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The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the Year the Great War Began Hardcover – February 14, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Augmenting the literature on the origins of WWI, Beatty dwells on domestic political situations in the initial belligerents, plus the U.S. According to him, but for those particular arrangements and specific events, war might not have erupted in August 1914. In France, the murder of Le Figaro’s editor by the wife of Joseph Caillaux destroyed the latter’s possibility of becoming prime minister, in which post, Beatty infers, he would have resisted war. Likewise in Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand, he posits, might have counseled peace despite the Serbian assassination of another official. Britain’s absorption in a prospective civil war in Ireland might have emboldened Germany, where the Junker caste held the upper hand over its liberal and socialist opposition after a political fracas in Alsace. As for Russia, Beatty covers the ascendance of ministers less worried by revolution than by German influence at Constantinople. A provocative discussion concerning internal affairs, though with limited linkage to the diplomatic contexts that actually detonated the war, Beatty’s work will appeal to readers attracted by history regarded from counterfactual perspectives. --Gilbert Taylor


"Thought-provoking, and often mordantly ironic."--The New Yorker

"Beatty's achievement isn't so much in discovering new material about World War I as it is in taking apart what is known about 1914 and assembling it in a different form. We see, of course, what might have been--but more important, we see, in a different light, what was. It was a calamity."--David Shribman, The Boston Globe

"Beatty seeks to navigate the historiography of the first great conflict of the twentieth century away from the 'metaphysical no-man's land of historical inevitability' and back into the 'trenches of empiricism.'"--The New Statesman

"Beatty... captures the sweep of the events that gripped the world and illuminates the epic arrogance, the paranoia, the pettiness and the myopic self-serving views of the European heads of state who had laid the cornerstone of a conflict that would lead to the deaths of millions from Moscow to Maine."--Paul Collins, Nashua Telegraph

"Beatty has a great eye for the vivid details that reveal character...'Downton Abbey' notwithstanding, the prewar era really does seem like a lost time. Beatty manages to shed some light on that receding era."--Michael Hill, The Associated Press

"THE LOST HISTORY OF 1914 brings alive much of the official world of a century ago."--Bruce Ramsey, Seattle Times

"Bold stuff...[An] exuberant and bulging rag-bag of counter-factual history that challenges the 'cult of inevitability' that Europe's war-leaders were retrospectively so eager to embrace."--David Crane, The Spectator

"[A] startling study of what Woodrow Wilson called 'an injury to civilization.'"--Eve Ottenberg, In These Times

"Spritely, captivating…[Beatty’s book] delivers his signature storyteller’s insights. Hardly any writer working today can amass such an enormous array of information and shape it all so effortlessly into paragraph after compelling paragraph. The centennial of World War I is bound to produce a tsunami of verbiage – and, if we’re lucky, some genuinely first-rate stuff. THE LOST HISTORY OF 1914…steals a march on all of them. Highly recommended."--Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly

"THE LOST HISTORY OF 1914 will leave its mark on how we think about World War I and perhaps, beyond that, on how we think about history and history in the making."--Harvey Blume, The Arts Fuse


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; 1st edition (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802778119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802778116
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #794,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Such a tragic story in human history, but one that the author captures and tells well.
Dan Graves
The lost history of 1914 Much of this book is about events that might have prevented the outbreak of World War I had they turned out differently.
Arthur Amchan
The book was well written and deserves to be in the library of anyone who enjoys reading about WWI.
Lindan Quetelard

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Sheldon Novick on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Jack Beatty is a fine story teller, and he has put together a vivid, entertaining and profoundly troubling account of the moment at which Europe and North America trembled on the edge of world war, and then slid down into the abyss. Every nation had a war party, people who wanted war; but no one planned or wanted the war that did happen, that engulfed them and plunged the world into a century of revolution and incomprehensible violence. It could so easily have been avoided. . . . Beatty gives us an eagle's flight over the time, reminding us of the strange men who ruled the world, the love affairs and jealousies and political ambitions that drove them, the bizarre and irrational events that made up the real texture of the time. As we run up to the hundredth anniversary of the start of the world war, there will be plenty of rehashing, but this is surely the only book in which you will find Kitty O'Shea, Rasputin, and Pancho Villa rubbing shoulders, the only one in which you will occasionally laugh out loud as you read. As one watches the empires of today converging on the Middle East, none wishing or desiring a global conflict, yet each with their own reasons for war, each with their belligerent tough guys, one reads this book, and recalls 1914, with deep unease.
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59 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Peter S. Bradley on March 11, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
For the lover of history, history has an inherent "Gosh, wow!" factor. A lover of history wants to marvel at the things that have brought us to where we are today, and particularly wants to marvel at the things that were better, bigger and more amazing than we can see today. There is probably no more unmitigated "Gosh, wow!" moment for a lover of history than when he's taken behind the stage where he gets to see the inner workings of history and how the firm, secure, concrete workings of history as it is could have turned out so different if a minor adjustment was made in the plot or the staging.

Jack Beatty's "The Lost History of 1914: How the Great War Was Not Inevitable" is a book for the lover of history who wants to indulge in some "Gosh, wow!" moments. Beatty's thesis is that the First World War - which has been taught for nearly a century as something that was as inevitable as the next Ice Age - could have been avoided if only certain minor adjustments in timing had been made in that last fateful year before the mass slaughter that decapitated one era and launched a newer, nastier one.

Beatty looks at the major players of the First World War - Germany, France, Britain, the United States and Russia - and points to "lost" events, i.e., events that were important at the time but are now forgotten, in order to point out that if those events had turned out slightly different or had been timed differently, then the clock-work mechanics that seems to have launched the First World War would have broken down. In France, for example, if Mrs.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the history of the twentieth century few events lend themselves to the art of the counterfactual (history as it might have been) so compellingly and so heartbreakingly as the outbreak of World War I. Jack Beatty's well written reexamination of the years just before and after the summer of 1914 contains many what-if scenarios that enable historians and general readers alike to ponder historical inevitability.

The heart of Beatty's book is made up of six fine chapters examining events in different countries in the immediate pre-war period, including increasing German militarism and Russian and Austro-Hungarian disarray. Other chapters deal with issues that are less familiar to non-specialists today, like the Irish Home Rule crisis which threatened civil war in Britain or a menage a trois that shook up French politics. Still others argue new perspectives, such as an excellent chapter examining US relations with Mexico or another which argues that had Franz Ferdinand not gone to Sarajevo in June 1914 the consequences for his empire and the world would have been even worse. The book ends with three fine chapters examining the war itself, vividly chronicling its impact on the soldiers and civilians who endured it and a final note "An Injury to Civilization" which details the ways in which the tragedies of the war itself were compounded by the peace settlements which brought it to an end.

As the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I approaches we will be deluged by many new analyses. Beatty's book will surely rank as one of the finest of these, and deserves a place on the bookshelf near Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower and The Guns of August.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Tom reads too much on December 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Having finished the book, I am still unsure what the author's point in writing it was in the first place.

Ostensibly, he is writing about the "other events" that could have, according to Beatty, changed the war or averted it. He devotes a chapter each to Prussian militarism vs. socialism in Germany, Irish Home Rule in the UK, the Mexican Revolution and the US, the Caillaux affair in France, a scenario in which Franz Ferdinand lived in Austria, and the lack of preparedness in Russia for war.

Oddly, I find that Beatty himself has undercut his own arguments that the war might have been averted. When discussing Prussian militarism, he blandly concedes that the middle classes wholeheartedly supported the army, and that German popular opinion felt the army was the instrument needed in German foreign affairs. How, then, could a socialist movement have caused a real civil war in Germany? When discussing the Mexican Revolution, his sole argument as to how it might have affected the war is that, if Wilson had just not supported Villa in the first place, the Zimmermann Telegram would never have been sent, but yet he shows how Wilson would have intervened if US interests were threatened anyway. The Caillaux Affair is probably the weakest chapter, completely disregarding the war fever that was gripping a France obsessed with restoring Alsace and Lorraine to the Republic. On the Russian chapter I didn't really feel that Beatty understood pre-war Russian politics at all, completely mischaracterizing the Stolypin years and totally ignoring the boom year of 1913.

I do think that, of all his arguments, the notion that Home Rule could have started a major civil war in Ireland that would preclude the UK's involvement is a valid one.
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