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The Origins of the War of 1914 (3 Volume Set) Paperback – June, 2005
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Text: English, Italian (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The three volumes are each over 700 pages, but make for riveting reading. The question of the responsibility for the outbreak of this disastrous war is probably the greatest whodunit in European history. I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that two and a half decades before Fritz Fischer, Albertini fingered the Germans. His evidence, in the end, is overwhelming. (Different responses by England and Russia could have altered the course of events in July, naturally.)
Albertini was an influential Italian newspaper editor and senator until ousted by Mussolini. He observed events in 1914 as a political insider, knew many of the protagonists, and was able to interview a number of them after the war. He had another advantage: by the time he completed the book, the diplomatic papers of each of the combatants had been published in their entirety, the memoirs had been written, the charges and counter-charges issued and disputed, etc. There is naturally more coverage of the Italian role in the crisis than in other studies, but the book is so well written (in Isabella Massey's splendid translation) that even readers not interested in Italy's response to its allies' machinations are likely to find these chapters engrossing.
The re-publication of this book is especially valuable because of the curious persistence of revisionist myths from the 1920s. The idea of collective guilt--that the nations of Europe "slithered into war," in Lloyd George's phrase--is not only attractive to ideologues on both the Left and Right, for various reasons, but continues to appeal to people wishing to think of themselves as compassionate and non-judgmental. Unfortunately, it was not abstractions like imperialism, militarism, nationalism, capitalism, or "secret diplomacy" that were responsible for the conflict, but the decisions of a few individuals in Germany who either wished to wage a preventative war or were willing to risk war to achieve a diplomatic coup.
Albertini does not spare the other parties to the conflict, however. He exposes the incompetence, myopia, and malfeasance in all the European capitals deftly and pitilessly.
Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, and Bethmann Hollweg, the German Chancellor, are sometimes depicted as the tragic figures of the crisis. Albertini will have none of this; he is quite critical of each. Some of the more sympathetic characters are actually the German ambassadors to the Entente countries, particularly Lichnowski in London-humane and civilized men appalled at the instructions they were receiving from Berlin. One of the things the book does so well is to expose the rivalries and animosities within the governments of the countries involved in the crisis.
Though I've not yet had a chance to look at this edition, I'm sure Samuel Williamson's introduction is illuminating.
It's long, it's detailed. But I know of no other book, and there are a number of admirable ones, that provides as complete a picture of this subject. Some examples. Frequently overlooked is the factor of Italy, it's drive for territory in N. Africa, and it's conflict w. Turkey over Greek islands immediately preceding WWI. From this we can see that much of this policy carried over into the inter-war era and was not entirely a creation of Mussolini. Albertini's long-running discussion of Austria's possible drive to the Black Sea, and it's attempts to block Serbia from the Adriatic through Montenegro are enlightening as a backdrop for conditions in the Balkans today. And the recent, and continuing, conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Serb relations with Montenegro and Albania are all pre-figured here beginning in the 19th century. And then there's the Sanjak of Novibazar -- too much to detail here.
There are few books I could as highly recommend.