From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I - from the breakdown of diplomacy to the dramatic battlesthat occurred before the war bogged down in the trenches.
World War I immediately evokes images of the trenches - grinding, halting battles that sacrificed millions of lives for no territory orvisible gain. Yet the first months of the war, from the German invasion of Belgium to the Marne to Ypres, were utterly different - full of advances andretreats, tactical maneuvering, and significant gains and losses. In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings re-creates this dramatic year, from the diplomatic crisis to the fighting in Belgium and France on the western front and Serbia and Galicia to the east. He gives vivid accounts of the battles and frank assessments of generals and political leaders, and shows why it was inevitable that this first war among modern industrial nations could not produce a decisive victory, resulting in a war of attrition. Throughout we encounter high officials and average soldiers, as well as civilians on the home front, giving us a vivid portrait of how a continent became embroiled in a war that would change everything.
©2013 Max Hastings (P)2013 Blackstone Audio
I am an avid eclectic reader.
I have spent the past three years reading everything I can get my hands on about world war one. Now that we are on the brink of the one hundredth anniversary of the Great War many new books are coming to market. “Catastrophe 1914” is one of them. In 1930 Sir Winston Churchill wrote “No part of the Great War compares in interest with its opening”. Max Hastings’s book addresses only the last six months of 1914. The book is well researched and Hastings draws on a wide range of documents and firsthand account to chronicle the events. The major strength of the book is how Hastings portrays the principal characters, not as stereotype but as real human beings with as many flaws as virtues. The author uses excellent narrative skill as he provides the wide-lens approach to the broad political and economical environment, but he also pays close attention to the details of his characters and their lives that makes for a human story. As you read the book you can see how the author rejects the long held academic theories about the war. He goes step by step and destroys the myths about the war’s beginning, and briefly destroys the theories about the consequence of the wars ending and also about what if German had won. Hasting sketches the steps by which Europe descended into war, he does not break new historiographical ground but rather skillfully outlines evidence by several generations of scholars into a readable narrative that is highly understandable to the lay reader. The author covers both the Western and Eastern fronts of the war as they were entirely different wars being fought at the same time. Hastings held me spellbound throughout the book. If you are interested in WWI history this is an excellent book to provide you with understanding and insight as well as wet your appetite for more. Simon Vance did an excellent job narrating the long book.
Hastings' handling of detail of soldiers' lives in the trenches, the tensions among politicians and military leaders, the personalities and shortcomings of military leaders and the local political and social contexts of the countries involved: Austria, Russia, Serbia, France, German and Great Britain. A truly formidable social, political and military history of the events leading up to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the first months of the war.
The forays of individual soldiers carrying out incredible feats of bravery and later receiving medals.
Some parts are extremely painful, especially the detailed narratives of life in the trenches.
Max Hastings has written a fantastic and innovative history of a much researched period. Fans of European history will enjoy this book.
l'enfer c'est les autres
Everything I thought I knew about The Great War was wrong. This book has set me straight. The author writes a book with attitude and has the goal of destroying the myths about the starting of the war and correcting the lies about the war and explaining why it was important in its day and is still relevant for understanding today.
I always thought that "both sides were to blame", and that the sacrifices the triple entente (France, Britain, and Russia) made did not justify the cause. I was wrong. The author lays out the case on how the Germans are to blame with their blank check, their invading neutral Belgium and the Austrians with their wanting to punish all of Serbia for the actions of one teenager, Princip for the assassination for an Archduke that most of his fellow countrymen didn't even care for. The author states that "it's really not that complicated, July 23, 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia, the next day Russian responded", and so on. The book is much more nuanced than that one sentence indicates, but he makes clear Germany wanted war and they made it happen. So, that they could gain complete Hegemony of Europe and impose their will.
Also, the author points out that Germany didn't really play by the rules of the game and by orders of magnitude were more servere and, for example, were more likely to kill civilians who were taken hostage and commit multiple other atrocities and did the acts by orders from their hierarchical chain of command in contrast to the Allies who would have do such things only by rogue actions. Another strong argument the author makes is that German Hegemony of Europe would have had dire consequences going forward the rest of the world.
The author did quote the magazine "The Economist" twice. Once was how Serbia wasn't worth Britain's trouble and another how an early negotiated peace should be attempted. It's nice to see that "The Economist" is just as wrong today as they were 100 years ago.
There was another similar thing the author kept bringing home. The Germans after the war kept building up a denier mythology about the war: "if only they had more men", or "if that general had fought harder" Germany would have won the war. That kind of denier mentality is most certainly not true.
The book gave me an interesting trivia question, "what do Ronald Coleman, Herbert Marshall, Claude Rains, and Basil Rathbone all have in common?". Answer: besides being four of my most favorite actors they were all in the same regiment in Belgium during the first year of the war.
Overall, the book is necessary reading for understanding about the war and why it matters today and at the least might destroy a falsehood or two one might have about it.
History, Sci-Fi, Fantasy nerd from St. Louis.
I've 'read' a LOT of WW1 books. I've enjoyed many, and it's perhaps because of this fact I enjoyed Mr. Hastings book so much. It's his telling of the stories behind, alongside and in front of the battles which make it so refreshing and delightful. The normal, obligatory and very often sterile numbers, names, units, dates and leaders can become mind numbing. But Mr. Hastings brings the battle into your neighborhood and home. He's obviously done his homework and has approached this topic in a 21st Century way to making a now-distant-event, closer. This book is the bridge between the 'big picture' numbers and the anecdotal individuals narrative.
Students: Do you need to 'endure' a history class to get a credit? Read (or better yet - LISTEN) to this book. Visualize yourself in Belgium, or Paris or Poland... Look outside and think about how you'd react if your whole world was falling to pieces around you. Mr. Hastings book does just that for you, taking you back to WW1.
History Dorks: (...and Yes, I proudly bear this title!) Listen to this one. It's good. REALLY good.
I'd like to mention Mr. Vance's reading and I could go on-and-on but let me qualify my statement. I don't have time to sit and hold a book (not too mention driving laws and physics prevent me from doing so in the car), so almost all of my 'reading' is done from Audible.
It's with this in mind I make the following statement about Mr. Vance's performance... I will listen to ANYTHING Mr. Vance reads, including stock quotes or variations of rose flower hybrids. :)
Get this and enjoy people. It's is wonderful! I'm going to let this sit for about 30 days, then I'll look forward to hearing it all over again.
No B.S. reviews. I'll never soft-pedal bad writing or inept narration.
Great writing and narration come together in this masterpiece on the grim wages of war.
The book is easy to follow, and compelling—and leaves one with a greater understanding of not only The Great War, but The Greater War to follow.
The book presents a uniquely clear account of the factions involved in the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the uncertainty governing England's choosing of sides, and the distinctly different roles of Germany and Austria in the war. Hastings' look at the roles of the English navy, and of Winston Churchill in particular, come across as unbiased and insightful.
In the end, Hastings' assessment that the triumph of German militarism would have been disastrous for European civilization rings true, especially in light of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis in the later part of the 20th century.
This book is a perfect companion to "The Guns of August." Both books cover strictly the first part of WWI, yet each provides a very different perspective. Whereas "Guns of August" focuses more on the military aspects, this book focuses more on the war's impact on average people, as well as the aristocratic (and eccentric) personalities that precipitated and propelled in it.
In the introduction, the author says he wanted to include more about Serbia's involvement than is given in most accounts, and that coverage is well done, and welcome.
One more book that has contributed to my understanding of WWI is John Keegan's "The Face of Battle." Its recounting of the battle of the Somme fills in details which neither of the previously-mentioned books capture in quite such imagery or detail.
I did not rate the story as five-star only because the author seemed to have some trouble deciding how to leave off the story—not surprising, however, since the narrative ends with the war still in progress.
Simon Vance is, of course, a superlative narrator, and is well suited to this somewhat emotional account of the onset, confusion, and horrors of war.
As a history book on a well documented world event, this one takes a different path. It adds to the facts and the critical historical analysis of this catastrophe the personal touch of testimonials from letters and notes from the men in the trenches, the fields and the cities.
The narration was enhanced with perfect pronunciation of the French and the German in the book, providing great credibility and texture to the narration.
Having been exposed to several books on the Great War, including the war poetry of Owen and Sassoon and the All Quiet on the Western Front, I have been aware of the magnitude of the conflict, the suffering of the soldiers and the horrors of trench warfare, this book is, in addition to all of that, the testimonials of many involved.
Yes, narrator does a great job keeps you interested with what he is reading. Max Hastings mixes well the personal and historical prospectives to make a more well rounded story.
Nothing stands out the book itself was great.
Max does a great job covering the BEF in the first year. Don't get me wrong he does a great job covering it all but the BEF comes through clearly to forefront with me.
Very worth it.
Hastings made a name for himself by strongly contradicting accepted history with his work, Bomber Command. Ever since then, he goes out of his way to make sure he always makes at least one controversial statement calling into question the intelligence or character of a famous historical figure or event. He always puts for his opinion in absolutist terms in what I feel is a cynical attempt to generate controversy and drum up sales.
This work is no different. Here, he calls into question the resolve and effectiveness of the B.E.F. while constantly singing the praises of the French troops courage. He portrays the German generals as much less competent that they are usually portrayed.
This is one of the better history books I have listened to. Excellent performance.
The usual comment about not having the supporting material to look at especially maps. You have to go out to the internet to get maps to follow the story.
I listened to this in audiobook form, which was a mistake in retrospect because it's so tightly packed with details and facts that being able to flip back and forth - not to mention refer to maps - would have been much better.
So although it's an excellent book, I think it would be better in printed form, or with the printed version to accompany the audiobook.
This is a detailed and generally interesting analysis of all the causes and factors of World War I, ending at the close of 1914.
Why and how the Austrians and Germans encouraged the call to war, how other nations contributed, the early decisive battles, and some of the terrible mistakes. Fragments of letters and personal diaries from participants makes it more personal and poignant.
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