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The Russian Origins of the First World War Hardcover – December 30, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

This book should forever change the ways we have understood the role of Russia in the First World War. (Michael S. Neiberg, author of Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I)

A bold reinterpretation of the Russian Empire's entry into the First World War. McMeekin argues that Russia believed a European war to be in its interest, that it sought to humiliate Vienna, and that it hoped to conquer Constantinople and the Ottoman Straits. (Mustafa Aksakal, author of The Ottoman Road to War in 1914)

The Russian Origins of the First World War is a polemic in the best sense. Written in a lively and engaging style, it should provoke a much-needed debate on Russia's role in the Great War. (Michael Reynolds, author of Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, 1908-1918)

Going against a century of received wisdom, Bilkent University professor McMeekin offers a dramatic new interpretation of WWI...Rifling the archives, analyzing battle plans, and sifting through the machinations of high diplomacy, McMeekin reveals the grand ambitions of czarist Russia, which wanted control of the Black Sea straits to guarantee all-weather access to foreign markets. Maneuvering France and England into a war against Germany presented the best chance to acquire this longed-for prize. No empire had more to gain from the coming conflict, and none pushed harder to ensure its arrival. Once unleashed, however, the conflagration leapt out of control, and imperial Russia herself ranked among its countless victims. (Publishers Weekly 2011-09-26)

Casting a contrarian eye on the first major conflict of the twentieth century, Sean McMeekin finds the roots of WWI inside Russia, whose leaders deliberately sought--for their own ends--to expand a brawl that the Germans wanted to keep local. The author tracks the fallout of these antique plots right down to the present geopolitical landscape. (Barnes & Noble Review 2012-01-13)

An entirely new take on the origins of World War I comes as a surprise. If war guilt is to be assigned, this book argues, it should go not only (or even primarily) to Germany--the long-accepted culprit--but also to Russia...Bold reading between the lines of history. (Robert Legvold Foreign Affairs 2012-01-01)

As Sean McMeekin argues in this bold and brilliant revisionist study, Russia was as much to blame as Germany for the outbreak of the war. Using a wide range of archival sources, including long-neglected tsarist documents, he argues that the Russians had ambitions of their own (the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, no less) and that they were ready for a war once they had secured a favorable alliance with the British and the French. (Orlando Figes Sunday Times 2012-01-01)

The book is a refreshing challenge to longstanding assumptions and shifted perspectives are always good. (Miriam Cosic The Australian 2012-03-03)

About the Author

Sean McMeekin is Assistant Professor of History at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (November 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674062108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674062108
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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In the arena of history of the First World War, Fritz Fischer has for decades stood above all other historians with his narrative, `Griff nach der Weltmacht' (or `Germany's Aims in the First World War' in English). This work, demonstrating a mastery of German and Austrian sources, for decades stood as THE overwhelming proof of Germany's bid to begin the Great War in order to secure its place as a world power. Numerous historians since its publication have delved into it and included it as an indispensible addition to the bibliographies of their own works.

But what if Fischer's research was incomplete? What if that fact led to mistakes that made nearly all his conclusions only partially correct-or worse yet-outright wrong? That is precisely the argument that Professor Sean McMeekin lays out in compelling fashion in his new narrative `The Russian Origins of the First World War'. In laying out the focus of this work he issues a broadside directed at the current state of the historiography of World War One. He writes, "Understanding of the First World War may be said to have regressed after the Fischer debate taught several generations of historians to pay serious attention only go Germany's war aims (3)". Thus, the focus on his current work is to rectify what he believes to be a serious deficiency in the historical record. In other words Russia's war aims must be examined every bit as exhaustively as those of Imperial Germany. McMeekin believes that "the current consensus about the First World War cannot survive serious scrutiny (5)".

Indeed, the scrutiny that the author applies to the existing documents and historical record is withering in regards to the preconceived views of so many past historians.
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Format: Paperback
In this book, author Sean McMeekin effectively fills a large gap in the historiography of the First World War. It is of course well known that control of the Straits of Constantinople (which led from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean) was the overriding objective of Russian foreign policy. Even a cursory glance at the map shows why this was so. The great industrial and manufacturing centers around the shores of the Black Sea needed an outlet to Europe and beyond. Czar Alexander III expressed this secret agenda quite succinctly in the Arkhiv Vneshnei Politiki (Archive of Foreign Policy):

“In my opinion we must have one main purpose: the taking possession of Constantinople, in order to establish ourselves once and for all on the Straits and to make sure that they remain permanently in our hands. This is in Russia’s interest; and it is to this that our efforts must be directed; everything else that happens on the Balkan peninsula is of secondary significance from our standpoint. We have had enough of seeking popularity at the expense of the interests of Russia. From now on, the Slavs must devote themselves to the service of Russia, not we to theirs.”

Virtually all of the Russo-Turkish wars, beginning in 1776 and ending in 1878, had been fought to loosen the Ottoman grip on Constantinople. For much the same reason, Russia had dabbled in the murky and complex affairs of the Balkans by supporting various intrigues in Bulgaria as well as Slavic independence movements in Bosnia-Herzegovina—then controlled (and finally annexed) by Austria-Hungary. Not so well known or appreciated is how very large the Straits loomed in Russian strategic planning.
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Format: Hardcover
Sean McMeekin's interesting and skillfully written study of The Russian Origins of the First World War offers a plausible array of evidence delineating the motives and long term ambitions of the Russian Imperial government for encouraging the onset of the First World War. Whereas the theories of Fritz Fischer and A. J. P. Taylor fixing the primary guilt for starting the slaughter on either German/Austrian strategies for pre-emptive war (in Fischer's case) or on the military strategists on both sides for setting up a chain reaction of doomsday scenarios impelling civilian governments to mobilize or face destruction, McMeekin shows how the all consuming ambition of the Russian power structure for control of Constantinople and the Middle East impelled them towards a war in which their cynical calculation was to use France and Britain to assist in achieving these objectives. The evidence presented is impressive, but not terribly convincing. It was, after all, the Austrians who fired the first shots and pushed the matter of Sarajevo from incident to international crisis. While downplaying the motivation of Russian power brokers in protecting their Serb brothers from Austrian attack, McMeekin insists that the major concerns of Russian planners was the danger from Turkey in the Black Sea and the ultimate dream of controlling the Bosphorous with the opportunity of using British and French power to secure the prize. McMeekin's thesis fails to emphasize sufficiently the fact that Russian military forces on land and sea had suffered a catastrophic disaster only nine years before in the war with Japan and that the revolts in 1905 and subsequent strikes right up to 1914 could not have failed to cause hesitation on the part of the Tsar's government when it came to jumping into war.Read more ›
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