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Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674049543
ISBN-10: 0674049543
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Editorial Reviews


Neiberg tells a lively story. His smooth prose, keen grasp of revealing anecdotes, and transnational focus will find a large and attentive readership. (Leonard V. Smith, Oberlin College)

Dance of the Furies is a major contribution to our understanding of the Great War's origins and nature. Well researched and well written, this book has a simple central thesis: the peoples of Europe neither expected nor desired war in 1914. But they did believe their nations' causes were just, and their nations' sacrifices must be avenged. Within weeks what began as a cabinet war, initiated by a small group of men, became a total war whose passions defied compromise and whose hatreds left a legacy of militarism, racism, and totalitarianism. (Dennis Showalter, author of Tannenberg: Clash of Empires)

In this important book, Neiberg adds greatly to our understanding of the popular mood and political climate of the fateful year in which the twentieth century really started. Drawing on an impressive range of contemporary accounts, he explains convincingly how Europeans metamorphosed into committed belligerents only after their armies had crossed international borders and the reality of modern war—invasion, atrocities, mass casualties—reached civilians on the home front. (William J. Philpott, author of Three Armies on the Somme)

[A] fascinating book. (A. W. Purdue Times Higher Education Supplement 2011-04-28)

Neiberg expertly mines letters and diaries of European and American diplomats, authors, journalists, and expatriates to show that among "ordinary people," no one wanted WWI...Neiberg illustrates how a select group of men in Austria-Hungary, and in Germany, used the assassination to advance their expansionist programs. (Publishers Weekly 2011-05-02)

This book stunned me, in a positive way...For those versed in public choice economics, and behavioral public choice, Neiberg's account is much more intuitive than the popular analyses one often hears. Definitely recommended. (Tyler Cowen marginalrevolution.com 2011-05-11)

Dance of the Furies, becomes at once the new pinnacle in brief studies of the coming of the First World War...Dance of the Furies is far-ranging, adroitly written, and consistently fascinating...[Neiberg] uses an incredibly wide array of contemporary sources to shore up his point that when the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Serbian teenager Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, virtually nobody thought the event would lead to general war...Dance of the Furies brings its readers right to the edge of that Armageddon but does not plunge. We hear tales of bank collapses and hate-propaganda, and we see the idealism of all combatants quickly shredded, but the epic carnage and attrition, the big-scale generalship and diplomacy, all lies ahead when this superb volume concludes. Instead what Michael Neiberg has given us is a vast chorus of disbelieving voices, the shopkeepers, professors, poets, and farmers of half a dozen countries voicing their increasing alarm as their nations slipped toward the unthinkable. Assembling and synthesizing such a vast amount of material would be impressive enough; that Neiberg makes it all so darkly compelling is testament to a writing talent the discipline of history badly needs. Future studies of the First World War by this author will be eagerly devoured. (Steve Donoghue Open Letters Monthly 2011-05-01)

Powerful and original...Michael Neiberg's Dance of the Furies examines what has been a bitterly contentious subject ever since: how the war began. (Geoffrey Wheatcroft New York Review of Books 2011-06-23)

This is an important book that contradicts one of the great calumnies of 20th century history, that ordinary people all over Europe in 1914 were such idiots they welcomed war. Neiberg argues the reverse, that there was no stomach for a fight, which no one much expected. Certainly he suggests people were patriots but they were not all itching to take revenge for territory lost or ancient insults. This doesn't mean they didn't accept the need to keep fighting when the war became a mincing machine, but Michael Neiberg distinguishes between endurance and enthusiasm. For anybody brought up on the idea the generation that died on the wire in Poland, Passchendaele and Palestine and in the trenches of the Western Front welcomed the opportunity, this is a challenging book. (Stephen Matchett Weekend Australian 2011-06-18)

Neiberg takes issue with the notion that pre-1914 Europe was a ratpack of competing nationalisms just itching to get at each others' throats. Using a wide range of sources--newspapers, politicians' speeches and private diaries--Neiberg shows convincingly that most Europeans just wanted to get on with their increasingly prosperous lives in peace. It was only when the prearranged plans of the small group of warmongers--principally German--kick-started the war that a horrified public was galvanized into patriotic belligerency, with results that, a century on, are with us still. (Nigel Jones Literary Review 2011-11-01)

Neiberg's story is a sober and chastening one, since it shows how wars take on a life of their own, in that the moral pollution they trigger lingers long after the diplomats have finished with the peace treaties supposedly ending hostilities...When Georges Duhamel, the surgeon and flautist, won the Prix Goncourt in 1919, it was for a book sardonically entitled Civilization. Now we know, Paul Valery said, that our civilization is mortal; and savage too, he might have added. The outbreak of war in 1914 helped make it so, and Michael Neiberg's fine book shows what a disaster that moment was, a moment when the population of Europe was frogmarched into an unnecessary war, and learned that the only way to win it was with hatred and violence of a depth and intensity the world had never seen before. (Jay Winter Times Literary Supplement 2012-08-10)

About the Author

Michael S. Neiberg is Professor of History at the United States Army War College.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 1 edition (April 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674049543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674049543
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #855,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Gelman on May 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
These were the words uttered by a German nationalist, after recalling the fateful day of June 28,1914. The Belgian minister to Germany, Baron Beyens, used another metaphor for the same event. For him it was "a clap of thunder in the sky". Historians writing about the war have usually focused their attention on the diplomatic, military and social aspects of the Great War. By doing so, they have not taken into account another very important angle, which is the one being described here.
In a wonderfully researched and elegantly written book, Professor Neiberg destroys one of the central myths which dominated the historiography of WW1, namely: that the leaders and their respective nations were all interested in going to war. Neiberg's view is that the common people DID not want any war and were deeply shocked when this war erupted. In his words: "Virtually no one in Europe sought war as a way to correct supposed inequities stemming from the turbulent nineteenth century or as a way to adjust borders". The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife did not get almost any attention after it happened and, as Stefan Zweig noted, "only a few weeks more and the name and figure of Ferdinand would have disappeared for all time out of history". This was so because the people in Europe or elsewhere thought about the murder in personal, not political ,terms.
Neiberg uses new documents, letters, diaries and pamphlets to show that the outbreak of the war caused shock, a huge surprise, fear and disgust throughout Europe. Thus, the people accepted the necessity of war primarily because they believed their wars to be defensive. They likened the outbreak of hostilities to a natural disaster.
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Neiberg's book is refreshing because he challenges the myth of war enthusiasm -- that ordinary Europeans marched off to war with vigor. But in debunking the myth, Neiberg disturbs us profoundly. He does so by showing how the war continued for more than four bloody years despite the reluctance of the people, and in spite of attempts to control it and end it. Those hecatombs of dead -- all those grievously wounded men in body and mind and soul -- all those widows and orphans -- they were all products of a war that ran out of control: one whose devastation was entirely incommensurate with any reasonable strategic aims.

There are profound lessons for today in Neiberg's account. So easy it is to justify "defensive" war and to assume that the troops will be home by Christmas. The reality is that wars unleash elemental passions that are difficult to contain, and leaders will sacrifice the living faces of millions in order to save their own "face" in international affairs.
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Dance of the Furies- Europe and the Outbreak of World War I by Michael Neiberg is an excellent companion to another book he wrote about WWI: Fighting the Great War. Michael is a history professor with a focus on World War I, and my nephew. His other books about World War I include The Second Battle of the Marne, Warfare and Society in Europe, The Eastern Front and The World War I Reader.

His first book was a broad view of the military campaigns. The carnage of WWI was a confluence of history and technology. Picture the Civil War with machine guns, high power artillery, tanks, airplanes and poison gas. Yet medical care had little improved. The carnage was incredible and the war ended from an exhaustion of resources and people.
Dance of the Furies focuses on Europe outside the military campaign. Neiberg researched volumes of civilian correspondence and finds a Europe that did not want nor expect this war. The conventional academic wisdom is that WWI was an inevitable outbreak of nationalistic and jingoistic developments. Neiberg argues that while these attitudes existed it did not explain the outbreak of the war. Few people felt these attitudes justified war.

There had been violent acts that had been mediated without leading to war. The success in preventing war by mediation for decades gave a sense of comfort that war was a very avoidable outcome. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian national seemed a relatively minor incident in the scope of the European concerns and few expected it to lead to WWI.
But efforts to mediate the harsh terms the Austro-Hungarians placed on Serbia after the assassination failed and war ensured. Few people, however, believed it would last very long.
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Michael Nieberg brings forth a good book regarding World War I, and without the numbing details of the gigantic movements of men and artillery and the battles this war was know for.

His purpose is to show that Europe was taken by surprise and that hardly anyone could imagine that an assassination in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914 could lead to the carnage that Europe experienced for four years.
It was simply a "matter" that would be satisfied by the diplomatic corps, there would be some restitution, a quart of blood perhaps, and everyone would go on to conclude a wonderful summer and enjoy the fall.

Nieberg is absolutely correct in that there was no clamor for war, in fact, there were socialists that crossed borders of nations in forbidding war and realizing how destructive it is. There is also good material on this in Adam Hochschild's "To End All Wars", which I would recommend with this book. The extreme nationalism came about after the blood began to flow, and every nation took the position that they were invaded or threatened by their very destruction. Even the Germans justified the invasion of neutral Belgium. Many believe that once the death counts became enormous in the first weeks, nations had to justify their participation as a type of almost holy cause, thus the war to end all wars.
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