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Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy Paperback – May 11, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Although more treatise than narrative, and not for skimmers, this book should be on the shelf with the best of the many books about WWI. A professor of international history at the London School of Economics and author of two earlier books on that war, Stevenson analyzes the bankruptcy of reason that precipitated the war and kept it going. According to Stevenson, some regimes saw, in the unifying effects of a popular war, cures for menacing internal turbulence, but, as he shows, the war turned unpredictably on its makers in most nations. Stevenson's close analysis of the political, economic and cultural dimensions of the conflict unravels the reasons why Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Italy, Russia, France and even Britain saw much to gain from a war that each hoped to win in short order, with the help of allies. But the irony of unanticipated outcomes derailed strategies, loyalties, ideals and even governments—which lost control of events. "Nothing ever seen before," Stevenson writes, "compared with such massive concentrations of firepower and of human suffering... and with such meagre results." The imposed postwar settlement contained "time bombs" of political instability (such as Yugoslavia) that keep exploding even today. Stevenson is particularly critical of American involvement, which, he says, pushed Germany toward surrender, but was also belated, inefficient, badly led and (with respect to President Wilson) diplomatically unsophisticated in coping with European cynicism. Despite some inconsistencies and contradictions, and its lack of a human dimension to the horror, Cataclysm is a major re-examination of the shaping tragedy of the 20th century. 37 b&w photos.
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.
This history of World War I builds up the present wave of books (Europe's Last Summer, by David Fromkin [BKL F 15 04]; The First World War, by Hew Strachan [BKL Mr 15 04]) about the conflict. In contrast with many historians concerned with its military aspects, Stevenson is occupied by its underlying political dynamic, and he concentrates specifically on the protraction of the war. It bewilders expert historians as well as those who know no more about the war's stalemate than the pictures of its shell-blasted battlefields. Stevenson endeavors to explain the war's immobility and number-numbing casualties through the interaction of battlefield offensives, and of the naval war, with each participant's internal pro-war consensus and external enunciation of war aims and peace proposals. The author's arguments are very fine in both senses of the word, being intensely detailed and very persuasive, showing how the politics of defeat seemed worse, especially to the Germans, than continuing to fight. A major work of scholarship, best understood with a prerequisite reading of The First World War, by John Keegan (1999). Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The war saw the demise of such great empires as Russia, Austria-Hungry, the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Ottoman Turkish empire. Stevenson explains the political background to the beginning of the war. He also goes into incredible detail on each of the major participants in the war. Well covered are the domestic issues, the economics, the war policy and the battles engaged in by each nation involved. Stevenson surveys the Versailles Treaty and shows how the mistakes made at that major postwar division of the spoils sowed the seeds which bore bitter fruition with the rise of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. Stevenson is also excellent in showing the development of weaponry during the new age of mass industrial murder which is called war. There are macabre passages in the narrative which transports the reader to the hell of trench warfare.
The book resembles a treatise and is devoid of telling anecdotal information. It can be dry and slow reading but the author is an expert on the subject and somehow one continues to read as the horrible story is unfolded. This is not one for a person who lacks little knowledge of the war and its major players. It is an awe inspiring work of years of scholarship on the war and should be on the shelf of every serious student of World War I.
A new reader in the field should start with Keegan, then read this.
This book is a superb one-volume treatment of this subject. It leads to a clear appreciation of the root causes, the motivations of the belligerants, and the aftermaths, which even today are critical to world politics.
as a starter book it does well or to those just wanting the most succinct synopsis of ww1 all over again. i was very dissappointed. hew strachen's, to arms is the most definitive we have on this subject.