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Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? Paperback – March 8, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The world of nihilistic terrorist conspiracy, paranoid empires and diplomatic opportunism that Fromkin (In the Time of the Americans) describes in this terrific account of WWI's underpinnings will seem eerily familiar to 21st-century denizens. Fromkin allies a direct, compulsively readable style with a daunting command of sources old and new, unrolling a complex skein of events with assurance and wit and dispatching numerous conventional wisdoms. The view (most influentially stated in Barbara Tuchman's Vietnam-era Guns of August), that the war, unwanted by all, was the result of an unfortunate series of accidents, is neutralized by the clearly presented evidence of careful premeditation and planning on the part of Germany and Austro-Hungary, as is the more recent assertion of Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War that if only the rest of Europe had acceded to Germany's imperial ambitions, the whole business might have been avoided. The enormity of the horrors unleashed in that fateful summer—and the culpability of all sides in exacerbating them—has made laying blame for the war squarely at the foot of the German and Austrian leadership unfashionable, but the evidence assembled by Fromkin is strong. His pictures of a Germany feeling itself (without real cause) surrounded, convinced of an imminent national demise from which only war could save it and of the Kafkaesque Austro-Hungarian empire lurching toward Armageddon are pitiless and sharp. Readers who ate up Margaret MacMillan's account of the war's aftermath, in Paris 1919, shouldn't miss this equally accomplished chronicle of its beginning.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Fromkin's answer to the question posed in his subtitle is succinct: Helmuth von Moltke, imperial Germany's army chief in 1914. In his clearly delineated argument, Fromkin addresses alternative theories about the cause of World War I, but he returns to the decision chain of a small number of officials in Berlin and Vienna. Their destruction of key evidence hampers the precise reconstruction of their actions as does, Fromkin maintains, historians' confusion about what the Germans were licensing in agreeing to whatever chastisement Vienna decided to deliver upon Serbia, on the pretext of avenging the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. In contrast to theorists of rigid alliances, to whom the notorious "blank check" initiated events almost beyond human control, Fromkin arraigns the actions of Moltke and his colleagues, especially in late July 1914, when the procrastinating Austrians had yet to crush Serbia in war, as Moltke expected. Hijacking the bollixed-up situation, he overrode Kaiser Wilhelm II's resistance, Fromkin concludes, to a deliberate instigation of a second war against Russia and France. The boldness of Fromkin's argument is enough to warrant attention, but his fluidity of expression guarantees a large audience for this book. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037572575X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725753
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #261,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Omer Belsky on November 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
David Fromkin's "Europe's Last Summer" is a murder mystery writ large; Who ended the long peace Europe had known since the Napoleonic wars, and caused the great tragedy of the first world war, that seminal event of the twentieth century?

In my mind, Fromkin offers two mutually exclusive answers to this question. The largest portion of the book is a history of the background, personalities and events of the pre war world, and a day by day countdown from the serving of the Austrian ultimatum to the German invasion of Belgium and the British declaration of war.

The last section of the book is Fromkin's theoretical analysis, in which he introduces a fascinating conception of the July Crisis: that there were two wars being raged at the time, not one: Austria's War against Serbia, and Germany's War against Russia, France and Great Britain. Austria triggered the former, and Germany the latter: "It was no accident that Europe went to war at that time. It was the result of premeditated decisions by two governments" (p. 293). Allegedly, Germany found that the Sarajevo crisis was the perfect pretext for war - it was initiated by the Hapsburg Empire, and thus committed Austria-Hungary to fight along with Germany, and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand made the Serbs, and not the Austrians or the Germans, seem like the perpetrators. If one man could be said to be the criminal it is German Helmuth von Moltke, German chief of staff, the man who had wanted an all out European War all along. "To the extent that any individual did so... this rather ordinary career army officer started the Great War". (p.
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140 of 164 people found the following review helpful By Scout on April 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It was with eager anticipation that I pre-ordered this volume. Dr. Fromkin's Pullitzer nominated A Peace To End All Peace is one of the best history books I have ever read. Europe's Last Summer, in stark contrast, is one of the most poorly written histories of my acquaintance.
Structurally, Fromkin divides his 305 pages into 53 chapters, many of which are merely two pages in length. The idea was to devote each one to a point by point presentation of the many steps and relevant considerations that led to the culminating conclusions about who was responsible for starting The Great War.
What became increasingly annoying was its redundancy. Frequently the reader sees the phrases "as noted earlier" and "as quoted earlier," as Fromkin keeps saying the same handful of statements over and over and over. He tells us no fewer than eight times that German General Helmuth von Moltke (the younger) wanted Germany to confront Russia in war earlier rather than later because he perceived that Russia's French funded industrialization would gradually displace Germany as the leading military power in the world. It became maddeningly tortuous to keep reading the same statements again and again.
For most of his conclusions, he refers to the analysis of other historians. By the time I finished reading, I felt that it would have been more profitable to read those historians' books instead.
He does ultimately make some important observations. His delineation of the Great War as having been in reality two wars is a valuable insight. That he carefully identifies individual views among the decision makers for each of the Great Powers illuminates the often conflicting machinations within each of their governments.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on June 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
David Fromkin is an interesting historian, if we judge by the two books of his that I've read (the other one is A Peace to End all Peace). While he does provide a narrative history of whatever events he's dealing with, he also spends a good deal of time spinning what information he presents you with in the direction that he feels is appropriate.

In this instance, the subject is the start of World War I, with the focus being not just the start of the war, but the responsibility for starting it. Fromkin dissects the events that led up to the various declarations of war very carefully, and parses each event in turn with almost machine-like precision. This does mean there's some repitition, as noted in another review, because the author describes each country's and even each person's reaction to others in terms of what *they're* doing too, so that you have each event viewed from as many as five or six angles. This makes for some very short chapters: one's a total of three paragraphs long. It also makes for some very careful analysis and interpretation of what occurred.

I won't give away the ending, but frankly the opinions of the author aren't that surprising to those who've been studying World War II for the last decade or three. The author seems to make use of every source that's significant from then til now, and provides a useful survey of what's been written about the war in the interim, especially in terms of how our view of things have changed in the intervening years. This helps greatly in terms of our understanding of the conflict and its causes.

I enjoyed this book, and think it a worthy addition to the World War I library of any scholar of that era, and to the library of anyone interested in military history or diplomacy.

While it's probably not the last word on the subject, the author has clear opinions, states them cogently, and defends them quite skillfully.
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