- Paperback: 608 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Revised ed. edition (March 3, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465057128
- ISBN-13: 978-0465057122
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.3 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 88 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #266,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Pity Of War: Explaining World War I Revised ed. Edition
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"A rich and provocative book, evocative and heartbreaking. Ferguson is a talented writer and a versatile scholar." -- The Atlantic Monthly
"An illuminating synthesis of current knowledge on the war. The reader will find plenty of fresh information and challenging ideas on the conflict's most important aspects." -- The New York Times Book Review
"Brings for the first time the carnage of 1914-18 into sharp, unmystified focus.
This is analytical history at its mordant best. With all its other merits, The Pity of War is also a work of grace and feeling." -- The Economist
"[Niall Ferguson is] the most talked-about British historian of his generation." -- The New York Times
About the Author
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Niall Ferguson is not just a contrarian thinker, he's a brilliant thinker. Whether you agree with him or not, his wiring is never boring or unoriginal.
Fritz Fischer, the famous German historian, put forward his thesis in the 1970s on the causes of World War 1. He squarely placed the blame on Germany for its aggression, creating a naval arms race with Britain, engaging France in Morocco, providing a blank check to Austria and supporting Austrian annexation of Bosnia. In fact, I even clearly remember from my school days in the 90s - answering the causes of WW1 by listing the many German provocations that led to it. For a long time it seems the Fischer thesis has been widely accepted across the world as the basis for how WW1 is taught in schools and understood by the public.
Ferguson has taken a hammer to the dominant thinking of WW1. Ferguson puts the blame squarely on Britain for escalating the war. The evidence he presents is: 1) German policies and objectives; 2) Britain's decision making.
Based on Ferguson's analysis of the documents, Germany was largely interested in Russia and had no interest to escalate the war beyond the continent. Additionally, Britain entered the war and made it a global conflict. He also debunks the notion that a great war must have great causes. He writes that German imperialism was not at odds with Britain, and that the two were able to amicably settle disputes. Moreover, he debunks Fischer's naval arms race theory by showing that the naval arms race between Britain and Germany was mostly over by 1912.
The reader may not be fully persuaded by Ferguson's assertion that Germany had very limited ambition in 1914 and that continental hegemony was certainly not on the cards. Many historians such as Max Hastings, Margaret McMillan have countered Ferguson on this point.
So why did Britain enter the war? Ferguson says it has little to do with this treaty concerning Belgium's neutrality. Ferguson contends that the liberal government in Britain is facing electoral defeat and the foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey and Winston Churchill are able to convince a majority that intervention is necessary. For instance, Edward Grey says he will resign if Britain does not interfere because he has given his word to the French that Britain will join the war effort. If Grey does resign, it could end up toppling the government. So Ferguson argues that Britain entered the war so that its weak government can continue to stay in power -- to keep their jobs and keep the conservatives out of office.
Finally, Ferguson's counterfactual arguments are very interesting to read and have certainly generated a fair share of controversy. He believes that had Britain stayed out of the war, Germany would have won and Europe would be not very different than it is today, with a common market that is powered by a dominant German economy. While some may scorn counterfactual history, Ferguson astutely builds his case, anchored on first-rate research and analysis.
Ferguson has no sacred cows and takes no prisoners....that's what makes him the most brilliant historian of his generation and his books are certainly worth reading, even if you may not always agree with his conclusions.
Robert A. Hall
Author: The Coming Collapse of the American republic
Ferguson’s research indicates the religious understanding of the imminent ‘last days’ was one foundation for the support of this war. Interesting . . .
“Percy Schramm’s aunt Emmy’s reaction to the outbreak of war was explicit in its allusion to the Last Days: ‘It all must come to pass; for it is foretold in the Bible, and we can only thank God if Satan’s rule is soon to be destroyed. Then will come at last the true Empire of Peace, with our Lord Jesus Christ as ruler!’’’
Only the English?
“As Klaus Vondung has argued, there was an apocalyptic quality to the German 1914. But not only the German. ‘Like most people of my generation’, H. G. Wells had written in 1906, ‘I was launched into life with millennial assumptions . . . There would be trumpets and shoutings and celestial phenomena, a battle of Armageddon and the Last Judgement.’”
“And how like Armageddon it proved . . .
“There were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven . . . and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.’’ Revelation 16:18-21
(This passage does not refer to Armageddon. Armageddon is the complete destruction/removal of the political system. Nevertheless, this prophecy does symbolically describe world events after 1914.)
Ferguson sees reason to connect this vision with what the world saw after 1914. Who can deny it?
Introduction . . .
“My approach is analytical. There are ten questions which I attempt to answer:
1 Was the war inevitable, whether because of militarism, imperialism, secret diplomacy or the arms race?
2. Why did Germany’s leaders gamble on war in 1914?
3. Why did Britain’s leaders decide to intervene when war broke out on the Continent?
4. Was the war, as is often asserted, really greeted with popular enthusiasm?
5. Did propaganda, and especially the press, keep the war going, as Karl Kraus believed?
6. Why did the huge economic superiority of the British Empire not suffice to inflict defeat on the Central Powers more quickly and without American intervention?
7. Why did the military superiority of the German army fail to deliver victory over the British and French armies on the Western Front, as it delivered victory over Serbia, Rumania and Russia?
8. Why did men keep fighting when, as the war poets tell us, conditions on the battlefield were so wretched?
9. Why did men stop fighting?
10. Who won the peace—to be precise, who ended up paying for the war?’’
“By way of a preamble, and to show why new answers can still be found to those questions, I wish to point out the contradictory nature of the beliefs most commonly held on the subject as it has been and is remembered.’’
“The first is that the war was horrible.’’
‘’The second is that it was nevertheless inevitable.’’
Ferguson covers these points throughly. In fact, he is so detailed, so comprehensive, it can become redundant. Appears to be writing for scholars more than the general reader. Charts, footnotes, references, other historians, poets, personal letters, etc.,etc., are all here.
Closer to a reference work than essay. Nevertheless, persuasive, clear, analytical and interesting. I listened to the audible version and could follow the detailed presentation without irritation.
Enjoyed the counter-cultural, different, other viewpoint.
About one thousand notes (linked on iPad)
Hundreds references in bibliography.
Exhaustive index with working links.