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on January 29, 2015
McKeekin reminds us that history is written by the victors. This is my fourteenth book of the WWI genre. This is unlike other histories such as Clark's, SLEEPWALKERS, and McMillan's, THE WAR TO END PEACE, which I recommend highly. McKeekin presents the events from the assassination through the beginning of the war in a chronological narrative. The best arguments are made by presenting facts, by teaching. McKeekin achieves this. I highly recommend this book after familiarizing myself with the players, reading Clark and McMillan's books.
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on April 22, 2015
This is the most fascinating book I have read in years. I have given copies to my friends who are huge history buffs and I can't say enough good things about this. The research is so thorough and the writing so lively and vital that I could not put this book down. One becomes immersed in the world of the blind following the blind as the diplomats and their arrogance propel the world closer and closer to the brink of apocalypse. The reader shudders in terror as the choices that are made by the countries involved in starting this disaster propel the world to an irrevocable holocaust. Absolutely riveting book. A terrific read for anyone. One does not have to just be a history person to be thoroughly engrossed with McMeekin's outstanding professional narrative style. Highest recommendation and I must say that I am very hard to please when it comes to writing. Buy this book by all means and prepare to have life put on hold until you finish it. You won't want to put it down!! 5 HUGE Stars!!!
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on August 4, 2014
Great book! This well-documented day by day account of the events that lead up to the conflagration that consumed the old order in Europe, makes it clear that almost everything we think we know about the origins of "the Great War" is wrong. Reading it will change your view of the history of the 20th Century, particularly when read in conjunction with Christopher Clark's "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914", which provides more historical background on the events that led up to the war than does McMeekin's book. Both great reads for anyone interested in how the world in which we now find ourselves came into being.
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on January 21, 2014
Sean McMeekin masterfully recounts Europe’s hour-by-hour, inch-by-inch descent into the slaughter of World War I, judging each player’s errors and concluding that Germany wasn’t the only nation to blame. Every combatant, except perhaps Great Britain, acted foolishly, truculently, heedlessly, and McMeekin cites chapter and verse on every catastrophic mistake. Austria-Hungary wanted to fight a little war against Serbia, which it blamed for the assassination of its heir apparent in Sarajevo. But when it got a tepid green light from its ally Germany, Vienna made impossible demands on Serbia. Serbia’s ally Russia reacted angrily and worked to drag its ally France into the increasingly complex and dangerous diplomatic muddle. Germany failed to appreciate the gravity of egging Austria on until it was too late. France was distracted by a sex scandal (when is it not?). In Britain, only Winston Churchill, the navy chief, was paying attention, and he rushed ships toward the German coast while the king wrote feeble notes to his cousins, the Kaiser and tsar. Deadlines were set and broken, troops were mobilized and couldn’t be un-mobilized, declarations became effective. Germany’s war plan foolishly involved crossing “plucky little Belgium,” which sealed Britain’s entry. It was a three-dimensional chess game in which every player lost, and the board collapsed in chaos. If you’re up to following the moves, which McMeekin clearly lays out, you’ll find no better modern replacement for Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August.”
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on November 7, 2013
Sean McMeekin writes a detailed well researched account of what happened between June 28th and August 1st 1914. While he puts more of the onus on Russia because she was the first of the major powers to mobilize he shows that each of major powers shares in the blame. If Russia had not mobilizes against the Austrians then Germany, the last major continental power to do so, would not have mobilized. If France had not mobilized then Germany would not have mobilized against France. While mobilization does not mean war many of the principals felt that it did. In short, World War I was the result of "some damn fool thing in the Balkans" that finally lead the major Europeans powers into war. I believe that Mr. McMeekin provides an excellent narrative about how each nation found itself at war. If you are looking for a book that condemns Germany for the war this is not it, and wile Mr. McMeekin does shake his finger at Russia there is enough left over for the rest of Europe and even Serbia.
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on May 4, 2015
This may well be the definitive work on the exact occurances in that crucial month before WWI began. It goes into almost daily descriptions of the various machinations of the Great Powers leading up to the War. The author is careful to detail his soures, and shows skepticism when some idea long held is not supported by the actual moves. If you wish to know the actors AND their lines in this drama, this is the book for you.

The downside - and there is always a downside. Despite Mr. McMeekin's very careful and exacting description of events, he seems to have simply lost the overall view of the nations, peoples, and conditions. As a result, after such careful description, he draws a conclusion on the start of the War that in my opinion shows he got drawn into his microcosm and failed to lift his head and take a breath. This, however, is hardly a fatal flaw, or even a significant distraction, because it is very easy to simply dismiss his final "conclusions" and enjoy the work for what it is - a fine timeline of events.

If you have ANY interest in WWI, you MUST read this work!
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on June 10, 2014
Sean McMeekin does a good job detailing the July Crisis of 1914. He gives an event by event chronology of events that demonstrate in his mind that the real culprits of the Balkan Crisis metastasizing into an all out conflagration are the Russians and the French. In an earlier book, McMeekin shows his belief in the Russian origins, in this book he cements the French to it.

Basically, the chauvinist wing of the French polity wanted to fight the Germans and regain the honor and territory lost in 1870-71 in the Franco-Prussian War. There are also internal political and military reasons for doing so as well. While I can see the point of the French culpability, alongside the Russian, I think we miss a crucial point that McMeekin recognizes but not in clear enough terms...

What happened in 1914 is what happens when there are no set mechanisms for world powers to discuss things. In 1914 such things would have been difficult, but the Austrians acted ham-fistedly in going after the Serbians. The Russians were acting with a Pan-Slav approach veiling their true eye toward the Bosporus.

The inability of anyone to stop the thing in the end is really a function of Sir. Edward Grey, who deserves more denunciation than he gets. Really, his is in my mind the linchpin that seals the fate of all. While McMeekin basically states at the beginning of the book that Grey's stealthy foreign policy kept Britain allied with Russia and France, and persistently Germanophobic, it is safe to say that probably the British stay neutral in 1914 if they renounce the 1837 treaty that has them ensure Belgian neutrality. If asked to put that much wealth and blood on the line, I am sure that the Liberal Government under Asquith and Lloyd George would have backed down. Without a British ally, the French and the Russians along with the Germans and Austrians cool down.

I may be wrong in my analysis, but after reading The Sleepwalkers, alongside this book, that seems the likely chain of events to me.

I recommend this book. I think you will enjoy it. The facts are well presented and McMeekin is a very accessible writer. I think some of his conclusions are a little wanting, but that is the joy of history!
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on December 29, 2013
Most of us know how World War II began, and have a pretty good idea of how the Revolutionary, Civil, and Vietnam wars began. But I suspect other than the almost misleading phrase "the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand," few of us know how World War I began. Yet more than a month lapsed between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, and the beginning of hostilities. That's more than a month during which cooler heads could have stopped the war from happening, and could have stopped the deaths of millions of people, the devastating injuries of millions more, and the waste of much of the combined cultures of Europe. As it turned out, it didn't even help that Kaiser Wilhelm II and Czar Nicholas II were cousins, and were actually related to many other leaders on the continent.

I read this book in Kindle format, and if I could recommend anything, it would be to read this book in paper format. This is one of those rare books where you want to flip back and forth between pages and sections to remember the "characters," as some of the names of government leaders in France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Serbia and Russia almost require a "scorecard" to remember who's who. But this is a very well researched book, and one that furthered my own understanding about the beginning of the Great War, and how it could have (and should have) been avoided.
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on July 1, 2013
I suspect that if any writer used this story as a theme for a novel, the literary critics would pan it as being preposterous. Yet, there was a war and the events in July 1919 did occur. As I read this book, I found myself wondering why these leaders failed to see that they were on a path to disaster. Was it arrogance? Perhaps a narrow view of the situation. All of the leaders were men of experience. They knew their counterparts and understood how to communicate with them in meaningful ways. In fact, they did communicate and opportunities to prevent this conflagration were present. Yet, these opportunities were missed, or wrongly interpreted. The result was World War 1.

For me, this book was a slow start at the beginning and I was tempted to put it down on several occasions. Yet, I found many of the people in this story to be interesting. Before long, I found that I wanted to read more to see just what each of these leaders would do in response to the actions of those on the other side. I found myself fascinated by the arrogance of some, the sheer laziness of others, the desire of several who wanted to avoid this war and the lies invented by those who knew better but wanted to further their agenda without concern to the potential cost.

I'm glad that I bought this book. It made me wonder if today's leaders are more competent than those of 1919 Europe.

I hope so.
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on March 17, 2014
As others have pointed out there, one of the real strengths of this book is the painstaking detail in which the author has gone to show that much of the common wisdom about the start of the war is wrong. At the same time I do not see him being contrarian for sake of being contrarian. I think the biggest point is there was plenty enough blame to go around- he does not play favorites. All of the major powers deserve blame for what transpired some more then others. The start of the war was not inevitable could have been stopped at several different points by several different people and countries. Its overly simplistic to blame it on the "war mongering Germans" like too many have tried in the past. Gives a very good insight into the personalities and temperements of the key leaders. Highly recommend.
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