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1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War Hardcover – May 28, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (May 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610392566
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610392563
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Writing about “a year of possibility not predestination,” Emmerson surveys a selection of cities around the world as they appeared in 1913. Portraying the European capitals of the next year’s belligerent countries, Emmerson strikes a cosmopolitan tone by noting social interconnections linking London to Paris to Berlin to Constantinople. Diarists and travelers populate his narratives, their descriptions lending eyewitness immediacy to his delineation of streetscapes, new architecture, and political issues. Above all, Emmerson seeks to evoke the economic globalization that affected, in positive and negative ways, all the cities he presents. As 1913 was, in retrospect, the apex of empires, Emmerson dwells on the imperial outlooks from Britain and France and from the empires doomed to destruction in the war ahead, the Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman. Turning from centers of power to cities beginning to boom from their global linkages, Emmerson enunciates the aspirations of outliers like Winnipeg, Melbourne, and Buenos Aires. Including stops in Tehran, Mexico City, Jerusalem, several U.S. cities, Shanghai, and Tokyo, Emmerson’s historical world tour emotively captures the civilization soon to vanish in WWI. --Gilbert Taylor


Wall Street Journal
“[Emmerson draws] upon an impressive range of contemporary source material, ranging from travel guides and memoirs to unpublished diaries, newspaper reports and diplomatic memos. They give a vivid portrait of the rapid changes occurring in daily life around the globe….Charles Emmerson captures all the world's hope and excitement as it experienced an economic El Dorado. ‘1913’ is history without hindsight at its best.”

Washington Post
“In each city the author vividly surveys the political, economic and cultural scenes. The effect is transporting; 1913 is both passport and time machine… The centenary of the Great War will no doubt see the publication of many fine histories of the conflict, but few are likely to paint so alluring a portrait of the world that was consumed by it — and that helped bring it about.”

Daily Beast
“With the looming 100th anniversary of World War I, a spate of books about the not-so-Great War have begun to emerge. Emmerson's effort stands out for several reasons. First, Emmerson ranges widely, from Germany to Paris, from Bombay to Tokyo. Second, he is a sparkling writer, his narrative rarely flags and he has amassed a startling amount of detail.”

The Economist
“[Emmerson] aims not to explain what caused or was lost to the war, but to retrieve from the partial glare of hindsight the world in which it erupted. This is no modest undertaking. Mr Emmerson draws from a wide range of sources, including memoirs, billboards and newspapers, to recreate a year that was fairly uneventful. … Not unlike Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”, the first instalments of which were published in 1913, his narrative finds coherence in the unremarkable… [W]hat emerges is a rich portrait and an important set of ideas.”

Financial Times
“Emmerson offers an impressive sweep that marshals much detail along the way, though at times there is a sense of being on a historical package tour (Baedeker is, indeed, a frequently cited source) in which some city breaks are better rendered than others. But there are some gems. In the patchwork Austro-Hungarian empire, one could drive on both sides of the road and there were 10 official languages but no translators in parliament. Does anyone wonder that it fell apart?”

“An eye-opening demonstration of just how modern the supposedly premodern world was”

Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Marvelous… Emmerson, a scholar at Chatham House, a renowned London think tank, brilliantly avoids the inevitability trap in ‘1913.’ His panoramic depiction of the last year before the Great War permits us to see the world ‘as it might have looked through contemporary eyes, in its full colour and complexity, with a sense of the future's openness’…Emmerson is a superb guide and companion, whether inviting us to take a seat next to him in ‘a favourite corner’ of a Viennese cafe or to survey tout Paris from the Eiffel Tower. In many ways, his book works as a ‘time-travelogue’; indeed, it frequently quotes contemporary tourist literature and travelers' accounts.”

Christian Science Monitor
“Emmerson’s project would not be as compelling if he had simply focused on Europe, or on England and her colonies. The Great War was truly a global war, and the world of 1913 was truly a global society. In his book, Emmerson gives fair weight to societies around the world rather than presenting the year from a Eurocentric point of view.”

“Portraying the European capitals of the next year’s belligerent countries, Emmerson strikes a cosmopolitan tone by noting social interconnections linking London to Paris to Berlin to Constantinople.…Including stops in Tehran, Mexico City, Jerusalem, several U.S. cities, Shanghai, and Tokyo, Emmerson’s historical world tour emotively captures the civilization soon to vanish in WWI.”

Library Journal, STARRED review
“A fascinating bird’s-eye view of a landscape seen in what was the dying light of empire and on the brink of tragedy…An imaginatively conceived, thoroughly researched, and outstandingly written perspective that is highly recommended for both academic and general readers.”

“Charles Emmerson has written a book that contains much in the way of wistfulness, hope, bitterness, discord, assassinations, technological advancement, and enmity between nations and peoples… We may not ever fully know the reasons or reasoning behind the urge for war, and Charles Emmerson wisely does not bring them all out, but in 1913 his synthesis of the nervousness, striving, and strains in specific parts of the world give us a better understanding of the upheavals that led to the First World War.”

Galveston Daily News
“The book reveals a world both different from today’s world, yet still familiar in many ways. It captures the year of 1913 in a way that is fascinating and revealing.”

Shepherd Express (Wisconsin)
“Witty and knowledgeable, Emmerson packs his account with telling anecdotes.”

The Spectator (UK)
“A masterful, comprehensive portrait of the world at that last moment in its history when Europe was incontrovertibly ‘the centre of the universe’ and, within it, London ‘the centre of the world’…Charles Emmerson’s 1913 brilliantly rescues [history] from the shadow of a war that would toll the end of the Old World and leave its survivors repining the loss of a Golden Age that had never been.”

The Guardian
“An ambitious, subtle account of the way the world was going until the first world war changed everything.” 

Daily Mail (UK)
“This ambitious panorama of a world on the brink throws up comparisons which are constantly provocative and fascinating.”

The Express (UK)
“Where Emmerson really scores is in the nuggets of detail and contemporary quotes that sparkle from these essays.”

The Scotsman
“It is an epic, sprawling panorama of a book, intended to show the moving world as it was, to bring the past to life in order to clarify the present. It’s a monumentally ambitious aim. The remarkable thing is, he pulls it off.”

The Guardian (UK)
1913 has narrative verve and insight”

The Times (UK)
“The old empires were starting to implode and the centres could no longer hold.  In an ambitious book, Emmerson catches their last vital sparks in the year before darkness fell.”

New Statesman (UK)
“One of the great merits of Charles Emmerson’s global panorama is to show events in the months leading up to the summer of 1914 as something other than a precursor to mass slaughter.”

The Independent (UK)
“Emmerson has done his homework. His book girdles the earth in an impressive fashion and conjures up a world we have lost.”

Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
“Emmerson's book is an ambitious effort…But there is so much that captivates, particularly the entertaining social detail and anecdote, such as the fact it took three years to assess JP Morgan's gargantuan estate, which included 138 watches in one of his houses in London.”

“A broad picture that, while centered in Europe, contains a welcome international dimension… a revealing picture of life before the catastrophe of 1914.”

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Customer Reviews

Well presented, a good read.
russ mcpherson
Emmerson's is a very good book and a welcome addition to the literature of pre- and World War I. Clark's book should prove to be a classic.
David Keymer
It is a very good read and very interesting.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
British author Charles Emmerson looks at the world of 1913 in his new book, "1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War". This is a big book, almost 500 pages, and does what no other armchair-history book has done so far. Instead of focusing on the main European world - the world that went to war a year later - Emmerson looks at cities and countries world-wide.

The term "The Great War" is, in general, applied to the fighting in Europe - mostly on the Western Front in France and Flanders and the Eastern Front in Russia - but the fighting really was world-wide. Don't forget that the main countries - England, Germany, France, Belgium, and Italy - had colonies and territories around the world. We know that the countries and territories of the British Empire contributed fighting forces to the war effort beginning in 1914. Emmerson takes a look at those countries - concentrating on the selected cities - to show how the years right before contributed to each nation's development. Examining the Empire cities of Durban, Melbourne, Bombay, and Winnipeg in 1913, Emmerson writes of developments in each city that made the countries they were in evolve a bit more into their own national identities.

Emmerson also does a great job in looking at the United States and using Detroit and Los Angeles as examples of how the US economy evolved from agriculturally-based to industrial-based. The influx of immigrants to our country in the late 1800s and early 1900's was changing the face of America as well as how we looked at the world at large. He also includes Tokyo, Peking and Shanghai, and Buenos Aires among the world's cities.

Charles Emmerson has written a masterful look at the world of 1913. The only complaint I have is the lack of maps in the book. I wish the publishers had included some; I consulted Wiki quite a bit while reading. But this is one of the best books of the period I've read.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Today we view the year 1913 as the final year of peace and prosperity before the horrendous calamity that was World War I, as the last vestige of a bygone era lost forever. In "1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War", Charles Emmerson shows instead a time that was far more cosmopolitan and far more modern, than most would dare to admit; a time when much of Europe and even, the Americas, viewed itself as full partners in a global civilization whose intellectual and cultural roots originated in Western and Central Europe. A time when even the middle class populations of North America and Europe could undertake grand tours that would span across Europe, from London and Paris to Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and even, Constantinople (Istanbul). A global civilization in which the educated elites of India, Africa and East Asia (most notably Japan) viewed themselves as participants, even if they didn't subscribe to all of its cultural values. Divided into four sections, Emmerson shows us the capitals of Europe, from London to Rome and Saint Petersburg (Part I The Centre of the Universe), the most vibrant cities of North America, including New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Mexico City (Part II The Old New World), other cities that were all too often major outposts of the great empires, from Winnipeg and Melbourne to Bombay and Durban, Algiers, Buenos Aires, Tehran and Jerusalem (Part III The World Beyond) and the state of affairs within the Ottoman, Japanese and British empires, and the newly established Republic of China, as seen from the perspective of their most important cities (Part IV Twilight Powers).Read more ›
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Lectito on June 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
1913 gives us an album of snapshots from the world of 100 years ago. Emmerson's organization is geographic. He calls it a "circumnavigation". The chapters are titled after the cities of the world, but the book is not confined to urban developments. The focus zooms out to cover broad themes like the relative rise and fall of nations. Then it zooms in, providing biographical sketches; a Los Angeles oil man strikes it rich, an Algerian lawyer fights repressive French policies, and a British domestic struggles with her new life in Argentina.

I have read a good deal of European and American history, but this book gave some very good insights on Africa and Asia. The writing has a broad sweep, and skips back and forth between culture, industrial development, politics, and religion. I agree with the reviewer that called it "meandering" , but I still enjoyed reading it. If you like a book with stronger thematic organization, try "The Proud Tower" by Tuchman or "The Vertigo Years" by Bloom.

Emmerson works under the assumption that a world war was not considered an inevitable event by those who lived in 1913, and leaves it to other historians to address its origins. When war did break out, it began cataclysmic era for Europe, But it is interesting to see how much of the world beyond Europe did not change. Most of the issues in presented 1913 continued to simmer beyond the end of WWI; race relations in South Africa, political and religious strife in Ireland, equality for women, immigration policies, concentration of wealth in the US, tension over Mideast oil supplies. They are still part of our experience a century later.
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