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Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 24, 2013


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Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War + The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 + The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; BC ed. edition (September 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307597059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307597052
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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Customer Reviews

This book is very well researched.
Thomas M. Magee
Mr Hastings is perhaps best known for his works on World War II, although he has written books across a wide spectrum of history.
WryGuy2
I will read more of Mr. Hastings books and certainly can recommend this one.
Cloggie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 104 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Magnitude on 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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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on October 8, 2013
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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