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The Origins of the First World War (New Approaches to European History) 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521886338
ISBN-10: 0521886333
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Excellent book ... teems with compelling insights and arresting arguments." -Australian Literary Review, Jeffrey Grey

"This is a cogent, finely presented reinterpretation of the origins of the Great War drawing on a large amount of recent scholarship." -Len Shurtleff, Stand To!, The Journal of the Western Front Association

"One must congratulate the author for this excellent work." -Anatol Schmied-Kowarzik, H-Net

"In this refreshing study, Mulligan reevaluates the era after 1871, emphasizing the Great Powers' peaceful coexistence during a long period of strategic balance. Recommended." -Choice

Book Description

A new interpretation of the origins of World War I that synthesises recent scholarship and introduces the major historiographical and political debates surrounding the outbreak of the war. It examines key issues, providing a clear account of relations between the great powers, disintegrating empires, and the role of smaller states.
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Product Details

  • Series: New Approaches to European History (Book 43)
  • Hardcover: 266 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (April 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521886333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521886338
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,274,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Much ink has been spilled over the last 90 years or so as historians continue to disagree among themselves as to who or what caused the first war. For as long as I can recall, say 40 years, historians tended to point the finger at individuals (usally Kaiser Bill) or a group (most often, the German general staff) as the instigators of the war. More recently, historians have begun to focus on "causes" and "conditions" rather than individuals as causative factors. This book is of the later school, and the author begins his analysis decades before 1914 and Franz Ferdinand's assassination, to look at economic factors, geopolitical developments, the military, and a whole bunch of other conditions that he believes contributed to the environment within which the war could break out. At a minimum, the reader learns simply how complicated the whole issue is.

The first chapter helpfully summarizes how different historians have approached the issue. Historial views have been shaped, at least in part, by the then current political conditions--for example, during the Cold War German culpability was less stressed. The second chapter covers why there was no general war between 1871 (the end of the Franco-Prussian war) and 1914. Here the author looks at every crisis that occurred during this period, the role of alliances and how multilateral restraints kept a lid on things. He concludes that during this period there were no vital national interests at stake in any of these disputes, and hence they did not lead to world war. The third chapter deals with the impact of military technology, strategic planning, arms races, diplomacy and civilian-military relations within key countries.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the great,ongoing,debate about the origins of the war,W.Mulligan offers a fresh deep look without bias.
"By privileging the war as the logical culmination of international politics before 1914,the history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has become framed in a narrative that stresses the increased tensions,confrontations and crises between the Great Powers.Until recently,characteristics of the international system that did not fit in this narrative scheme were marginal in historical accounts"
This paragraph ,copied from the long and excellent introduction of Mulligan to his book describes best the author's approach to the subject.
In a historiography cluttered by the opinionated positioning of various historians that adhere to this or that dogma with emphasis on guilt assignation,Mulligan's work is a breath of fresh air because he does not consider,a priori,that the war was bound to happen.
His is a thematic approach examining the geopolitics of the era after 1871 until 1914,the military parameters,the emergence of Public Opinion,the World Economy and finally the events of July 1914.
Throughout his meticulously researched and very well written essays on the above subjects he works as a true Historian examining and evaluating a lot of events and data and deducting few and carefully considered conclusions.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Origins of the First World War by William Mulligan is a great addition to the hundred-year-old debate on the causes of this conflict. However, it must be warned that it is not meant for the casual reader but for someone who is fairly acquainted with European History between 1871 and 1914. The author has managed to summarize a complex topic in a couple hundred pages but that means there are several characters and events that are not properly introduced. For instance Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter, a central figure in the German Foreign Office is first mentioned as follows: "Kiderlen hoped for more intimate and closer relations between Russia and Germany..." (p. 69). With no mention of who he was and what he did the average reader might need to keep Wikipedia at hand so as to avoid getting lost.

With this caveat in mind I think this book is a great way to immerse oneself into this complex topic. The first chapter, which is also the Introduction, is a 20-page review of the different explanations given to the war from the colored books printed by each government in 1914 to the latest debates between the different variants of systemic (the structure of European relations led to war) and intentionalist (the actions of individual or collective actors led to war) explanations. I found this section to be a pretty useful to keep up to date with the copious bibliography about the causes of the war. Against the backdrop of this debate, Mulligan explains that in his opinion it is wrong to study the 1871-1914 period just to find the causes of the war when the truly remarkable event of these years is that the great powers managed to keep peace.

The next four chapters are intended to prove this hypothesis, each analyzes a particular aspect of great power relations between 1871 and 1914.
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