If someone less distinguished than Jesus College, Oxford, fellow Niall Ferguson had written The Pity of War, you could be forgiven for thinking the book was out for a few cheap headlines by contradicting almost every accepted orthodoxy about the First World War. Ferguson argues that Britain was as much to blame for the start of the war as Germany, and that, had Britain sacrificed Belgium to Germany, the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution would never have happened. Germany, he continues, would have created a united European state, and Britain could have remained a superpower. He also contends that there was little enthusiasm for the war in Britain in 1914; on the other hand, he claims the war was prolonged not by clever manipulation of the media, but by British soldiers' taking pleasure in combat. If that isn't enough, he further maintains that it wasn't the severity of the conditions imposed on Germany at Versailles in 1919 that led inexorably to World War II, and blames instead the comparative leniency and the failure to collect reparations in full.
The Pity of War, with no pretensions to offering a grand narrative of the war, goes over its chosen questions like a polemical tract. As such it is immensely readable, well researched, and controversial. You may not end up agreeing with all of Ferguson's arguments, but that should not deter you from reading it. All of us need our deeply held views challenged from time to time, even if only to remind us why we've got them. --John Crace, Amazon.co.uk