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Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War [Kindle Edition]

Max Hastings
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (245 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I: the dramatic stretch from the breakdown of diplomacy to the battles—the Marne, Ypres, Tannenberg—that marked the frenzied first year before the war bogged down in the trenches.

In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings gives us a conflict different from the familiar one of barbed wire, mud and futility. He traces the path to war, making clear why Germany and Austria-Hungary were primarily to blame, and describes the gripping first clashes in the West, where the French army marched into action in uniforms of red and blue with flags flying and bands playing. In August, four days after the French suffered 27,000 men dead in a single day, the British fought an extraordinary holding action against oncoming Germans, one of the last of its kind in history. In October, at terrible cost the British held the allied line against massive German assaults in the first battle of Ypres. Hastings also re-creates the lesser-known battles on the Eastern Front, brutal struggles in Serbia, East Prussia and Galicia, where the Germans, Austrians, Russians and Serbs inflicted three million casualties upon one another by Christmas. 

As he has done in his celebrated, award-winning works on World War II, Hastings gives us frank assessments of generals and political leaders and masterly analyses of the political currents that led the continent to war. He argues passionately against the contention that the war was not worth the cost, maintaining that Germany’s defeat was vital to the freedom of Europe. Throughout we encounter statesmen, generals, peasants, housewives and private soldiers of seven nations in Hastings’s accustomed blend of top-down and bottom-up accounts: generals dismounting to lead troops in bayonet charges over 1,500 feet of open ground; farmers who at first decried the requisition of their horses; infantry men engaged in a haggard retreat, sleeping four hours a night in their haste. This is a vivid new portrait of how a continent became embroiled in war and what befell millions of men and women in a conflict that would change everything.



Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Guest Review of “Catastrophe 1914” by Max Hastings

By Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson

Author of Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Scott Anderson is a veteran war correspondent who has reported from Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Sudan, Bosnia, El Salvador and many other strife-torn countries. A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, his work has also appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper's and Outside. He is also the author of novels Moonlight Hotel and Triage and of non-fiction books The Man Who Tried to Save the World and The 4 O'Clock Murders, and co-author of War Zones and Inside The League with his brother Jon Lee Anderson.

To truly understand the grim march of twentieth century history, one must start with World War I – and to truly understand that horror show, one must look at its cataclysmic first few months. It was during this time that Europe saw sweeping military offensives, great pitched battles, and such staggering body-counts that the powers turned to the stagnation of trench warfare almost as a matter of national survival. This is the period British historian Max Hastings sets out to examine in Catastrophe, and the result is nothing short of a masterpiece.

The power of this book operates on several levels. Due to the political and military complexity of World War I – as well as, perhaps, a certain nationalistic chauvinism – most histories of it tend to be decidedly local; a reader might learn a great deal about the battle of the Somme, for instance, but virtually nothing about what was occurring at the same time elsewhere. By deftly moving from one battlefront to the other, Hastings is able to create a mosaic of the carnage visited upon Europe in the opening days of the war, and to show how those fronts were interconnected. Certainly no other general World War I history that I’ve read gives the commensurate attention to the slaughters that occurred on the Serbian and Galician battlefronts in 1914 that Hastings provides here.

To accomplish this, he has wisely avoided that tendency so common among military historians - barraging the reader with a blizzard of commanders’ names and regimental designations – that can make reading about combat such an ironically-dull task. Instead, by bringing us the voices of the young men from all sides caught in the maws of these battles, we not only get a visceral sense of what it looked and sounded and smelled like, but an appreciation for the commonality of the horror befalling them. Those wanting a tactical, blow-by-blow account of the Russian disasters at Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes, for example, will have to look elsewhere – Hastings dispenses with these twinned battles in a mere dozen pages – but for everyone else, the description of ordinary Russians slowly dawning to the realization that they are doomed is both wrenching and unforgettable.

Perhaps most remarkable, given his focus on the personal and the small, telling detail, Hastings’ voice also carries the mantle of authority; very early on, the reader realizes the author has done the heavy spadework of examining the myriad political and military controversies of the period, and come to a studied conclusion. Chief among these is the enduring debate over who was most responsible for starting the war, and in recent years a whole spate of revisionist histories have sought to redirect blame toward Britain or France or – most improbably - Russia. While Hastings is ultimately dismissive of these alternate theories (it really was the Germans’ and Austro-Hungarians’ fault), he does so decorously and only after entertaining the revisionisms long enough to show their contradictions. Similarly, the battlefield decisions of Sir John French, the first British field marshal of the war, have been argued over for nearly a century now, but it’s very hard to see what needs to be added to Hastings’ elegant comment that French’s conduct, “in the field was little more egregious than that of his counterparts of the other European armies.”

In contemplating this project, it surely crossed Hastings’ mind that his book would inevitably be judged against another work that covers almost precisely the same time period, Barbara Tuchman’s 1962 classic, The Guns of August. With Catastrophe, that period now has two classics.

From Booklist

After writing almost exclusively about WWII, eminent historian Hastings (Inferno) turns his attention to the outbreak of WWI. Chronicling both the prelude to the war and its initial battles, he concentrates on events occurring between June 28, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, and December 31, 1914, when soldiers on both sides of the conflict languished in trenches. Drawing on accounts generated from rarified diplomatic circles, seasoned military leaders, and ordinary citizens helplessly caught up in the international catastrophe, he examines the origins and the onset of the Great War in minute and vivid detail. Hastings, unlike many contemporary historians, refuses to indulge in any retrospective hand-wringing, concluding rather firmly that Germany and Austria must accept principal blame for the war and that it is an analytical and an ethical mistake to believe that it did not matter which side won. This compelling reexamination of the commencement of the conflict represents an important contribution to the scholarship of the “war to end all wars.” --Margaret Flanagan

Product Details

  • File Size: 20263 KB
  • Print Length: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (September 24, 2013)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00C4BA4C2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,448 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
102 of 113 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Impressive History Of An Unfolding Disaster August 23, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The fact that a century has passed since the tragic summer of 1914 does not limit the fascination with which so many study the outbreak of World War I. It never ceases to intrigue me, and I suspect many others as well, to read about the rising tensions of years before 1914, the Sarajevo assassination which triggered the actual conflict, the missteps and miscalculations that dragged country after country into the fighting, and most of all the first few battles that preceded the long, disastrous stalemate that lasted until 1918, the consequences of which still affect us today. Among the many accounts of the early war Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, published in 1962, still stands head and shoulders above the rest. But now at last it has a near equal companion: Max Hasting's Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War.

The book begins with a Prologue on the Sarajevo assassinations, then recapitulates the diplomatic and military position of the various European powers before tracing the grim descent into conflict. Hastings chooses to begin his chronicle of the real fighting with the Austrian invasion of Serbia, which often gets overlooked in order to focus on the Germans, Russians, French and British. But the movements of the major powers, including the early battles of the Marne and Tannenberg and the bloody engagements at Ypres and Lodz, get plenty of attention, as do the naval maneuverings (including German shelling of British coastal cities and British aerial bombardment of Cuxhaven) and the actions of nations like Italy which remained non-belligerent in 1914.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Hastings's best, but informative at times October 28, 2013
Format:Hardcover
I've read "Das Reich" and "Overlord," both of which left a deep impression on me that compelled me to take on his 600-page account of 1914.

This work both overlaps with, and takes off from, Tuchman's "Guns of August." Hastings acknowledges his indebtedness to her work in a preface, and so he opens the door to the inevitable comparisons. Some of that influence is seen in his mirroring Tuchman's habit of using untranslated French, which continues to tax my long-forgotten high-school knowledge. His work is like "The Guns of August, September, October, November, and December," and so filled in many holes in my understanding of the events of 1914. Like Tuchman, he goes light on the origins of the war and the breakdown of negotiations after the assassination of Ferdinand and gets right into the more exciting fighting, which he describes well, but somehow without Tuchman's gift.

Hastings includes a variety of sources and perspectives from first-hand eyewitnesses (diaries and letters are prominent throughout), which reveal how the war affected everyday people. Hastings does have a gift for using these sources to show that the war's truths were clearly evident to a few who lived them. Yet, his account is somewhat rambling at times, and his broader themes remain lost under the heavy weight of details. I missed the biting, revisionist criticism of "Overlord," or the coldly factual, pared down, but damning journalism of "Das Reich." He puts much of the blame for this war on the Germans, but even that conclusion is weakly argued and fumbled a bit in awkward diction; this is not the Hastings I remember or fell in love with.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sir Max Hastings is a distinguished British historian. In "Catastrophe 1914" Hastings examines the beginnings of World War I and follows the battlefield fighting of that ominous and crucial year in twentieth century history. We see how the war began with the spark being lit at Sarejvo Bosnia with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on June 28, 1914. Ferdinand was the heir apparent to the tottering throne of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary. With his death the allies of Serbia: the Triple Entente nations of Great Britain, France and Czarist Russia were at war against the Triple Alliance powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy.
The military chapters discuss in generalized prose the battles of the French Frontier, Mons, Ypres, Tanneburg and others in the opening months of the sanguinary world conflict. Hastings is good at covering the actions on both the Western and Eastern fronts. Hastings is also adept at succinctly describing the character and leadership of such leaders as: Joffre of France; Molkte of Germany and Sir John French of Great Britain. Sir Max allows us to eavesdrop at high level strategy sessions in the capitals of the belligerent powers from Berlin to Paris to Vienna to London.
The book is over seven hundred small printed pages; includes countless photographs of the period and includes an impressive bibliography and footnotes.
Hastings is a former journalist who writes with the skills of a novelist and the erudition of an expert on World War I.
This book is history writing at its acme. Excellent and well recommended!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read. whether you agree with the author or not
Is there anything really new under the sun to say about the outbreak of the First World War and the campaigns of its first 5 months? Read more
Published 12 hours ago by Jonathan Baum
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid work about complex events
I read this book as part of a long-term goal of filling in the gaps in my knowledge about World War 1. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Susan C
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
The style of Barbara Tuchman. Intersting and grasping
Published 4 days ago by etzion ran
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, not the best
An interesting overview of the first year of the war. A better more detailed pre-war build up is "The Sleepwalkers", while the "Guns of August" tells the firs year... Read more
Published 11 days ago by E. shaffer
4.0 out of 5 stars The sections on the origins of the war are good, though at times...
The 100th anniversary of WWI has produced an outpouring of books, and Max Hasting's Catastrophe is among the notable. Read more
Published 14 days ago by A.N. Other
3.0 out of 5 stars Writer of several good books but this is just ok
Writer of several good books but this is just ok. The problem is that it is too granular with snippets of personal stories and quotes which mostly just clutter the narrative. Read more
Published 18 days ago by J. Patt
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book
Published 19 days ago by Geoff G. Ribar
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely facinating and engrossing. Conveys the sense of events ...
Completely facinating and engrossing. Conveys the sense of events running out of control from the Generals mismanaging at the top to the ordinary soldiers suffering the... Read more
Published 19 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Catastrophe: Instant Classic!
Max Hastings has rendered the reading public a great service with his new volume Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Duty, Honor Country
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent précis of the start of the Great War
Written with a good mix of eye witness and historical evidence this book brings to life the rationale of the start of the war and the absolute waste of life that resulted.
Published 1 month ago by Peter Naughton
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