the newest of the great European powers. Inside was an exact reproduction of Frederick the Great’s library; tactfully, the Germans did not focus on his military victories, many of them over France. The western façade hinted, though, at a new rivalry, the one which was developing between Germany and the world’s greatest naval power, Great Britain: a panel showed a stormy sea with sirens calling and had a motto rumored to be written by Germany’s ruler, Kaiser Wilhelm II, himself: “Fortune’s star invites the courageous man to pull up anchor and throw himself into the conquest of the waves.” Elsewhere at the Exposition were reminders of the rapidly burgeoning power of a country that had only come into existence in 1871; the Palace of Electricity contained a giant crane from Germany that could lift 25,000 kilos… Subsequent chapters tend to focus on a single area, covering that matter in-depth, rather than parsing out the discussion throughout a longer, book-length narrative. For instance, MacMillan devotes a chapter each to Great Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Entente Cordiale between Great Britain and France, and the relationship between England and Russia. There is an entire chapter devoted to the war plans of the various countries, giving you several different perspectives from the inside looking out. (And there are so many perspectives! A Great Britain that exists only because of its naval supremacy, jealously guarding that prerogative; a France that has already lost chunks of territory to its eastern neighbor; a Germany that feels surrounded by potential enemies, one of which – Russia – could someday be overwhelmingly strong… All this added up to a bias in favor of offensive, rather than defensive war)The problem confronting [Chief of Staff Alfred von Schlieffen] was that the alliance between France and Russia which was developing throughout the 1890s presented Germany with the nightmare possibility of war on two fronts. Germany could not afford to divide its forces to fight all-out wars on both of those fronts so it would have to engage in a holding action on one side while it struck hard on the other to gain a quick victory. “Germany must strive, therefore,” he wrote, “first, to strike down one of these allies while the other is kept occupied; but then when the one antagonist is conquered, it must, by exploiting its railroads, bring a superiority of numbers to the other theater of war, which will destroy the other enemy.” While he initially thought of striking first at Russia, Schlieffen had changed his mind by the turn of the century: Russia was strengthening its forts to give it a strong defensive line running north to south through its Polish territories and building railways which would make it easier to bring up reinforcements…It made sense, therefore, for Germany to stay on the defensive in the east and deal with Russia’s ally France first.At some point, around page 400, the book clicks into a narrative gear. From that moment on, MacMillan takes us – rather briskly – through the growing number of flare-ups that heightened tensions between the powers, and created expectations among leaders and diplomats, that eventually resulted in war. Those flare-ups include two Moroccan crises (with Germany and France vying for colonial influence) and the two Balkan Wars (which excited the pan-Serbian sentiments that helped fuel Gavrilo Princip on his way to Sarajevo). Having read several different versions of this same story, I found I really enjoyed MacMillan’s presentation. By carefully frontloading the background information (the political organizations, the geography, the economics), she is able to bring better clarity to obscure little moments that had profound consequences. Take, for example, the Agadir Crisis. When I first started reading about World War I, I couldn’t understand how a single German gunboat (the Panther) sailing into a Moroccan port could bring two nations (Germany and France) to the brink of war. Here, however, MacMillan has already explained the geopolitical context so well (from the perspectives of both nations, their leaders, their diplomats, and their public sentiments) that it all makes a certain amount of sense (if you squint real hard). Since this time-period is already well-covered ground, it’s important to factor literary merits into the value equation. On the whole, I found MacMillan to be a wonderful writer. I’ve already mentioned her historical portraiture. She is also good at finding small, illuminating details.At times, oddly enough, she will deliver a really clunky sentence. For a person who works at Oxford, she doesn’t really utilize the Oxford comma, which makes for some strange run-on sentences. Other sentences will have the exact opposite problem, with commas and clauses strewn like barbed wire, snagging the reader’s eye. In other words, the book is not seamless in quality. The generally high quality makes the bad writing stick out all the worse. MacMillan also has a tendency to relate things to the present-day, or to other historical moments. Since she wrote a book on Nixon and Mao, there are a lot of allusions to Nixon and Mao. Analogies can be a useful thing, but since she never develops them, they come off as facile. There is also a distinct lack of space devoted to the Balkans itself, which generated the spark that lit the powder keg. I think I’m probably sensitive to this, since I just recently finished Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers, which pretty much tells this same story, except with the focus on Serbia. Even so, MacMillan could have spent more time on this matter, and I wish she had. World War I is a daunting event to read about. For years I avoided it, preferring the black-hat-white-hat simplicity of World War II. (Nazis = Bad; Americans = Hell yeah!). Reading more about the subject does not necessarily make it less complex or more understandable. But it does make those complexities into something of a virtue. The road to World War I is a rich historical tale, and The War That Ended Peace tells it very well.

  • Lizzy
    2019-05-02 23:08

    Margaret MacMillian’sThe War That Ended Peace: The Road To 1914 could not be better. I have to confess that when I opened the first page I was practically ignorant as to what caused the Great War. I only remember from high school that the war and specifically that the invasion by Belgium by Germany was the result of the assassination of an Austrian archduke, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Serbian assassin. I did not know all the personalities involved, or the intricacies of the alliances that helped push for the conflict, that set in a motion a destruction machine that was virtually unstoppable and lasted four years killing roughly 20 million people, with repercussion that extend to the present. According to MacMillian it can be traced back to almost everything the world became in its worst: WWII, Communism, artillery warfare, arms races, and a divided mercurial world. The questioning of whether war could be avoided, assuming decision makers had made different choices at crucial moments, guided MacMillian to deliver a remarkable analysis of the years prior to 1914 to unravel the scenario of that time to answer the question of what led to the end of peace:“We also remember the Great War because it was such a puzzle. How could Europe have done this to itself and to the world? There are many possible explanations; indeed, so many that it is difficult to choose among them. For a start the arms race, rigid military plans, economic rivalry, trade wars, imperialism with its scramble for colonies, or the alliance system dividing Europe into unfriendly camps. Ideas and emotions often crossed national boundaries: nationalism with its unsavoury riders of hatred and contempt for others; fears, of loss or revolution, of terrorists and anarchists; hopes, for change or a better world; the demands of honour and manliness which meant not backing down or appealing weak; or Social Darwinism which ranked human societies as if they were species and which promoted a faith not merely in evolution and progress but in the inevitability of struggle. And what about the role of individual nations and their motivations: … How did these all play their part in keeping Europe’s long peace or moving it towards war?“From the optimistic climate of the 1900 Paris Exposition MacMillian relieves the next 14 years in its more bewildering events, but what I found particularly insightful was the analysis of the main figures that tragically lead to events that could have perhaps be prevented, if not for their weakness and intrinsic conflicts. “Forces, ideas, prejudices, institutions, conflicts, all are surely important. Yet that still leaves the individuals, not in the end that many of them, who had to say yes, go ahead and unleash war, or no, stop.” There was the Kaiser Wilheim of Germany, the tsar of Russia and the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, while other leaders (the President of France, the Prime Ministers of Britain and Italy), were inserted in constitutional regimes.“It was Europe’s and the world’s tragedy in retrospect that none of the key players in 1914 were great and imaginative leaders who had the courage to stand out against the pressures building up for war.”Not a Churchill as an influential figure existed like in in the 1930's, with insight and sagacity to see what Hitler was about prior to WWII, and despite that already in Parliament could do nothing besides persistently warning of the danger ahead, as he had no power to drive Britain in a different direction. So it seems to show that not only the presence of more fitting and prepared individuals, but the circunstances are essencial to the outcome of history. For me, as a beginner, one of MacMillan’s great strengths as a writer was how she paints the individual sketches of the figures – both well-known and obscure – who move across the cluttered stage. Usually with just a paragraph or two, she perceptively (and entertainingly) fleshes out the people whose decisions cumulatively moved Europe towards its cataclysm. This skill is priceless, when dealing with historical characters. Her objects here present a ridiculous gamut of complexities and contradictions. The hysterical Kaiser Wilhelm, so much like the schoolyard bully, always talking tough, usually backing down. The tragically dim Nicholas II, who would have been better off as a village postmaster, seeking solace in his relatively happy marriage while his nation dissolved internally. The ludicrous Count Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, who apparently eagerly sought the war as a way to convince his mistress to divorce her husband and marry him. Besides many others. These are people too outré to have actually existed. But they did. And no matter how many times I read about them, there is always more to learn.It is important that I fully enjoyed this amazing book! Despite its own reward, the fact that it was my reintroduction to non-fiction, after a period dedicated to fiction, reading of the theme was the trigger to further my interests. Since them I have been relishing every time I read about both wars, and could say I am feeling a little more knowledgeable to have a better a perception of the World Wars. It was an excellent beginning. 5 plus stars for Margaret MacMillian’s The War That Ended Peace: The Road To 1914, highly recommended for anyone that enjoys history, nonfiction books or simply high-quality books!

  • Joseph
    2019-05-22 01:13

    The War That Ended The Peace:The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan is the history that lead to the first world war and started the twentieth century. MacMillan originally from Toronto, Canada is a historian and professor at Oxford University, where she also earned her PhD. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Fellow at St. Anthony’s College, and Senior Fellow At Massey College. She is the author of several book including: Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the World, The Uses and Abuses of History, and Women of the Raj.World War I is the beginning of the twentieth century. It is the starting point of everything the twentieth century became; all the major events can be traced back to it: WWII, Communism, mechanized warfare, air power, arms races, and a bipolar world. People always ask what started the war? A Serbian radical? Alliances? MacMillan poses a different question: What ended the Peace? Europe was enjoying a time of prosperity, growth, and most importantly peace. Why would war break out?Two issues of the many brought out in the book struck me as something I never put much thought in to before. First, the issue of defensive alliances. Entangling alliances is often cited as a reason for the war. France had a secret alliance with Russia to respond if either was attacked. Germany and Austria-Hungary had the same type of treaty. England enjoyed Splendid Isolation, playing the role of a balancing power in the alliance game. Alliances did drag all the players into war. Like dominoes knocking dominoes over, they all fell. It was not so much alliances that caused the problem as MacMillan points out. NATO helped keep the peace for for almost half a century. It was the players more so than the alliances. NATO was not worried that Italy would unilaterally act and attack Czechoslovakia and likewise there was no fear in the Warsaw Pact that East Germany would unilaterally attack West Germany. The players were responsible. The West under pressure to keep peace by democratically elected governments and the East from, perhaps, the recognition that war would only hurt. The players were not as responsible in 1914; responsible defensive alliances work.Secondly, one of the key points of the modern Liberal Theory of international relations is that increased trade creates strong alliances: trading partners do not go to war against each other. Increased trade does seem to create prosperity. Before the start of the war prosperity was growing inside the great powers. Trade between Germany and England more than doubled in the pre-war years. Trade, however, did little to prevent war in Europe. The War That Ended the Peace is an extremely detailed study of the years leading to the Great War. MacMillan does an excellent job detailing the events and the people. Her work is very well documented. The book will take the reader down the road that started with the promise of the 1900 Paris Exposition and the ends with war and how that seemed impossible. A must read for any WWI historian. MacMillan really examines the important question, not what started the war, but rather what ended the peace.

  • Sue
    2019-05-10 19:53

    In the days following July 24, 1914, every domino fell in just the right way so that war became the only possible outcome. Margaret MacMillan's great success is outlining how that all developed over the preceding years throughout Europe and the European nations' worldwide interests. As MacMillan states at the end of this brilliant work:We must remember, as the decision-makers did, what had happened before that last crisis of 1914 and what they had learned from the Moroccan crises, the Bosnian one, or the events of the First Balkan Wars. Europe's very success in surviving those earlier crises paradoxically led to a dangerous complacency in the summer of 1914 that, yet again,solutions would be found at the last moment and peace would be maintained. But it wasn't. There were remaining feelings, slights, territorial disputes, desires to assert sovereignty and royal power. The scramble of messages between leaders and various state officials during that final two weeks was furious and educational. In 1914 Europe's leaders failed it either by deliberately opting for war or by not finding the strength to oppose it.MacMillan provides a historical approach delving back into the 19th century for the roots of the relationships between the various European nations and territories as well as their relationships with colonies in Africa and elsewhere and other countries such as Japan and the United States. While this might sound unwieldy, it works very well. We see each country's developing sense of self (or lack); the growth of industry and it's effects; the wonderful Paris Exposition and it's reflection of the social, economic, political and artistic sense of the time; the advent and demise of various leaders who might have altered the future of Europe: the development of peace movements and workers' rights movements.In her final comment, MacMillan states:...if we want to point fingers from the twenty-first century we can accuse those who took Europe into war of two things. First, a failure of imagination in not seeing how destructive such a conflict would be be and second, their lack of courage to stand up to those who said therewas no choice left but to go to war. There are alwayschoices.I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to read a history on the background and beginning of World War One. MacMillan has provided an excellent, wide-ranging text that surpassed my expectations.A very strong 5A copy of this book was received from the publisher through NetGalley for the purpose of review.

  • happy
    2019-05-20 19:07

    I found this volume to be an excellent look at the 25 yrs or so leading up to the Great War and how Europe drifted into war. Professor MacMillan looks at each of the five main powers in Europe and how events and the personalities of the major people in those countries affected the steps that lead to war.The author looks at each of the major powers in Europe and traces the developments that led the alliances and from there to war. She looks the pressures each country was under and how they affected the choices their respective leaders made. In looking at these pressures, the author details how both technological advances, national pride and the attendant rivalries with the other major powers, as well internal politics caused the various leaders to make decisions that came back to haunt them in the summer of 1914.Prof MacMillan gives a good overview of the various diplomatic crisi that occurred between 1890 in Africa and the Balkan States and the assassination of the Austrian heir in June of 1914, many of which came close to causing a general war, that gave rise to the feeling in Europe’s capitals that somehow we will muddle through without a general war breaking out. She also gives good sketches of the various countries leaders. I think the best sketch is her portrayal of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. From his dismissal of the great Bismarck to the outbreak of war, he seems to be the proverbial bull in a china shop. His meddling in foreign affairs and insistence on build an ocean going navy to rival Britain drove Britain to settle her differences with France and if not an outright alliance, a very close working military relationship between the two countries. She compares him to Mr. Toad when he gets a motor car in the children’s classic “Wind in the Willows”. Toad thinks he knows how to drive, but is completely clueless and no one can tell him anything. Wilhelm thinks he is consumate diplomat, and nobody is willing to tell him otherwise.The author’s discussion of the development of the military plans and their inflexibility is also very well done. As the rivalries and alliances became more entrenched the dependence on the General Staff’s mobilization plans and the various army’s independence from their gov’ts control drove the march to war. Prof MacMillan’s telling of the armies and navies rivalries and their failure conduct joint planning is eye opening.The only problem I had with it is nitpicking at best. When discussing the naval arms race, the author sometimes gets confused on terminology and ship classes. This doesn’t detract from here excellent analysis however.Is summary the author has given the readers a superb look at how by 1914, Europe blundered into a war that nobody really wanted and nobody could stop. 4.25 stars rounded down to 4 for Goodreads.

  • Kim
    2019-05-19 20:05

    It's taken me an extraordinarily long time to listen to this audiobook. This was mostly because the edition I acquired from didn't download properly, stopped playing about twenty one chapters in and I then listened to another book before going back to fix the problem. In any event, I've now finished listening to all 31 hours and 34 minutes of the book and I've come to a conclusion. Much as I love listening to audiobooks, I'll think twice before listening to rather than reading any more non-fiction, or at least, to any more history. This wasn't my first experience of listening to a non-fiction audiobook, but it was my first experience of listening to such a dense, fact-focused work. Listening was my choice: it was the least expensive way for me to acquire the book and the quickest for me to listen to a very long work. (Or at least it would have been but for the technology fail.) However, I missed being able to read footnotes /endnotes. I missed being able to easily remind myself of who's who by flicking back a few pages. I missed seeing photographs. I missed reading a bibliography. Another drawback of this particular audiobook was the narrator, Richard Burnip. He was so slow that for the first time ever I listened to a book on double speed, or at least on 1.5 x speed. Added to Mr Burnip's slowness of speech was his annoying habit of pronouncing "Quai d'Orsay" as "Kye d'Orsay". Every time he said it - and not surprisingly, it's a phrase that comes up reasonably often in a work about the origins of WWI - I winced. As for the work itself, others have written excellent reviews about its content and there's no point in me repeating what has been said in much better reviews than I could write. Suffice to say that MacMillan is an excellent writer and that what she writes about the origins of WWI is both interesting and sobering. Wars may be fought differently today, but the role of such factors as political and territorial ambitions, over-inflated egos, accidents and mistakes as contributors to war is still relevant today. So five stars for the book itself, two stars for the audiobook. I'm relieved that I finally finished it.

  • Sebastien
    2019-05-15 02:51

    WWI is just fascinating. I've been trying to learn more about this period as I see it as a grand operatic tragedy, full of lessons, parallels, and warnings for us contemporary folk. I tend to have a bit more knowledge of the War itself than the events preceding, so this was a very useful and informative read for me.First off, I think this book is excellent. It is very readable, well-written, and actually quite exhaustive. Lord only knows how much research went into this thing, the depth and breadth here is impressive. I don't think many writers can pull off such history at this level of quality. MacMillan also draws out interesting sketches of all the various personalities and characters, which makes the book more readable because you feel a certain intimacy and understanding of these people.Anyways, I'm going into this book feeling relatively confident. I've been learning more and more about this era, and one of the problems I still have is I get lost in all the intricacies, the various rotating cast of characters and personalities, the internal politics, international incidents, and double-dealing diplomacy. But that will not happen this time I promised myself. No, not this time! I got this, gonna really focus and not get lost in the underground warrens of this thing, just because there are 20 French guys all with similar sounding names that seem to rhyme with "jambon," no, that will not intimidate me. They (who is they? I don't know, but they're def trying) can't stop me and my increasing comprehension and domination of WWI.But you know, WWI is just too crazy, and it always happens like this: a solid feeling of comprehension envelops me as I'm getting a handle on some Austro-Hungarian foreign diplomat, I'm understanding his background, his possible motivations, his machinations, his biscuit-eating habits, and then *POOF* he is dismissed by a grouchy leader or dies and now he is gone from the matrix. NOOOOOO, don't do this to me! And of course he is replaced by some guy with a confusingly similar name and probably the same goddamn mustache and vastly different biscuit-eating habits. At least that's how it all feels. The general vibe though is all these various characters are doing their little machinations, and all I can think is stop being so confusing and being so bad. You guys are wrecking everything!!! (and you're confusing me in the process which is the greater crime!)Of course remembering each individual character isn't critical, my main goal was to get a feel for how things unfurled, how the international diplomacy was functioning and how the internal politics in the various countries was evolving. How did the situation spin out of control to such a degree? how did Europe manage to squander so much life, wealth, power on such a pointless tragedy? It's a true testament to the capacity for folly we humans harbor. A lot of people helped push things in the wrong direction, not always willfully, but a good amount operated in bad faith and with darker motives and lack of imagination as to potential consequences. Random thing: did you know Lord Asquith was quite busy during his role in leadership sending long turgid love letters to his mistress? spilling state secrets and talking endlessly about her pet penguins and stuff like that. Maybe he should've focused on training those pet penguins, teach them ninja-skills and the art of war. Would've been the smart and cool thing to do, an army of ninja penguins. Suffice it to say those penguins didn't do #@!$ during the war because Asquith was not a visionary. At the end of the day, this book helped me learn quite a bit. As with many of the things I read, I wish I could've assimilated more of the info, but I think if I keep reading on this subject I will gradually keep building a stronger knowledge foundation.Sidenote: I think the closest historical parallel to Trump is Kaiser Wilhelm II. Obviously I have limits in my knowledge of history, but so far he is the one I connect most to Trump. Maybe Mussolini too but tbh I don't know enough about him to make a solid comparison, although superficially it seems like it is there. Kaiser Wilhelm II is a freaking brat, Joffrey-lite, I don't have many good things to say about him hehe.

  • Dimitri
    2019-05-20 02:59

    The bibliography of the origins of WWI, much like its subject, is vast beyond comprehension. Therefor I was not expecting much of the centenial literary avalanche. Margaret MacMillan was a forerunner and felt overhyped, in spite of her laudable credentials (Peacemakers). I'm pleasantly surprised to see the book live up to the fanfare. The story in itself is familiar, with the Anglo-German race as its starting point. It's spiced up with the usual array of anecdotes pulled from memoirs & diaries, some often used before and some less so. Episodes such as the Bosnian crisis of 1908 however, get more coverage than is usual, providing an even depth. Where MacMillan shines, in the vein of Christopher Clark, is in the atmosphere. Throughout she preserves a sense of evitability. The decision makers on each side routinely view their own actions and alliances as defensive and, tough conscious of the rewards to reap after victory, project an aggresive anxiety upon their opponent. It stops the text from leading the reader in clear lineair fashion from crisis to crisis down to the outbreak of hostilities in july 1914. At one point 1914 is considered by contemporaries to be the most quiet year in a while, following a rapid series of almost Pan-European wars. Which brings me to the fatalism that counterbalances in curious fashion the Realpolitik, paranoia & relief that pervade the decades before the world crisis. Hopefully the next crisis could be avoided; if not, it's best to get things over with. The exact mix of emotions was tied to the respective declining or improving military upper hand of each nation, but all chose the same outcome in the end. Whether sleepwalking or running off a cliff.

  • Clif Hostetler
    2019-05-18 22:11

    This book describes the complex mosaic of history, politics, personalities, relationships, institutions, and ideas that developed and interacted with each other through the 19th century and into the 20th century that then lead to a set of circumstances in Europe that caused the nation’s leaders to see no alternative to war. Thus World War began 100 years ago in 1914. The book contains parallel histories of the various European countries and tries to provide an understanding of those individuals who had to make the choices between war and peace. Their strengths and weaknesses, their loves, hatreds and biases are all explored. The book describes the world they lived in and its assumptions including what people of the time had learned from previous crises.Ironically, the long stretch of 100 years between the Napoleonic Wars to WWI of relative peace (Franco-Prussian War, Austro-Prussian War, 1st and 2nd Balkan Wars were all over within a couple months) and the fact the previous conflicts had been resolved through negotiations led to a complacent assumption that the next conflict would be solved without war. Hidden under this complacency were dissatisfactions regarding the compromises that had come from the negotiations that had settled previous crises."What was dangerous for the future was that each of Austria-Hungary and Russia was left thinking that threats might work again. Or, and this was equally dangerous, they decided that next time they would not back down." (p.499)Thus when the assassination in Sarajevo occurred and Austria made impossible demands of Serbia in retaliation, nobody was inclined to back down. The multiple alliances that had developed over the years complicated matters."By 1914 the alliances, rather than acting as brakes on their members, were too often pushing the accelerators. (p. 531)"The following are some of my observations about the history described by this book:KAISER WILHELM'S PERSONALITYKaiser Wilhelm II was not a pleasant person to be around. He was loud, impulsive and had a juvenile sense of humor. He selected his advisers and top government positions, and I believe they reflected his personality. I believe this partly explains why German foreign policies tended to be aggressive and confrontational. COLONIAL FEVERAll the European countries at the time seemed to think that the rest of the world was made for them to colonize. Since Germany was late to form as a united country they felt like they hadn't gotten their share. This also contributed to German aggressiveness in foreign affairs.KIEL CANALIt is no coincidence that the war began in the same year that work on widening the Kiel Canal was finished. The widening of the canal allowed the passage of Dreadnought-sized battleships to travel from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea without having to go around Denmark. Prior to completion of the project Germany had the mind set that they weren't ready for war. Thus the completion in 1914 may have contributed to Germany giving Austria-Hungary the green light in their confrontation with Serbia. In earlier confrontations (i.e. First and Second Balkan Wars) Germany had encouraged Austria-Hungary to compromise. GERMAN WAR PLAN COULDN'T BE CHANGEDEarly in the mobilization Kaiser Wilhelm asked if Germany could mobilize for war against Russia only and not toward France. He was told by General Moltke that the Schlieffen Plan called for mobilization against both Russia and France and it couldn't be changed. He said mobilization against only Russia would cause widespread chaos. He was probably correct.OFFENSE NO MATCH FOR DEFENSIVE WEAPONSAll the military schools prior to the war seemed to have stressed the doctrine of the offensive in the execution of war. It's ironic that the early 20th century is the one time in history when defensive weapons were relative superior to the offensive tools of war. Machine guns and repeating rifles were effective when used in defense of fixed positions whereas offensive weapons such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, trucks, and attack airplanes were in their infancy. Industrialization had developed the railroads which enabled quick mobilization soldiers. But once they were near the front they needed to use their legs. The result was a defensive war where the trenches hardly moved during its four year duration. This book does a good job of describing a time in history which is not widely understood today. This year we're observing the centennial of the war's beginning, so it deserves to be understood a little better. The following is what the book has to say about the cause of the war. "The Great War was not produced by a single cause but by a combination and, in the end, human decisions."In other words, it's complicated. This is a long book (32 hours in audio format) and once again shows that the more one learns about history the less clear cut become the reasons for directions taken.Here's a link to an excerpt: following short review of this book is from the PageADay Book Lover's Calendar for July 28, 2016:Today's date marks the beginning of World War I in 1914, and this award-winning author offers a masterful explanation of its causes. After the end of the Napoleonic wars, most residents of Europe believed that the future would be peaceful. However, complex personalities, bitter rivalries, and shifting allegiances brought about a new war that was bigger than anything before. The book provides insightful portraits of the major players, including Tsar Nicholas II, King Edward VII, Alfred Nobel, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and a young Winston Churchill. In elegantly written prose, we are shown how the decisions of a few powerful people changed the course of history.THE WAR THAT ENDED PEACE: THE ROAD TO 1914, by Margaret MacMillan (Random House, 2013)

  • Bevan
    2019-04-24 01:54

    The period before World War 1 seems to come into season roughly every generation. A new crop of historians begin to plough the rich field of controversy, blame and nostalgia in search of new insights, or at least to fulfill the insatiable appetite of a new generation of readers. The appeal lies in a number of factors - the complex interaction of events, motives and personalities bears all the fascination of the most gripping of true crimes. Like the Jack the Ripper case, the books and documentaries continue to pour forth. The cycle began soon after the conclusion of hostilities, as participants published studies and document collections designed to deflect blame. The effort was not purely academic as Germany sought to escape the massive reparations demanded at Versailles, underpinned by the famous ‘War Guilt’ clause. The German histories were reinforced by US historians including Harry Barnes and Sidney Fay. He argued that all the powers were to blame. The most significant author arguing against these ‘revisionist’ works was Italian Luigi Albertini who spent almost twenty years writing Le origini della guerra del 1914 (1942). In its English edition it contained over 2000 pages of research and explanations, having interviewed virtually all of the surviving participants in the immediate events of summer 1914. His books are still recognised as one of the best sources. After the Second World War had been digested another generation approached the topic, with the benefit of greater distance. Ironically it was Fritz Fischer, a German historian who became virtually the first historian for decades to put virtually the entire blame for the war on Germany in his landmark work Griff Nach der Weltmacht (1961). He was strongly attacked as a traitor by other German historians. The provocative English historian A J P Taylor argued for a complacent reliance on the old “Concert of Europe” and unstoppable military plans in War By Timetable.The centennial of the war saw an astonishing number of fresh works appear on the subject. Probably Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace is one of the most prominent, although The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark has apparently achieved the most publicity and high sales, especially in Germany where over 200,000 copies are reported to have sold. This is likely to be partially due to Clark’s views being closer to Taylor’s than Fischer’s! A bookshelf could be filled with just some of the other efforts - Sean McMeekin’s The Russian Origins of the First World War and July 1914, Paul Ham’s 1914: The Year The World Ended, Max Hasting’s Catastrophe, David Fromkin’s Europe’s Last Summer, T.G. Otte’s July Crisis. Over coming years I will review and compare some of these works. MacMillan’s book seemed like a good reliable place to begin my quest. Understanding the twentieth century for most people over forty with an interest in history is a gripping pursuit. All of us either personally or through our family have seen the effects of a century of profound change and extraordinary violence. The so-called thirty years war (not a term I personally agree with) hung over the lives of the late Victorians and the ‘great generation’ of the early twentieth century, and despite its destruction also acted as the catalyst for the age of prosperity that followed. Finding the explanation for the carnage of the trenches and the holocaust leads us to July 1914, but one quickly realises that the quest begins earlier.Michael Howard in The Oxford History of the Twentieth Century begins his chapter on the World Wars at the turn of the century with two events that suggested that European world hegemony was under threat - the defeat of Spain by the USA, and the humiliation of Russia by Japan. MacMillan also begins her story in the milieu of 1900 with the Paris Exposition as centrepiece. She describes a world of faith in science and Progress with a capital P. The book then turns to diplomacy. The first few chapters zoom in on Germany and Britain, the leading nations economically and in Germany’s case apparently gripped by jealousy. The book describes how the nascent alliances of 1900 - the Dual Alliance of Austria-Hungary and Germany, the Franco-Russian alliance - became ever more important as crutches of security. Russia relied on French finance. France’s lingering fear of Germany following the Franco-Prussian War lead her to dream of an alliance where she could “lean simultaneously on Russia and England against Germany”. Germany ended up tied to Austria-Hungary almost by default. As a German ambassador said: “How often do I ask myself whether it is really worth it to attach ourselves so firmly to this state which is almost falling apart and to continue the exhausting work of pulling it along with us. But I cannot see any other constellation that could replace … an alliance with the Central European power”.MacMillan expertly ranges through the great powers, analysing their power structures, diplomacy, strategic options and the outlook of their leadership. This is old fashioned diplomatic history. We arrive at chapter 9 before we ask “What Were They Thinking?”, an examination of European’s world view. MacMillan makes clear her belief that the decisions for and against war “were made by a surprisingly small number, and those men - few women played a role - came largely but not entirely from the upper classes”. Most of the chapter focusses on the elite - the arts, philosophy and in particular social darwinism. Nationalism and imperialism were natural outgrowths of elite obsessions with power and vitality. Militarism and war became glamourous.MacMillan then explores social movements and beliefs in more detail - the peace movements and conversely the military planners. “A general war, fought at the heart of Europe, was becoming thinkable”. Again we focus on that ‘small number’ - intellectuals, financiers and the peace movement. Most of the countries of western Europe by this time had (or close to had) universal male suffrage. MacMillan spends a few pages on the Second International which through some member parties such as the SPD in Germany had a mass membership. This coverage is good, but again focusses on the leadership. One of the problems with this approach to history emphasising the individual and diplomacy is the risk of ignoring the masses. Perhaps this isn’t so serious in this period when we know that the final decision-making was taken by Presidents, Foreign Secretaries, Emperors and General Staffs. It does seem important though to consider what the views of the majority were, what influence they had through the limited democratic process and to what extent they impacted upon decision making. The sense from the book is very little but I would have liked to see a bit more consideration of this, even if the conclusion was that the ‘great man’ theory in looking at the end of peace is entirely justified.And so from the war plans we move to the final eight chapters, a rich and detailed narrative of the crises, Sarajevo assassination and the end of the “Concert of Europe”. The impression of bluster and of crises averted is built up deftly and makes the complacency of summer 1914 (above all that of British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey) comprehensible. The length of time from the assassination to the outbreak of war, usually brushed over, is revealed in full as a month of slow, contingent and unpredictable developments. I was almost on the edge of my seat at the end of July as German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg suggested that Germany would not take any territory from France after the war, and would respect Belgium’s integrity after the war. I think MacMillan is a little kind in even suggesting that this might have been a genuine attempt at avoiding a general war. Most of the German and Austro-Hungarian diplomacy in July seems disingenuous. This is not to say that others were faultless. Doubtless Grey’s opaqueness with regards to Britain’s intentions betrayed uncertainty and left an opening for Germany to engage in wishful thinking. MacMillan’s excellent Introduction supplies most of the interpretation in the book, as well as her attitude to the past and its study. “Very little in history is inevitable”, “the part played in human affairs by mistakes, muddle or simply poor timing”, “inertia, memories of past clashes or fear of betrayal”, “a fundamentally weak character”. She certainly doesn’t ignore “the arms race, rigid military plans, economic rivalry, trade wars, imperialism with its scramble for colonies, or the alliance systems dividing Europe into unfriendly camps”. The book does tend though to reinforce the importance of the character and decisions of individuals, chance and the course of events. MacMillan does find some factors “more culpable” (blameworthy?) than others - Austria-Hungary’s intense desire to punish Serbia, Germany’s uncompromising backing of her, Russia’s haste to mobilise. More profitable however is the deeper examination of the previous couple of decades to identify why in summer 1914, with yet another crisis, war instead of continued peace was chosen. This book is an excellent source of information and explanation to understanding the reasons behind that decision.

  • Jennifer
    2019-05-16 02:10

    I'm kind of tempted to add this to my 'too-stupid-to-live' shelf, though that's actually intended for poorly constructed fictional characters. You can't spend 600-odd pages with the powers of pre-World War I Europe without feeling that you've fallen down a rabbit hole of stupidity, populated by armies of Tweedle Dums and Tweedle Dees. MacMillan does a good job of interweaving all the various crises, treaties, alliances, and threats, and if the fact that the war happened still doesn't make sense, at least it's possible to see the failure of imagination on the part of rulers, governments, and diplomats that made it possible. This is also probably the strongest presentation of the situation in the Balkans that I've come across. The War That Ended Peace is a meaty and fascinating work. If the writing is occasionally less elegant than, say, Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower, it is still a worthwhile entry into this particular field of study.Also, Kaiser Wilhelm II: craziest absolute monarch ever, or craziest absolute monarch OF ALL TIME? Seriously, this book would have been worth reading solely for the anecdote about Wilhelm having portraits of himself done as a paladin in shining armor, sword raised to protect various cowering nations with whom he wanted alliances. Shockingly, the foreign officials receiving these gifts were less than overwhelmed with gratitude.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-05-22 03:06

    (view spoiler)[Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  • RK-ique
    2019-05-19 22:11

    I was certain that I had written a review of this book when I read it. No trace of one here now. Just to say that I am a big fan of MacMillan's. As in Paris, 1919, in The War That Ended Peace, she uses detailed information of the individuals involved to build an overall picture of the years, months and, specifically, days leading up to the event. She is not looking to assign blame on any one person or country. She is presenting a panorama of how the players, generally through their own hubris, stumbled into a war that was destructive to them all. This is an example of academic excellence applied to a topic for general consumption. Recommended for everyone.

  • Camille Stein
    2019-05-20 19:45

    Soberbio ensayo sobre la Primera Guerra Mundial y sus desencadenantes: un recordatorio de que, independientemente de las circunstancias peculiares que concurrieron en el estallido de aquel conflicto, muchos de los problemas de la vieja Europa, sus raíces y esencias, siguen sin duda presentes y latentes en la actualidad. Margaret MacMillan: “La gran pregunta es por qué no se mantuvo la paz”

  • Connie
    2019-05-22 22:50

    Margaret MacMillan begins her book about the events leading up to World War I with the Paris Exposition of 1900. It celebrated the best in arts, sciences, and technology around the world. But new technology also fueled an arms race, especially between naval powers, and created weapons that led to an enormous loss of life in the Great War.The major players in the world events are brought to life with interesting quotes, pictures, and cartoons from the era. The book discusses how the creation of alliances, while important in defense, also had a threatening effect. Germany felt surrounded, and aggressively considered going to war before their neighbors built up their military strength. Colonial powers divided up the world to obtain natural resources and good ports for commerce without regard for the native people. Crises in Morocco and the Balkans had to be dealt with in the early part of the century. Nationalism was brewing in Serbia and the other Balkan nations. Elaborate war plans were drawn up by the great European nations, and illustrated in the book's excellent maps. Then Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist.MacMillan does not point her finger at just one nation as the cause of World War I, but gives a balanced view of events. One wonders if peace would have been negotiated with a different group of people creating foreign policy. MacMillan seems to feel that there was a rush to war in the final weeks before August 4, 1914 without other options being seriously considered. She ends her book by writing, "If we want to point fingers from the twenty-first century we can accuse those who took Europe into war of two things. First, a failure of imagination in not seeing how destructive such a conflict would be and second, their lack of courage to stand up to those who said there was no choice left but to go to war. There are always choices."

  • Laura
    2019-05-19 01:59

    From BBC Radio 4: 1914 Day by Day:Margaret Macmillan chronicles the events leading up to the First World War. Each episode draws together newspaper accounts, diplomatic correspondence and private journals from the same day exactly one hundred years ago, giving a picture of the world in 1914 as it was experienced at the time.The series tracks the development of the European crisis day by day, from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand through to the first week of the conflict. As well as the war, it gives an insight into the wider context of the world in 1914 including the threat of civil war in Ireland, the sensational trial of Madame Caillaux in France and the suffragettes' increasingly violent campaign for votes for women.Margaret Macmillan is professor of international history at Oxford University.

  • Blair
    2019-05-12 18:49

    Did It Really Have To Happen?Margaret MacMillan wants to challenge our tendency to think that just because something happened in the past, it was therefore inevitable. Before the war, Europe had achieved unprecedented power and prosperity without any major wars for a century. She contends that the so-called "War to End Wars" was really the "War That Ended Peace". Could that peace have continued? Could we have avoided the outcome that created the twin evils of fascism and communism, and led to the second war that was really the completion of the first?The lessons about what led to the end of the first long peace may be relevant to those of us who are living in this era of the second long peace. Reading this book, we are often reminded of parallels to the present time. Today’s center of conflict has shifted from the edge of the failing Ottoman Empire in Eastern Europe to the center of that former empire in the Middle East. Again we see shifting alliances of multiple powers swirling around a flashpoint, this time Syria. It is useful to have some perspective from the past.Terror and Self-DoubtThis book excels in painting a picture of how people were thinking and reacting the events that eventually led to the first war. For example,“In an unsettling parallel with our own times, there was considerable anxiety about terrorists who were implacable enemies of Western society yet who lived anonymously in its midst. No one knew how many terrorists there were or how strong or widespread their networks. All that was known was that they seemed to strike at will and the police had only limited success in catching them.”They were more successful than today’s terrorists, in that between 1890 and 1914 heads of state in many major countries were assassinated, including the president of the United States. Ordinary people were also targeted, the “good little bourgeois who were satisfied with things the way they were”. More unsettling was the fact they came from within their society, whereas today we can pin extremism on something external called “Islam”. But many of these people are recent converts, and their motives are hard to distinguish from the 19th century anarchists.There was a more insidious fear too, that perhaps the terrorists were right, that Western society was thoroughly corrupt and decadent and ought to the thrown into the dustbin of history. Or else the time had come to reinvigorate the nation and make it ready to fight for its existence. Better start the war soon, before the steadily improving standards of living increase the instinct of self-preservation and diminish the spirit of self-sacrifice. Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, makes the same point, except that he thinks the resulting decline in violence is a good thing.The very speed of social change itself was supposedly unsettling the human nervous system. Men were getting weaker, even effeminate, in the modern world and masculine values and strength were no longer valued. And homosexuality was on the increase, particularly among the upper classes. That would surely undermine the family, one of the foundations of a strong state. Women, on the other hand, were getting stronger. Were they sucking the life out of men? Strength was seen as a zero-sum game, where one can only get stronger at the expense of someone else. Similarly, one nation getting stronger could only be seen as a threat to the others.Blame it all on NietzscheWhile of course no one person is responsible for the intellectual climate at the time, one seems to stand out:“Nietzsche was brilliant, complicated, and sure that he was right. What he was right about is difficult if not impossible to pin down since he wrote copiously and frequently contradicted himself. What drove him on was a conviction that Western civilization had gone badly wrong. His targets included positivism, bourgeois conventions, Christianity and indeed all organized religion, perhaps all organization itself. He was against capitalism and modern industrial society, and ‘the herd people’ it produced. Humans, Nietzsche told his readers, had forgotten that life was not orderly and conventional, but vital and dangerous.”She adds that, “his work, for all its incoherence and complexity, was riveting to a younger generation who felt they wanted to rebel but were not sure against what.”This may be a simplistic interpretation of Nietzsche. How would I know? I have only read short interpretations of his work. But the point is, how many of the young anarchists terrorizing Europe read and understood the original? Intellectuals with an agenda digest it for them. The message that filters through is everything is bad, so be vital and dangerous. It served as an all-purpose excuse for anyone from anarchists to Nazis.A recurring theme in modern history is that in a peaceful society the intellectuals it educated become bored and want to shake things up. Individuals wanting to be vital and dangerous become anarchists, while nations collectively purify themselves by preparing for war.The Role of Hereditary RulersWe are reminded that only a century ago most countries were led by hereditary autocrats, many of them related to each other. This had the expected (by today’s thinking) consequence of rulers not quite up to their job, who would rather go hunting or yachting than worry about the details of running a state. But an unexpected consequence is that these rulers were often the voices of moderation, resisting the militaristic advice of the politicians. Even the much-maligned Rasputin was a pacifist who advised the Tsar to avoid war. Perhaps a hereditary aristocracy is less willing to roll the dice and risk losing everything. But they are also less willing to make the necessary changes to prevent crises in the first place.Why She Wrote the Book“In 1914 Europe’s leaders failed it either by deliberately opting for war or not finding the strength to oppose it. Over half a century later a young and inexperienced American president faced his own crisis and his own choices. In 1962, when the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, John F. Kennedy was under intense pressure from his own military to take actin even at the risk of all-out war with the Soviet Union. He resisted, partly because he had learned from the previous year’s fiasco at the Bay of Pigs that the military was not always right but also because he had just read The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman’s extraordinary account of how Europe had blundered into the Great War.”I guess she is hoping some future leader will read The War That Ended Peace and think twice about using the military option. After all, she tells us at the end of the book, “We can accuse those who took Europe into war of two things. First, a failure of imagination in not seeing how destructive such a conflict would be, and second, their lack of courage to stand up to those who said there was no choice left but to go to war. There are always choices.”Margaret MacMillan has managed to turn what could be dry politics into what almost reads like an action novel. But we know how it turns out, so maybe it is more of a slow-motion horror story. Either way, it is well worth reading.

  • Jerome
    2019-05-17 01:13

    My first book by MacMillan, and it turned out to be a great read. The history of the First World War has always fascinated and confused me at the same time, and MacMillan has delivered a fine tome to help us understand it all. MacMillan begins her work with a look at the belligerents at the turn of the century as they devised the alliances and nursed the grievances that bring them war. She gives us portraits of the leaders and thinkers who would be confronted with decision in 1914, although the quality of her analysis in those cases range from good to superficial. She also gives a good account of the arms race that all sides thought would avert war and help contain hostilities, but which ended up having the opposite effect. She shows how a European political, military, and alliance system broke down and helped contribute to the war’s outbreak.She also deals with the strategies all the belligerents devised and the flaws and shortcomings in all of them. More importantly, these plans became institutionalized and did little to encourage flexibility when war broke out. They were also mainly offensive plans, and defensive strategy took a backseat as Europe’s statesmen all prepared for a quick victory.MacMillan also deals with all the crises that preceded the outbreak of war, such as Morocco, the Balkans, Libya, and elsewhere. Germany repeatedly found itself outmaneuvered by different alliances of their enemies, leading to several clumsy attempts by Germany to flex its muscles. Theses events usually cemented the alliances of the European powers, and notably, were defused without any of the powers becoming involved in an international conflict. They also desensitized Europe to the notion that local crises could actually result in a European-wide war.She also discusses other factors that led to war: the naval arms race, the treaty agreements that were made or broke down. She also discusses the decline of the Ottoman empire, which led to a Balkan power vacuum that intensified Austro-Russian tensions. MacMillan argues that the arms race between the powers has been exaggerated as a cause of the war. It was mainly the argument of pacifists, who argued that scaling down the arms race would make war more unlikely. In the end, the war was caused by deliberate human decisions, and the arms race was just one of the many factors that led to war. While pacifists deplored militarism, policymakers viewed it as a useful deterrent. MacMillan does not single out any particular actor or state for the outbreak of war and mostly leaves such things for the reader to decide, though she does subtly hint at it being Germany. Sometimes MacMillan makes rather vague statements on the modern-day parallels of the crises back then and those of today. For example, she compares Germany’s support for Austria-Hungary to US support for Israel. She also compares it to the events of 9/11 leading to war in Afghanistan, claiming that the US wanted to do this anyway. This sounds absolutely absurd to me. She compares Ferdinand’s assassination to 9/11, arguing that in its wake, “hardliners” seized “the opportunity to urge what they had advocated all along on President Bush and Prime Minister Blair--the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.” A case could be made for Iraq, but Afghanistan? That country was never very high on the priority list of policymakers before 9/11. Near the end of the book, MacMillan makes some rather odd statements about how 1914 mirrors 21st-century events. She compares 9/11 to the July Crisis and the Kaiser to George W. Bush. While she can make parallels, those events and personalities are so far apart by circumstances, conditions, and history to virtually defy comparison. The book also suffers from poor editing: “Yet that still leaves the individuals, not in the end that many of them, who had to say yes, go ahead and unleash war, or, no ,stop.”She also writes that saying any war is inevitable is “dangerous thinking.” The problem with this statement is that that there is simply no way of telling if anything is inevitable or not. Arguing for or against the inevitability of anything is more pointless than dangerous. One speculate about how a general European war could have been avoided, but it is still just speculation. If an historian wishes to make an argument, then they have to prove it with evidence. There is no way to prove something is not inevitable. I think historians should avoid speculating about how things could have turned out differently and concentrate instead on how it did in fact happen.MacMillan also includes an entire chapter on modernism and the intellectual and cultural trends of the time period. This portion of the book seemed really out of place, although she does vaguely connect it with nationalism and imperialism, far more relevant topics.She gives good treatment to the new international peace movement, which was idealistic to the point of naivety and failed to win much support. “I’ll go along with the conference comedy,” said the Kaiser, “but I’ll keep my dagger at my side during the waltz.” Nationalism was simply too strong to allow pacifism or internationalism to gain broad support among Europe’s populace. Still, a fine addition to the recent contributions to First World War origins literature. Unlike other recent studies of the war by Christopher Clark, Sean McMeekin and Max Hastings, The War That Ended Peace: The Road To 1914 avoids singling out a single culprit, chiefly because there is none.

  • Steven Peterson
    2019-04-26 00:58

    The author has written a book exploring the aftermath of World War 1, "1919." Here, she examines events leading to the outbreak of that same war.She outlines, year by year, developments leading up to worldwide conflict. She tries to answer the question (Page xxv): "How could Europe have done this to itself and the world?" She observes that this is a war that did not have to happen; major powers may well have been able to call the conflict off up until August 4th of 1914 when Great Britain decided to enter the upcoming war. Without using the term, she speaks of "path dependence," in which decision after decision slowly narrows the range of options available. In this instance, as the range diminished, the chance of war increased.The first chapter captures the European situation in 1900. However, the book goes back three decades--with the Franco-Prussian War--to provide context and lay out sources of later friction. The authord describes situations facing a number of key countries: Russia, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Japan, the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire. . . Changes were taking place, with some countries in obvious decline (the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary). Russia's military had been wrecked in its war with Japan.Some of the events and issues that were involved in the run up to war include: The naval buildup between Germany and Great Britain, leading to mistrust between the two; the development of an agreement between Russia and France that led Germany to feel encircled; development of plans for war that depended on mobilization, with an implicit understanding that if someone started mobilizing, one needed to respond or be caught without being ready for conflict; a series of crises, some of which are obscure now but were nerve wracking then--Morocco, Fashoda, the Straits (Bosporus and Dardanelles), the Balkans, the Kiel Canal, Bosnia, and--finally--Franz Ferdinand's assassination in Sarajevo. Up until the last incident, the countries had been able to work out not going into the abyss of war. After Sarajevo? The dominoes began to fall, as countries began mobilizing and promising to come to the aid of their allies (although Italy backed away from its alliance).Overall, this is a nice examination of factors leading to war.

  • Caroline
    2019-04-28 19:01

    To my shame I was unable to read this book. Ordering it from the library in the first place was my own fault. In spite of having a snooze button that is immediate activated by anything to do with war or politics, I just barged ahead and ordered it. Why? Well, it was because of the glowing reviews of my Goodreads' friends....My ultimate pleasure since joining Goodreads has been the number of great reviews I have read, and the number of fantastic books I have been introduced to. But I need to keep a head on my shoulders. I am still me - and in spite of a plethora of ecstatic reviews, I need to remember the basics of what I do and don't like to read.One last issue, and this will really mark me down as an is almost 700 pages long. I can cope with about 200 pages going against the grain, but not 700. I just don't have the stamina for that sort of mid-range marathon, except with books that totally grip me.

  • Kym Robinson
    2019-04-30 19:47

    Another book that infatuates itself with Europe and the idealised civilisation that it pretends to be. A book that focuses on mostly the toll experienced in Europe by Europeans, and a toll of misery and anguish it was.A book that lingers on anecdote and personalities of the great men of history, forsaking the commoner or the blood and bone lost in the mud as being muck to be pulped into histories stew. It is a book that fixates on Europe and its peace, yet the deeds of the European empires abroad are not considered.The genocide in Congo, the crimes in South Africa, the tapestry of China, the atrocities in the Philippines, the defeats of natives across the globe so that empire and its interests may prevail. World War One was a fight between imperial powers over who may dominate not merely their own continent but those other pieces of the Earth that they invaded and occupied. Like most books on the Great War, this is not for the Kenyan, the Chinese, the Indian, the Papuan or even the Arab. This is a book for the empire and those who benefited from it then and in this day.Enjoy it, it is long and at times well written. To be read with a consideration for the whole world who suffered and continues to suffer thanks to the greatness of this war and its bloody imperial legacy.

  • Michael
    2019-05-13 22:11

    I received this book through a Good Reads "First Reads" giveaway. To be honest, I was somewhat hesitant to start this book - not too long ago I read Max Hastings' excellent book "Catastrophe 1914", and wondered if reading another narrative so soon afterwards that examines the causes of World War I (especially a book that clocks in at over 600 pages) would be able to completely hold my interest. Fortunately, that proved not to be problem, I found this book to be exceptional and impossible to put down. Ms. MacMillan succeeds in not only describing the personalities and motivations of the primary decision-makers, but puts their options and decisions in the context of the world they lived in, with all its assumptions, biases, fears, mistrust, and misunderstandings. She concisely explains what the Great Powers each took away from earlier crises and how what they learned (or at least their perceptions of what they thought they learned) led them to the dangerous complacency that solutions could be found in the summer of 1914 and Europe would once again back away from the brink of disaster. Despite the complexity and breadth of the subject matter, Ms. MacMillan's narrative never drags or bogs down - the writing is always lively and displays not only a keen sense of historical insight but also at times a very welcomed wry sense of humor. A first-rate, truly remarkable book, I highly recommend it.

  • Matt Brady
    2019-04-30 22:50

    Very good and detailed summary of the series of steps that led to the First World War. No finger pointing or blame, MacMillan mainly just lays out the incredible amount of decisions, big and small, that would eventually cause all the bloodshed. One thing that I haven't seen covered elsewhere, at least in this kind of detail, is the long series of crises and international incidents involving the major powers that preceded the war in the early 20th century, and how the outcome of each crisis, individually and cumulatively, informed a lot of the decisions made by various parties in June, July and August of 1914.

  • Mariano Hortal
    2019-04-24 01:05

    Publicado en“1914. De la paz a la guerra” de Margaret McMillan. Olvidar la historia puede llevar a repetirla de nuevoQue el año 2014 podía originar la proliferación de novedades referentes a la Gran Guerra era de conocimiento general; que fuese tal el alud de textos, una “Granguerraexploitation” en toda regla, convirtiéndose en algo inabarcable, no era quizás tan predecible. No quiero ni pensar cuando lleguemos al 2039, teniendo en cuenta la mayor popularidad de la Segunda Guerra Mundial.Entre tanto libro es difícil tener un criterio claro sobre cuál escoger, así que os voy a ayudar, dentro de mi humilde contribución, con algunos de los textos de referencia. El que traigo hoy es imprescindible y no debería quedar enterrado entre otros tantos no tan rigurosos; se trata de “1914. De la paz a la guerra” de la británica Margaret McMillan que nos acercó Turner el año pasado. McMillan no se centra en la guerra en sí, sino en indagar en las posibles causas que llevaron a desencadenar el conflicto más allá del famoso atentado, que fue simplemente la gota que colmó el vaso.En la introducción encontramos las claves de las hipótesis que seguirá más adelante en su voluminoso análisis y que sirven para subrayar su importancia; en primer lugar, resaltar el hecho de que olvidar puede llevarnos a otra situación parecida en la actualidad, nada es inexorable:“Resulta cómodo encogerse de hombros y decir que la Gran Guerra fue inevitable; pero se trata de una conclusión peligrosa, y más teniendo en cuenta que nuestro mundo se asemeja en algunos aspectos, aunque no en todos, al de los años previos a 1914, es decir, al mundo que fue barrido por la guerra.”En segundo lugar aboga por un estudio analítico y pormenorizado del contexto anterior a dicha guerra:“Al tratar de interpretar los acontecimientos del verano de 1914, deberíamos meternos en la piel de nuestros antepasados de hace un siglo, antes de insultarlos, criticarlos y acusarlos. […] Una cosa está clara: a la hora de tomar sus decisiones, o de eludirlas, tuvieron muy presentes otras crisis y situaciones previas.”A partir de ahí nos encontramos con un ensayo exhaustivo donde la claridad de la exposición se convierte en su mayor cualidad, por encima de “lo literario”; es abrumadora la cantidad de datos y la rigurosidad con que son presentados capítulo a capítulo empezando, como no podía ser de otra manera, por los ingleses a través de Lord Salisbury que reflexionó por primera vez sobre el ascenso como nación de los Estados Unidos:“Ninguna nación parecía desagradarle más que las otras; salvo Estados Unidos. En los estadounidenses encontraba todo cuanto le disgustaba del mundo moderno: eran codiciosos, materialistas, hipócritas, vulgares y creían que la democracia era la mejor forma de gobierno. Durante la guerra de Secesión fue un apasionado defensor del bando confederado, entre otras cosas porque pensaba que los sureños eran caballeros y los norteños no. Pero, además, porque temía el auge del poderío estadounidense.”No falta ninguno de los participantes en la generación del conflicto, especialmente el caso de los alemanes y su emperador Guillermo II, figura clave, por su forma de ser en el ascenso de Alemania y en su actitud general:“La errática conducta de Guillermo, sus entusiasmos cambiantes y su propensión a hablar demasiado sin pararse a pensar, contribuyeron a crear la imagen de una Alemania peligrosa, de un estado inconformista que no acataba las reglas del juego internacional, y que estaba decidido a dominar el mundo.”Lo mismo podemos decir de Rusia, ahogada por sus problemas económicos y que, sin embargo, sería una de las partes preponderantes y el principal artífice de su antagonismo con Alemania y el imperio Astro-húngaro:“El dilema era similar al que debería enfrentarse la Unión Soviética más tarde, durante la guerra fría: las ambiciones rusas estaban plenamente desarrolladas, pero no así su economía ni su sistema tributario. En la década de 1890, Rusia gasta menos de la mitad por soldado que Francia y Alemania. Además, cada rublo empleado en el ejército era un rublo que se dejaba de invertir en el desarrollo”.Sorprende la capacidad de la inglesa para discernir todas las pequeñas causas que generaron la situación final, me llamó especialmente la atención el aumento de burocracia de los Austro-Húngaros, principalmente porque dicho aumento significó disponer de menos dinero cuando se estaba produciendo una carrera armamentística a gran escala:“Entre 1890 y 1911, la burocracia creció en un doscientos por cien, debido principalmente a nuevos nombramientos. […] No es de extrañar que la opinión pública prefiriera referirse a la burocracia como un viejo jamelgo deslomado; pero sus consecuencias estaban muy lejos de ser jocosas. El desprecio por lo que el escritos satírico vienés Karl Kraus llamó “burocretinismo” contribuyó a menguar aún más la confianza pública en su gobierno; amén de que el coste de la burocracia significaba, entre otras cosas, que había menos dinero disponible para las fuerzas armadas.”No faltan referencias al nacionalismo alemán (“El nuevo nacionalismo no auguraba nada bueno para las minorías, ni en el plano lingüístico ni en el religioso. ¿Podrían alguna vez los polacoparlantes ser verdaderamente alemanes? ¿Y los judíos?”) y a la progresiva degeneración europea reflejada en el libro homónimo de Max Nordau publicado en 1892:“Degeneración, traducido a varios idiomas y comercializado en toda Europa, atacaba con energía el materialismo, la avaricia, la búsqueda incesante del placer y la pérdida del apego a la moral tradicional, tendentes a la “lascivia desenfrenada” que estaba destruyendo la civilización. Afirmaba Nordau que la sociedad europea “avanza hacia su ruina definitiva porque está demasiado desgastada y flácida para acometer grandes empeños.”Lo bueno del análisis es que no se queda solo en los hechos políticos o socioeconómicos sino intenta integrarlo con “lo emocional”, así lo expresó uno de los mayores pacifistas:“Incluso Angell, que tanto se había esforzado por persuadir a sus lectores de que la guerra era irracional, se vio obligado a admitir: “Hay algo en la guerra, en su historia y su parafernalia, que exalta profundamente las emociones y calienta la sangre en las venas hasta a los más pacíficos, y que apela a no sé qué instintos remotos, por no mencionar nuestra natural admiración por el valor, nuestro gusto por la aventura, por el movimiento y por las acciones intensas.”No hay que olvidar que la guerra estaba vista como una posibilidad de ser un héroe; esta ansiedad vital del hombre es inherente a nosotros mismos y la guerra sirvió para este propósito igualmente. De hecho, es entonces cuando surgieron las famosas batallas aéreas, y el Barón Rojo fue uno de los grandes protagonistas.McMillan ni siquiera se olvida de Italia, aunque sea, en este caso, para ridiculizarla de una manera poco caritativa…“Los extranjeros iban a Italia por su clima y sus muchas bellezas, pero también se reían de ella, consideraban a sus ciudadanos encantadores, caóticos, infantiles; pero no un pueblo digno de ser tomado en serio. En asuntos internacionales, las demás potencias, y hasta sus propios aliados de la triple alianza, tendían a tratar a Italia con desdén.”En la parte final llegamos a las conclusiones que resultan clarificadoras. Podemos enfocarlas en tres puntos principales:1º La no existencia de una única causa generadora del conflicto:“El comité entrevistó a docenas de testigos, pero, como cabía esperarse, no logró presentar pruebas. La Gran Guerra no tuvo una única causa, sino que fue provocada por una combinación de factores y, en última instancia, de decisiones humanas. Lo que hizo la carrera armamentista fue elevar el nivel de las tensiones en Europa y presionar a los líderes para que apretaran el gatillo antes que el enemigo.”2º El papel fundamental de la Gran Guerra como detonador de la fe en el avance de la civilización; la situación actual no hace más que convencernos de este hecho:“La Gran Guerra marcó un giro en la historia de Europa. Hasta 1914, Europa, con todos sus problemas, confiaba en que el mundo se estaba convirtiendo en un lugar mejor y en que la civilización humana estaba avanzando. A partir de 1918, ya no era posible para los europeos semejante fe. Mirando hacia el pasado, hacia su mundo perdido antes de la guerra, solo podían tener una sensación de pérdida e inutilidad.”3º La imposibilidad de obtener respuestas y sin embargo, hacernos más preguntas (esto es una paradoja en sí misma, sobre todo ante lo abrumador de la presentación de datos de la inglesa):“Una vez más, las preguntas son tantas como las respuestas. Acaso a lo más que podamos aspirar sea a entender lo mejor posible a aquellos individuos que debieron decidir entre la guerra y la paz, así como sus fuerzas y sus debilidades, sus amores, sus odios, sus prejuicios. Para ello tenemos también que entender su mundo, los supuestos de la época. Hemos de recordar, como lo hicieron estos líderes, lo que había sucedido antes de la última crisis de 1914 y las lecciones que se sacaron de las crisis marroquíes, de la de Bosnia, o de los sucesos de las primeras guerras balcánicas. […] Y si quisiéramos señalar culpas desde nuestra perspectiva del siglo XXI, podríamos acusar de dos cosas a quienes llevaron a Europa a la guerra. Primero, de falta de imaginación para ver cuán destructivo sería un conflicto semejante; y segundo, de falta de valor para enfrentarse a quienes decían que no quedaba otra opción que ir a la guerra. Siempre hay otras opciones.”Me quedo sin embargo con la última parte de este párrafo: qué importante es llegar a calibrar las consecuencias de nuestros actos antes de realizarlos, y en base a esto, siempre, siempre, buscar la mejor opción posible a cualquier conflicto, hasta los cotidianos.Excelente lectura la que nos trajo Turner; uno de esos libros que se tienen que convertir en referencia obligada cuando se habla de la Primera Guerra Mundial.Los textos vienen de la traducción del inglés de José Adrián Vitier de “1914. De la paz a la guerra” de Margaret McMillan en Turner.

  • Steven Langdon
    2019-05-07 18:57

    I approached this mammoth volume, by an admirable Canadian historian (with ties to my old college,) full of enthusiastic anticipation. There are far too many varnished centennial ceremonies marking the start of World War One these days, when the stupidity and extremity of the war's slaughter should be the focus, and I looked for a caustic and probing analysis of how such a meaningless disaster could have happened.After 645 pages of text and another 70 pages of notes and bibliography, I certainly know a great deal more. But about what? Margaret MacMillan has given us reams of detail about the personalities of the kings, tsars and sundry other aristocrats of the time -- their lovers, their hunting lodges, their summer get-togethers, their family ties, even their health-fixated visits to special spas. We have seen the agonies of ambassadors trying for the most part to keep their home countries from fighting with the nations in which they serve (and whose exclusive gentlemen's clubs they so enjoy visiting.) Much of the narrative that this detail surrounds is both tedious and fascinating. Who remembers the long list of mini-crises and pseudo-feuds that preceded World War One -- the battle over which European country would be top dog in Morocco, France or Germany? the embarrassing defeat of Russia in its war with Japan? the feud between France and Britain over control of remote parts of Sudan? Britain's plan to give Portugal's colonies to Germany? the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913? Italy's takeover of Libya? Yet MacMillan successfully argues that this backdrop both accustomed countries to thinking of war as a feasible recourse and led them to expect that any such war would be very short and decisive. This level of her analysis is both provocative and insightful.Yet World War One was entirely different. First, it was generalized across all of Europe and beyond, unlike these mini-crises. And second, it brought cataclysmic and grinding destruction that killed eight and a half million, left another eight million prisoners or missing, and wounded twenty-one million. The alliances that had been formed (Germany and Austria-Hungary vs. France and Russia and Britain) turned yet another Balkan crisis into a gross collapse of European civilization.It is this that I hoped this book might somehow explain. But it does not.MacMillan defends her focus on the personalities at the top of the social structure. These are the men (and they are all men) who made decisions that brought about war, and they could (she seems to say) have made different decisions and the war would not have taken place. Yet her analytical problem is that many of the key people on whom she focuses in the book appeared not to want war as their countries headed into the conflict. Tsar Nicholas had to be virtually coerced into signing the order to mobilize Russia's troops. The Chancellor of Germany (Bethmann Hollweg) was opposed to war, urging Austria to use mediation to solve its conflict with Serbia, and Kaiser Wilhelm was supportive of him. And in Britain the cabinet was badly split and likely against war until Germany invaded Belgium. Despite these doubts, the military leadership in each of the main countries involved came to take the lead and the drive toward war continued.Clearly there was a militarization of societies taking place during this pre-war period that became decisive in the final phase. Yet this book does not focus on that underlying dynamic. It seems to be a social process that requires an examination of political economy factors to understand. Yet MacMillan does not operate on that level.As a result, in the end, her book is for me unsatisfactory in its personalistic and anecdotal perspective. This is a book with much useful information, which is a helpful source on events and differing viewpoints. But I had hoped for so much more. Why did the peace movement of the time fail so badly? What lessons are there in its failure to build a stronger social base for itself? Why did the political left fail so completely in its anti-war strategy? Why did the economic benefits of disarmament for social expenditure not receive more support? Was it simply that the franchise was so limited? Or did political parties of the time fail to underline the social cost of military spending? This book could have helped with such questions given a different, more substantive framework of analysis.

  • jordan
    2019-05-19 18:46

    The World War II metaphor may often dominate much of our political discourse (especially in the case of foreign policy), as well as our language, and even our culture (think classic war movies), but it was World War I, President Willson’s famously miss-labeled “War to End All Wars,” that spawned our modern world. One suspects that there are many reasons that the First World War doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Not only does it suffering in comparison with the oft imagined “good war,” but there is that nagging suspicion that it was a wholly unnecessary slaughter, a great grave act of idiocy that set the stage for many of the 20th century’s greatest evils. Moreover, as Professor Margaret MacMillan rightly points out in her new and excellent history, “The War that Ended Peace,” if WWII’s stage is crowded with larger than life characters – Churchill, Stalin, Hitler, etc -- WWI’s leaders seem to range mostly from the ordinary (think George V) to the absurd (Kaiser Willhelm), to the tragic (Willson) to the pathetic (Nicholas). Just for such small insightful gems, Professor MacMillan’s history would be worth your time. However, where her work most stands out is her interesting approach to examining the war’s causes and her ability to write well for readers with a range of backgrounds from the expert to the novice.Obviously the First World War’s underlying causes remains one of the most examined questions in modern European history. Tangled alliances? Leaders fearing that the tide – whether of history, demography, or economics – was against them and that they needed to fight “sooner rather than later?” Convulsing nationalism, especially in the Balkans? The instability and decline of sclerotic authoritarian empires like Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Austria-Hungary? The rigid timetables of military mobilization? All of these come up for consideration in this excellent history. Yet more interesting is where Professor MacMillan begins her examination; she starts not in 1914, 1912, or 1910 but instead looks with the many “war scares” which took Europe right up to the precipice of total confrontation between the 1870s and the outbreak of the war. By considering these instances – the Boer War, both Moroccan scares, the two Balkan Wars, the Dogger Banks Incident, etc – she offers insights into how these conflicts were avoided and how, in their avoidance, a later war often seemed to become more rather than less likely. Similarly impressive, MacMillan never abandons the excellent narrative threads that bind this tragic story together. She conjures characters with gifts that would make any novelist proud. Thus what might have been a dry history comes to life on the page, full of real people with real regrets and very real flaws. Indeed, so flawed are some of these characters, such as Kaiser Wilhelm, one suspects that they would be taken as too impossible for fiction. Such skilled writing, and especially her eye for humor, will maintain the interest of even someone largely familiar with the period. Of course, since near all of this material has been considered and argued over elsewhere, some readers will disagree with some MacMillan’s conclusions and may even get annoyed at her failure to thoroughly evidence her arguments. We see this, for example, in her consideration of the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, where she sees Moltke as largely blameless but instead points to Belgian resistance and logistical issues as primarily at fault. Likewise some will see her as overstating the importance of the loss of this or that player from the board for its impact on the final conflict. Despite such points with which one might quibble, she never strays from the road of reasoned and fully defensible arguments.We always look backward into history to understand our own time and in this point is my only complaint about this otherwise excellent work. At times the author tries too hard, making analogies which neither add anything to this work nor much inform us about our modern day. Yet this is a minor point. In the end, MacMillan’s history is one that could and should provoke worthy debate and reexamination of the war that spawned the 20th Century. A free copy of this work was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  • Edward
    2019-05-18 01:08

    The “war to end all wars” has always interested me, maybe because of the ongoing irony of that naïve belief that wars ever settle much of anything. I had previously read MacMillans’s PARIS, 1919, about Wilson’s “world made safe for democracy”, so it was a matter of working backward from the illusory “peace” to the war that precipitated the illusion in the first place. MacMillan is fond of linking those events of a 100 years ago to our recent history. For example, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in the summer of l914 leads her to comment, “Just as the tragedy of September 11, 2001, gave the hardliners the opportunity to urge what they had advocated all along on President Bush and Prime Minister Blair – the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq - so too the Sarajevo assassination opened the door for those in Austria-Hungary who wanted to settle the South Slav problem once and for all. . .” Of course the assassination set in motion the actions of the great powers of the time (Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Italy, and Britain, all interlocked by treaties and alliances. Surprisingly, though, no one paid much immediate attention to the assassination – it was just another killing, one among many in the volatile Balkans, as volatile then as they would be 80 years later, and still are. Europe had muddled through four or five crises in the first decade of the 20th century and leaders anticipated that this one would be gotten through as well. There had been two major crises over Morocco, one over Bosnia, the ongoing Balkan wars, but diplomacy had always averted them. But this time was different – the head of the Austria-Hungarian Empire had been killed, and Austria-Hungary felt compelled to punish Serbia, even though there was no evidence that it was any kind of state-sanctioned murder. That drew in Germany with its unpredictable leader, Wilhelm, which felt threatened on all sides. Russia supported Serbia, and was friendly with France and Britain. No wonder Germany felt trapped. But this is just stating the obvious – why didn’t diplomacy work in this crisis as it had earlier? MacMillan says there can never be a definitive answer “because for every argument, there is a strong counter.” Possibilities for peaceful solutions always existed but that it didn’t come about this time depended upon a multitude of causes. A sense of complacency, the innumerable personalities of the leaders involved, internal politics, resentments from previous conflicts, both in Europe and in colonial territories, a growing sense of nationalism, general military staffs with too much power, the list goes on, and finally there was the tragic belief on all sides that the war would be brief and decisive, instead of lasting for four years and killing millions. MacMillan’s history is comprehensive and is best at describing the various leaders who played such an important part in the war, especially in Germany, France, and England. She goes into sometimes tedious detail about the earlier crises, and here a reader has to be really interested to care much about them. That minor criticism aside, I thought it was a very good general history.

  • Jean Poulos
    2019-05-02 19:12

    Margaret Macmillan is a Canadian historian who is teaching at Oxford University. She is the great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister. I recently read Max Hastings “Catastrophe 1914”. He and Macmillan are covering the same nine months leading up to the war. Hasting covered the role of general staff of rival governments showing a step by step documentation leading up to war. MacMillan on the other hand covers the diplomats and politicians showing step by step how they had avoided war numerous time and why this occasion they failed. Even though Macmillan’s book is scholarly it is very readable. She has the ability to evoke the world at the beginning of the 20th Century, when Europe had gone 85 years without a general war between great powers. In these years there was an explosion of production, wealth and a transformation in society and the way people lived. Food was better and cheaper, dramatic advances in hygiene and medicine, faster communications including cheap public telegraphs. Macmillan asks “why would Europe want to throw it all away?” In the middle of the book Macmillan considers the larger context within which the final approach to war occurred. She is good at painting the intellectual background of “social Darwinism.” The author does a good job dealing with the July crisis and distributes the responsibility widely. It was created by Serbia irresponsibility, Austrian vengefulness, and the “Blank check” the Kaiser issued to Vienna. She recognizes how Britain’s, French and especially Russian actions exacerbated the crisis and rejects the view that this was a German pre-emptive strike, a “flight forward” from domestic strife into war, while arguing that German politics recklessly and knowingly risked war. I think she is right on both counts. Macmillan makes it clear wars are not inevitable there are always choices. I read this as an audio book. Richard Burnip did an excellent job narrating this 32 hour book. This book is a must for anyone interested in WWI history.

  • Mary
    2019-05-14 23:02

    Satisfying, LONG history of the failure of peace in Europe leading inexorably, sadly to WWI. MacMillan held my hand through the unbearable journey. Great read for those who still can't wrap their brains around the insanity of that war. She renders the Zeitgeist quite comprehensible: the history before 1914, the often poor, unprepared leadership (Wilhem II, I'm pointing a big finger at you), honor culture, fear, irrationality, difficulty with modernization, radicalization, disruption of the old order, lack of imagination about new technology and other possible outcomes, insufficient application of Theory of Mind, disgust with crap culture, nascent nationalism and populism, small nations misreading the hierarchy, assumptions uncontested despite contrary evidence.... It was complicated. I get it as well as I am able. WWI serves as a great lesson for us smug Westerners about how we're too advanced to get all tribal and go crazy in warfare. I shudder to think about parallels to us today and the difficulty many of us (myself included) are having with contemporary modernity, its evolving economy, whiplash-inducing technology developments, muscular tactical reaction to 9/11 escalating beyond our capabilities.... While they worried about trade and colonies, we worry about open access to international markets and affordable oil.My quibble, as usual, is with the length of this book. I think it could have been trimmed down a bit mostly by carving away repetitions. OTOH, MacMillan is an academic and she has lessons to impart. This is not an unbiased account. Who the heck am I to judge an eminent scholar on such detail? The thing is, I'm not a skimmer or a quitter. I have to read the whole damned thing so I like a tight edit. Macmillan has crafted a very fine history book.