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As a Brit, studying the First World War at school in the seventies, memories of the Second World War were still fresh and bitter enough amongst parents and teachers that there was never really a question that the Germans were the 'bad guys' in both wars while we (the Brits, primarily, though a little bit of credit was occasionally given to the Allies) were the knights in shining armour. Enough time has passed since both wars now for a more rational view to be taken and this book by Margaret MacMillan is a well balanced, thoughtful and detailed account of the decades leading up to 1914.
MacMillan begins by giving an overview of the involved nations as they were at the turn of the century - their political structure, alliances and enmities, their culture and economic status. She then takes us in considerable depth through the twenty years or so preceding the war, concentrating on each nation in turn, and going further back into history when required. She introduces us to the main players: political, military and leading thinkers. She explains how and why the two main alliances developed that divided Europe and shows the fears of each nation feeling threatened or surrounded by potential enemies. And she shows how this led to an arms race, which each nation initially thought would act as a deterrence to war. Throughout she draws parallels to more recent history and current events, sometimes with frightening clarity.
In the mid-section, MacMillan discusses public opinion and cultural shifts, highlighting the parallel and divisive growth of militarism and pacifism and how the heads of government had to try to reconcile these factions.Read more ›
After reading the Introduction, I must admit I was a bit worried about where the author was going with THE WAR THAT ENDED PEACE. But, to my delight, I found it to be a highly detailed, in-depth look at the many intertwining threads of pre-war European politics, diplomacy and crises, presented in an unbiased narrative with a relevancy to today's world. While reading, it's easy to find commonalities and parallel courses of action between the declining, corrupted and indebted empires of the early 20th century and what one might conclude are declining, corrupted and indebted "empires" of the early 21st century.
Well-written and researched, with extensive notes and bibliography. A great use of first-person accounts, often multiple accounts by the various participants so one can contrast and compare, thereby drawing your own conclusions. Author Margaret MacMillan lends clarification and insight, yet never strays into the territory of letting her opinion be presented as fact.
If you're deeply intrigued by the First World War, then this book is a definite must read and a worthy addition to your library. My only caveat would be that this is NOT a book for casual reading nor for those who are not at least somewhat well versed in the subject. Readers falling into either of those two categories would probably be bored to tears and consider this book to be a tome.
According to the blurb, the finished edition should include photos, maps and illustrations, things the galley proof I read lacked. All could only make the book even more worthy of the FIVE STAR rating I have for THE WAR THAT ENDED PEACE. I thoroughly enjoyed it, learned yet more about a favorite subject and enthusiastically recommend it!
Those familiar with Margaret MacMillan's previous works like "Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed The World" and "Paris, 1919: Six Months That Changed The World" have come to expect detailed history married to highly readable prose and wonderful insight. MacMillan's latest work, "The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914" contains all of this in abundance. Having brilliantly explored the end of the 1914-1918 war in "Paris, 1919," MacMillan now turns her sights on the beginning of that war, which saw the breakdown of a European system stretching back nearly one hundred years. MacMillan's work largely succeeds through the historian's ability to understand and communicate the immediacy of the events and the horrors of the coming disaster. Particularly insightful is her look Wilhelm II's Germany, and the foreign policy of men like Britain's Sir Edward Grey. Like a great detective, MacMillan pieces together the clues of history and presents a narrative that is both understandable and relatable to today's headlines. If you are at all interested in just how Europe took the plunge into madness, death and destruction for four years you will profit greatly from this book.
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. . . I have to confess that I really struggled with this book for a number of reasons.
* I felt that with the exception of Kaiser Wilhelm, the biographical information on the various monarchs was superficial and stereotypic. King Edward VII was more politically astute than he was given credit for being; Czar Nicholas, while a weak ruler by all accounts, was not as stupid (and a great deal more religious) than portrayed; and Franz Ferdinand had far more depth than portrayed.
* An editor was badly needed. I suspect that 50-100 pages could have been trimmed with minimal loss of content. I love reading history and non-fiction for fun, but if the author wanted to appeal to a somewhat broader market, then editing was needed.
* The author's use of parenthetical "asides", especially in the first half of the book (when they appeared on nearly every page) just about drove me to distraction. PLEASE! Just write the book, and let the reader draw his/her own conclusions -- and save the editorializing for an epilogue.
In other words, this was a book with a fascinating premise, but which failed to deliver.