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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A look at a world about to erupt in war....
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...
Published 21 months ago by Jill Meyer

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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but...
This was an interesting enough book (if a bit long), but I discovered in the first few pages that Emmerson didn't exactly do his research - he called Tsar Nicholas II a direct descendent of Queen Victoria, which he wasn't - that was his wife Alexandra, not him! No real excuse for a mistake like that. That easily checked error led me to feel that I couldn't necessarily...
Published 19 months ago by vab


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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A look at a world about to erupt in war...., May 27, 2013
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This review is from: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (Hardcover)
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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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Threshold of Modernity - A Global Look at the Year 1913, May 30, 2013
This review is from: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (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). Combining backgrounds in history, international relations and international public law, Emmerson has written a book worthy of comparison with those from the likes of Niall Ferguson and Paul Kennedy, especially with regards to discussing relevant economic and political history, even if, as he confesses, his account of the year 1913 is one that is an "impressionistic endeavour", which he notes in the Afterword. Much to his credit, Emmerson has written a compelling history of the year 1913 that should challenge existing misconceptions of it, and suggest potentially bold new avenues of scholarship that may reinforce its themes.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1913 - Gone forever?, June 9, 2013
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This review is from: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (Hardcover)
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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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but..., July 28, 2013
This review is from: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (Hardcover)
This was an interesting enough book (if a bit long), but I discovered in the first few pages that Emmerson didn't exactly do his research - he called Tsar Nicholas II a direct descendent of Queen Victoria, which he wasn't - that was his wife Alexandra, not him! No real excuse for a mistake like that. That easily checked error led me to feel that I couldn't necessarily believe anything else. That feeling was reinforced when he discussed China and the Dowager Empress Tsu Hsi - he obviously bought into the propaganda from the time that she was evil & essentially gave her sanction and encouragement to the Boxer Rebellion. (A good book on that subject is "Dragon Lady" by Sterling Seagrave.) So, while it was interesting enough, I would advise that it be read with a rather large grain of salt.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Long Ago, And Yet So Close!, May 27, 2013
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This review is from: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (Hardcover)
I chose that title for my review because it came to my mind repeatedly while I was reading this excellent history. Because World War I was such a turning point we often tend to think of the years just before its outbreak as almost ancient history, far removed from our own time. Charles Emmerson reminds us that this is not the case in a variety of ways, one obvious one being that there are still thousands of living people today who were born in or before 1913. But more importantly, Emmerson also draws many parallels between 1913 and 2013 that are well worth pondering: the effects of globalization, the pressures of nationalism, the rapid development of some regions and the gradual decline of others, the demands of colonized peoples for greater independence, and the continuing challenges of industrialization and economic change, among many others.

Emmerson surveys 1913 by taking us on a world tour of major cities. He begins with the center of the world at the time, Europe, and gives us short but fascinating chapters about London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, and St. Petersburg. The next section deals with the New World and covers Washington, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Mexico City. The third section is The World Beyond and covers Winnipeg-Melbourne (in order to discuss the British world wide emigration), Buenos Aires, Algiers, Bombay-Durban (where nationalism and anti-colonialism were beginning to stir), Tehran, and Jerusalem. The final section is Twilight Powers, dealing with Constantinople, Peking-Shanghai, Tokyo, and finishing with London once again as a city which wondered if it was facing the beginnings of its own decline. A short Epilogue deals with the after effects of World War I, an event which upended the seemingly secure world of 1913 and altered it almost beyond recognition.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book, filled with fascinating anecdotes and vignettes which really help to recapture the atmosphere of 1913. Emmerson says in his Epilogue that he intends for us to look at 1913 as a sort of parallel to our own times, not intending to predict that we are on the threshold of some catastrophe like World War I, but rather "to take stock of our past and consider our future." Of course any history book will make a similar claim, but in this particular case I think Emmerson has an excellent point: 2013 seems to echo 1913 in so many ways that it would be foolhardy not to pay attention to them.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven, superficial essays, factual mistakes, September 2, 2013
By 
JSB (Chicago, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (Hardcover)
I found this book to be uneven. As an American who has read a great deal about American history and Europe in the decades before WWI I found the essays on the United States and Europe to be superficial and occasionally contain distracting factual errors. (Tsar Nicholas II was not a descendent of Queen Victoria, Wiemar was not the capital of Wiemar Germany, Michigan Central Station was not designed by the same firm that designed Penn Station).

The chapters on the non-European and non-American worlds were much better. I did find them to be informative and provocative. One reads a lot about Europe in 1913 because 1913 was the decisive end of an era - for places like Buenos Aires and Tokyo, 1913 did not mark as dramatic a change as it did for places in Europe, and therefore the era receives less attention. (yes, I know that Japan fought in WWI)

In closing, I wish I had read half of the chapters in this book and just skipped the Euro/American sections.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1913 is a long and prosaically written account of the world on the brink of the Great War, June 21, 2013
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This review is from: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (Hardcover)
"1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War" is a new title by Charles Emmerson. Emmerson is an Australian born journalist who is a graduate of Oxford University and based in London. He has written this book to take an informed view of life in 1913. Has it really been a century! This year was the final annum prior to the horror of World War I and the birth of the modern age of mechanized warfare producing slaughter and death for millions of people across the strife ravaged globe.
This book, though, is not a war book. Instead it looks at life in the following cities of the world: London; Paris; Berlin;
Rome; Vienna; St. Petersburg; Washington DC; New York; Los Angeles; Mexico City; Winnipeg; Melbourne; Buenos Aires; Algiers; Bombay; Durban; Tehran; Jerusalem; Constantinople; Peking; Shanghai; Tokyo.
Many of the same problems of the modern world were already there in 1913! Among them: young nations emerging to power such as Australia, Canada and the United States; colonialism vs. independence and struggles with disease and poverty. The financial world was ruled by the gold standard. London was the most populous and richest city in the world as it served as the heart of the British Empire. Politicians such as Woodrow Wilson; Teddy Roosevelt were giants already striding the world stage. Great composers such as Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinksy were at the height of their considerable powers. Great skyscrapers were being built. The Hollywood movie industry was in its nascent phase as a mass entertainment. Europe was ruled by powerful rulers: George VI in Great Britain; Tsar Nicholas II an absolute monarch in Russia and emperor Hirohito in Japan. Soon to be destroyed empires in Russia, Austria-Hungary and Turkey were still powerful. Gandhi was in South Africa and had not yet become a leader for independence in India. China was a sleeping giant plagued by colonialism. Grermany, France and England were unaware that they would soon be engaged in the horrors of World War I.
Emmerson's book is of interest but many of its pages were dull. Sometimes this reviewer found it a tough reading slough to get through another chapter! A good concept which serves as a good reference for those interested in a distant but surprisingly modern age. For pure enjoyment I still prefer Barbara Tuchmann's "The Proud Tower"
which deals with the same time period. She, however, focuses on Europe leaving out the other parts of the world included in the Emmerson work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars before the deluge, December 3, 2013
As the bicentennial of the First World War rapidly approaches, we are beginning to see an increasing number of books dealing with the time period. Most of them use the preceding time before August, 1914, as a spring board into the war itself. 1913 starts out pretty much the same – the world’s fair at Ghent, Belgium, attended by practically every nation on the planet. It is an enhanced version of a summer garden party, with talk of the latest news and fashion, with a bit of gossip tossed here and there amongst the tulips. Then, instead of plunging into the war, the author takes us on a world tour of major cities, first in Europe with London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna and St. Petersburg; then the new world, with Washington, DC, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles and Mexico City on the itinerary.
The tour continues from Winnipeg to Melbourne, then Buenos Aires, Bombay, Tehran and Jerusalem, before heading to Constantinople, Peking and Tokyo, before returning to London.
In these places, we learn what life was like before the drastic changes wrought by the Great War. We see the evolution of the planet from individual regions/countries into interconnected nations through globalization with more efficient technology, immigration and, most importantly, trade. This is also an anecdotal history of the urbanization of countries around the world and the beginning of the end of nation empires.
To know what life was like in the twentieth century prior to the wars, this book is a must read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still Dusting Ourselves Off from a 100 Year Old Cataclysm, December 9, 2013
By 
L. Sabin (Hudson Valley NY) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (Hardcover)
Contrary to what some reviewers have said above, '1913' is a book I did read for hours at a time, and I completed the book in a relatively quick amount of time. The writing is tight and professional and the stories of the different cities and cultures around the world are all engaging and quite fascinating.

Spanning the world from Europe to North America to Asia, it covered some nations and empire whose history I knew quite well, like Imperial Japan, to others I knew barely anything about, like early 20th century Persia.

The advanced state of the world in 1913 was also a bit of surprise for me. For example, I always thought the Channel Tunnel (or Chunnel) between the UK and France was a 20th century idea...turns out it has its roots in the late 19th century. There are many examples like this scattered throughout 1913.

And for that reason...the amount of promise, potential and positive vibes the world seems to have had in 1913, according to the author, makes 1913 a melancholy read. At the end of the book I could not help but think of how far World War I really set the world back. I would even go as far as saying that 1913 left me feeling melancholy, which is probably a natural state to find yourself in when you discover the world you're currently living in is still dusting itself off from a 100 year old cataclysm.

Ultimately a great, even emotional, read.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Before The Storms, May 27, 2013
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This review is from: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (Hardcover)
When one considers the momentous events that took place from 1914 to 1945, it might be tempting to think that the years between the start of the twentieth century and the start of World War I were somewhat colorless and forgettable. However, in "1913," author Charles Emmerson proves that much of interest was going on in the pre-war years and that the immediate time before 1914 is worthy of study in its own right.

Emmerson paints a picture of the world before the catastrophe of the World Wars by taking the reader on a tour of the world's most important cities in 1913--while the author certainly includes European cities like London, Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg that were at the center of world affairs at the time, he also covers other many other cities of note on every populated continent.

The author looks at economic, social, political, and religious trends and gives some sense of what life in the highlighted cities was like. Emmerson provides a sense of how the countries examined saw themselves in 1913, what kind of progress they had made, and where they stood against their rivals. The book is well-researched and there are many factoids that enable the reader to put the times into context.

1913 was near the end of the time of the extensive world empires--Emmerson looks at the British Empire and how the countries in the Empire saw themselves and the Empire in general. Also examined are empires like the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian that were not long for the world.

The early twentieth century was a time of growing affluence, technological progress, and globalization. As the book notes, nations in Europe had their alliances, but the pre-war years saw much European integration. Many in Europe could not see the danger ahead, and many today think that the World Wars were not inevitable. As the author notes, in later years many looked back wistfully at 1913 as a time of innocence. This volume is a good snapshot of the last moment before massive upheaval and tragedy.
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1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War
1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War by Charles Emmerson (Hardcover - May 28, 2013)
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