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The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914
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217 of 232 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon October 17, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
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. She indicates that, although the peace movement was international, that at times of threat, the membership tended to split on national lines - an indication that the movement would falter in the event of war, as indeed it did.

Next MacMillan explains the development of military planning and how these plans gradually became fixed, allowing little room for movement when war began. She explains that the Schlieffen Plan assumed war on two fronts and that, when it came to it, the military insisted that it wasn't possible to change the plan at the last moment to limit the war to the Eastern front, with all the implications that had for ensuring that France and therefore Britain would become involved. MacMillan also shows how the plans of each nation assumed an offensive, rather than defensive, strategy, taking little account of how modern weaponry would change the nature of warfare. Thus, when the war did come, the leaders still expected it to be short and decisive rather than the long drawn out trench warfare it became.

In the final section, MacMillan walks us through the various crises in the Balkans and elsewhere in the years leading up to the war. She makes the point that not only did these crises tend to firm up the two alliances but also the fact that each was finally resolved without a full-scale war led to a level of complacency that ultimately no country would take the final plunge. And in the penultimate chapter, she takes us on a detailed journey from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand up to the outbreak of war, showing how each government gradually concluded it was left with no alternatives but to fight. In a short final chapter, she rather movingly summarises the massive losses endured by each nation over the next four years, and gives a brief picture of the changed Europe that emerged.

Overall, I found this a very readable account. MacMillan has a clear and accessible writing style, and juggles the huge cast of characters well. I found I was rarely flicking backwards and forwards to remind myself of previous chapters - for me, always the sign of a well-written factual book. As with any history, there were parts that I found more or less interesting. I found the character studies of the various leaders very enlightening, while I was less interested in the various military plans (though accepting completely MacMillan's argument of their importance to the eventual inevitability of war). I got bogged down in the Balkans (always a problem for me in European history) but in the end MacMillan achieved the well-nigh impossible task of enabling me to grasp who was on whose side and why. This is a thorough, detailed and by no means short account of the period, but at no point did I feel that it dragged or lost focus.

One of the problems with the way I was taught about WW1 was that we tended to talk about the nations rather than the people - 'Germany did this', 'France said that', 'America's position was'. MacMillan's approach gives much more insight, allowing us to get to know the political and military leaders as people and showing the lack of unanimity in most of the governments. This humanised the history for me and gradually changed my opinion from believing that WW1 was a war that should never have been fought to feeling that, factoring in the always-uncertain vagaries of human nature, it could never have been avoided. This isn't MacMillan's position - she states clearly her belief that there are always choices and that the leaders could have chosen differently, and of course that's true. However, it seemed that by 1914 most of them felt so threatened and boxed in that it would have taken extraordinary courage and perception for them to act differently than they did, and inaction may have meant their country's downfall anyway. A sobering account of how prestige, honour and national interest led to a devastating war that no-one wanted but that no-one could prevent. Highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House.
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73 of 80 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 24, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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!
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 22, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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94 of 112 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
. . . 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.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I looked forward to reading this one after the author's superb Paris 1919 -- a perfect set of bookend for your WWI shelf -- but was disappointed in its mediocrity. In the acknowledgements, she says she reluctant to write it but was urged to do so by the publisher, who was obviously hoping to strike gold a second time. She should have stuck with her first instinct.

Several reviewers have noted the occasional jabs at modern conservatives, which are just juvenile and anachronistic. I don't know if MacMillan was trolling from support from liberal reviewers in places like the NY Times or whether she genuinely thinks these "insights" are appropriate, but either way it shows bad judgment, and makes one wonder whether that lack of judgment is reflected in the other areas. Another irritating flaw: mini-biographies of the protagonists that add nothing and are uninteresting in their own right. It makes sense to explain the Kaiser's character flaws, since they had a direct effect on events, but the biographical detail on seemingly every player in the foreign offices of France, Germany, Austria-Hungary were excessive. The fundamental flaw is that the author draws no conclusions on cause and effect and how the war could be avoided; she clearly believes the war could have been avoided, but how? The narrative competently makes a pile of the events leading up to the war, but their significance is rarely clear, with the author mentioning mobilisation schedules, the German naval build-up, the Balkans, the general zeitgeist, and other possible causes without distinguishing what is there for background from genuine turning points.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of a general reader who knows nothing of the subject and asked if two stars is too harsh of a review for a book that does provide a narrative of pre-war Europe, but I don't thinks so -- the general reader will get more out of the (much briefer) discussions of the causes of the war in the works of authors like Niall Ferguson and John Keegan.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
What follows is not meant as a criticism of the book, which is an extraordinary piece of research, monumental in scope and deep in knowledge, making very clear why peace ended. The immersion of the author into the events and the level of details are astonishing. This review is meant to warn the reader of the efforts necessary to take full advantage of the book.

The major contribution of the work is the detailed and pertinent description of the main characters their weakness, follies, their basic humanity that helps to understand how we got there, which gives you a feel for why they made (failed to make) the decisions that ended peace. Terrifying thing is that things are not much different with our leaders. The details of the buildup, the plans, and the rivalries are masterfully described. So little is said about the internal situation of Serbia and on their leaders in the months before the war broke, like if it did not play a role in the conflict.

The major problem of the book is it excessive repetition that wears the reader down. How many times we need to be reminded that Russia had an alliance with France or that there was an arms race between the navies of Germany and Britain, or that Britain did not want to commit to anything, or that Russia was not ready for the war. It makes it look as if chapters were written by different hands that have not read each other. Granted, to edit these repetitions into a more coherent whole would be an almost impossible task in a volume of this magnitude, but it makes you wonder if the publication was rushed and there was no time for editing.

The books makes an extensive use of quotes from correspondence and conversations at the time, which gives you confidence that the analysis is done as if the outcome was not known, i.e. without the benefit of hindsight. Nevertheless, there is the real risk of choosing the quotes to benefit one's own story. Some of them seem very selective indeed.

It looks as if one has collected tons of notes and then goes on to fit them in the narrative.

Some chapter are developed based on themes, some are more chronological, which makes following the events a bit complicated. The book goes back and forth in time throughout the 10-20 years preceding the outbreak, sometimes even within the chronological chapters. It is hard to keep track where we are and the relationship between the many events.

Obviously for a story covering several decades and many countries a very large number of characters are involved. Some characters are described in detail even when their roles are very minor, others are just named but had a key role (anything about Alexander Hoyos? why are Beatrice and Sidney Webb mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 19?) The book would have benefit from having a list of names and roles (Wikipedia and Google become indispensable companions)

The book should be read in as shorter time as possible. If you stop for a few days, you may lose track of the events that were unfolding and who the characters are. There is so much going on, sometimes too much detail in side events which in the overall view of the outcomes are rather irrelevant.

But all in all, it is and extraordinary description of the events leading to the loss of peace.

Now, to read what happened during the war, go read The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I read MacMillan's earlier work, Paris 1919: Six Months That Ended the World, with interest and found it a valuable account of the negotiations that led to the Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War I. The War That Ended Peace? Not really worth the time to read. MacMillan really adds nothing to either the analysis or narrative of the first years of the 20th Century in Europe. I must admit, she warns her readers that the book was not her idea. She viewed "the path too well-trodden" and so she "resisted" the suggestion to write War. (p 648).

She views the events through an Anglocentric lens; often the thoughts of foreign decision-makers (and that is her focus, the Great Men of History) are depicted as "How will the UK react if I do this?" This is especially true for Austria-Hungary, Germany and most of all Russia, which she paints as near dictatorships under the thumb of their hereditary emperors. Oh, except of course when new-fangled public opinion forces their hand, that, and "honor."

I am writing this on Montenegro's eighth anniversary of renewed independence (May 21, 2008), an independence lost to Serb military occupation and French connivance as WWI ended. MacMillan is not kind to Montenegro's King Nikola, (whose name she insists on spelling as Nicholas, even as she uses the local spelling for Serbian PM Nikola Pasic), viewing his well-married daughters (to the future King of Italy and to the Russian imperial family) as impediments to peace. And in her brief summary of the war and the aftermath itself, she merely ellipses Serbia's forceful annexation of its ally. Perhaps because it does not fit her thesis.

Again, we are warned of her thesis. "Some ... were more culpable than others. Austria-Hungary's mad determination to destroy Serbia in 1914, Germany's decision to back it to the hilt, Russia's impatience to mobilize, ...." (p. xxxv) The old standbys on the origins of the Great War. MacMillan also subscribes to the hoary view that Austria's ultimatum to Serbia after the death of the Emperor's heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, assassinated in Sarajevo June 28, 1914, was an intolerable affront to Serbia's "sovereignty", a pretext for war. She neatly glosses over the clear evidence that the Archduke's death was planned in Belgrade, by Serbian Military Intelligence, which trained, armed, and conveyed the terrorists to Sarajevo. The "intolerable" clauses, that Austria participate in the investigation in Serbia, and that the accused be extradited to Austria to stand trial, are surely a lesser affront to sovereignty than killing the heir to a dynastic throne. But of course the head of Serbian Military Intelligence had already tried that before: twice, unsuccessfully, against Montenegro, and once against his own King and Queen.

Unfortunately, MacMillan's Anglocentric lens does not give us any insight into the UK's decisions. It is reduced down to the "balance of power" and an unexplained if repeated assertion that German domination over France or Belgium would be intolerable to British interests. We are never told why - and this after all was the Germany of the Kaiser, the grandson of Queen Victoria who held the rank of Admiral in the Royal Navy - not the Germany of Hitler.

The all-too brief chapter entitled "Dreaming of Peace" whetted my appetite to read more of the efforts of the Socialists and advocates for disarmament in the twenty or thirty years before the War. For that, I will have to turn to her sources. (Reviews forthcoming once I have received and read a few key books in her bibliography.)

As others have noted, I too wearied of MacMillan's overly facile comparisons of the challenges faced by modern leaders to those faced in The Road to 1914. Those similes will rapidly yellow and age - perhaps not an ill effect, if it removes this work from the standard literature on the outbreak of WWI.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This is a good historical work, but it's taking me forever to read. It needs at least two commas in every sentence; without them, you have to go back and re-read every sentence at least twice to figure out what the author is saying. I'm a professional writer and copy editor, so I just don't understand the lazy writing and editing for such an otherwise distinguished work. This extra mental effort is such that I won't be reading some of Macmillan's other books, which I was looking forward to.
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35 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The War That Ended Peace is ideal for the armchair historian who is familiar with the events of The Great War of 1914-18, but who is curious about how Europe could fall into this catastrophe so mindlessly. The book primarily covers the 15 years prior to the war and helps us to understand how a world war became inevitable after having been unthinkable.

MacMillan's goal is to show us how avenues for preserving peace were closed off, one by one, in the years leading up to August 1914. She skillfully introduces us to a wide range of characters, gives us empathy for them, and helps us understand why they did what they did.

Some interesting themes emerge:

o Actions taken by nations that seem innocently defensive to themselves can appear to be hostile threats to possible adversaries.

o German diplomacy was consistently inept, with the Kaiser taking the lead role as an arrogant, hypocritical bully.

o Nationalism and public opinion grew to be toxic forces driving nations to war.

For a history of World War I, see A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
For those who love historical atlases, see Historical Atlas of Central Europe: Revised and Expanded Edition (History of East Central Europe, Vol. 1, 1)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Many people , specialists and history buffs alike, claim that World War One changed the course of modern and comtemporary history. It is considered the first modern technological war and when it ended, at least four empires disappeared from the world.
Many problems which concern the world today have their origins in this war and its aftermath.
Margaret Macmillan has written a brilliant book about the background of this horrible conflict which claimed the lives of more than nine million soldiers. This immensly readable book is not only a synthesis of things which have been published before, but is also a very broad and deep analysis of various aspects of the events that led to this tragedy.
True, Professor Macmillan does not offer any verdict as to who was to be blamed for the war. She asks many questions, offers many solutions and lets the reader decide for himself who the real culprit is, but her tendency is to support the Fischer Thesis, or in other words, she more than once hints about Germany's culpability.
This is one of the best book that were ever written about WW1 and it is more than highly recommended!
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