From the best-selling and award-winning author of Paris 1919 comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, a fascinating portrait of Europe from 1900 up to the outbreak of World War I.
The century since the end of the Napoleonic wars had been the most peaceful era Europe had known since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the first years of the twentieth century, Europe believed it was marching to a golden, happy, and prosperous future. But instead, complex personalities and rivalries, colonialism and ethnic nationalisms, and shifting alliances helped to bring about the failure of the long peace and the outbreak of a war that transformed Europe and the world.
The War That Ended Peace brings vividly to life the military leaders, politicians, diplomats, bankers, and the extended, interrelated family of crowned heads across Europe who failed to stop the descent into war: in Germany, the mercurial Kaiser Wilhelm II and the chief of the German general staff, Von Moltke the Younger; in Austria-Hungary, Emperor Franz Joseph, a man who tried, through sheer hard work, to stave off the coming chaos in his empire; in Russia, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife; in Britain, King Edward VII, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and British admiral Jacky Fisher, the fierce advocate of naval reform who entered into the arms race with Germany that pushed the continent toward confrontation on land and sea.
There are the would-be peacemakers as well, among them prophets of the horrors of future wars whose warnings went unheeded: Alfred Nobel, who donated his fortune to the cause of international understanding, and Bertha von Suttner, a writer and activist who was the first woman awarded Nobel’s new Peace Prize. Here too we meet the urbane and cosmopolitan Count Harry Kessler, who noticed many of the early signs that something was stirring in Europe; the young Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a rising figure in British politics; Madame Caillaux, who shot a man who might have been a force for peace; and more. With indelible portraits, MacMillan shows how the fateful decisions of a few powerful people changed the course of history.
Taut, suspenseful, and impossible to put down, The War That Ended Peace is also a wise cautionary reminder of how wars happen in spite of the near-universal desire to keep the peace. Destined to become a classic in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, The War That Ended Peace enriches our understanding of one of the defining periods and events of the twentieth century.
©2013 Margaret Macmillan (P)2013 Random House
“[A] richly textured narrative about World War I . . . addressing the war’s build-up . . . MacMillan tells this familiar story with panache. A major contribution, however, is her presentation of its subtext, as Europe’s claims to be the world’s most advanced civilization ‘were being challenged from without and undermined from within.’ . . . MacMillan eloquently shows that ‘turning out the lights’ was not inevitable, but a consequence of years of decisions and reactions: a slow-motion train wreck few wanted but none could avoid.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The War That Ended Peace tells the story of how intelligent, well-meaning leaders guided their nations into catastrophe. These epic events, brilliantly described by one of our era’s most talented historians, warn of the dangers that arise when we fail to anticipate the consequences of our actions. This is one of the finest books I have ever read on the causes of World War I." (Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state)
I am making my way through as many Audible books about World War I as I can in this anniversary year (2014). I started with Margaret MacMillan's for deep background and it fulfilled its purpose admirably. The narrator spoke clearly enough that I could listen at 1.5 speed and understand everything.
I especially valued the scope of the book, as it covered cultural and general societal issues as well as the political and economic and military. The portraits of the important people, from Edward VII to the Kaiser and the Tsar, Edward Gray, Moltke, Konrad, and the French were vivid enough to help them come to life.
The writing is above average but not quite literary. Occasional references to more recent events, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the American response to 911 actually annoyed me, though many readers might find them interesting.
After listening to this book I went next to Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August." Tuchman is an outstanding writer and her coverage of the battles from August 4 through September 7 of 1914 is riveting. Tuchman is criticized for some historical errors and I may detect them as I turn to the other books on my list, but reading it made a helpful match with the MacMillan book. I recommend listening to both.
Now on my list is "A World Undone," by G. J. Meyer after which I will listen to Paul Ham's 1914: The Year the World Ended, and then Max Hastings' Catastrophe 1914: The Year Europe Went to War.
Then I will listen to MacMillan's history of the aftermath of the war with Paris 1919. I will update this review if possible so I can compare all these available titles.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Margaret Macmillan is Canadian historian who is teaching at Oxford University. She is the great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister. I recently read Max Hastings “Catastrophe 1914”. He and Macmillan are coving the same nine months leading up to the war. Hasting covered the role of general staff of rival governments showing a step by step documentation leading up to war. MacMillan on the other hand covers the diplomats and politicians showing step by step how they had avoided war numerous time and why this occasion they failed. Even though Macmillan’s book is scholarly it is very readable. She has the ability to evoke the world at the beginning of the 20th Century, when Europe had gone 85 years without a general war between great powers. In these years there was an explosion of production, wealth and a transformation in society and the way people lived. Food was better and cheaper, dramatic advances in hygiene and medicine, faster communications including cheap public telegraphs. Macmillan asks “why would Europe want to throw it all away?” In the middle of the book Macmillan considers the larger context within which the final approach to war occurred. She is good at painting the intellectual background of “social Darwinism.” The author does a good job dealing with the July crisis and distributes the responsibility widely. It was created by Serbia irresponsibility, Austrian vengefulness, and the “Blank check” the Kaiser issued to Vienna. She recognizes how Britain’s, French and especially Russian actions exacerbated the crisis and rejects the view that this was a German pre-emptive strike, a “flight forward” from domestic strife into war, while arguing that German politics recklessly and knowingly risked war. I think she is right on both counts. Macmillan makes it clear wars are not inevitable there are always choices. Richard Burnip did an excellent job narrating this 32 hour book. This book is a must for anyone interested in WWI history.
I've read and listened to several books about the origins of World War I; this one is the best I've encountered so far. Much of the territory is familiar, but MacMillan goes back further, provides more detail and context, and weaves it into a fuller narrative than most of the others. She shifts seamlessly between lively portraits of individual leaders and analytical and statistical accounts of military and social changes.
Many books mention that Russia lost a war with Japan in 1905 and that major civil unrest in Russia followed. MacMillan goes into detail about both, explaining causes and consequences. Many books mention that Paris was distracted in the summer of 1914 by the trial of Henriette Caillaux, who murdered the editor of Le Figaro. Macmillan tells us more about her husband, Joseph Caillaux, and his prominent role in foreign affairs; the scandal of the trial made it impossible for him to act as a voice of restraint in the crisis.
The first part of the book is more geographic than chronological. MacMillan takes us on a tour of the European capitals, introducing us to the pathetic Kaiser Wilhelm II (described by someone as a warship at full speed without a rudder); the happily married and largely detached prime minister of Great Britain, Lord Salisbury; rising men like Edward Grey, Joseph Chamberlain, William Churchill and Lloyd George; the tragically clueless Czar Nicholas II of Russia and his family's involvement with the unwashed Rasputin. We spend time at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (which she enjoyed immensely but refused to pay for), and at the 1900 Paris Exposition. We hear about the many international conferences that tried to promote peace or at least establish rules for "civilized warfare."
And she describes the new factor in governance that sometimes hamstrung a country's leaders: the rise of newspapers and the nebulous but powerful force of "public opinion." And terrorism: the president of France, two Spanish prime ministers, King Umberto of Italy, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph, the uncle and grandfather of the Czar were all murdered in terrorist attacks. It was not exactly a balmy time.
The second part of the book is a fascinating narrative account of the many crises that preceded the outbreak of war: the two Moroccan crises; Austria's unilateral annexation of Bosnia; the two Balkan wars; the bloody coup in Turkey - each of them playing a role in desensitizing Europe to the prospect of universal war. Germany, fearful of being encircled by enemies, drew up a war plan that violated international law left and right - and the civilian leaders abdicated their responsibility; they failed to rein in the military. Many books have traced these events, but MacMillan's book is the clearest, most detailed, and most absorbing I've read.
Richard Burnip's narration is excellent. If you want to understand the why as well as the how, this is a great place to start.
Yes. Ms. MacMillan is a marvelous historian and this book does not disappoint. Moreover, the narrator is excellent. A real pleasure to listen to.
Just all around excellent.
Yes. There is so much information and it is so well presented that I undoubtedly will listen to it again. (Actually, I will read it since I also bought the hardcopy.)
I would compare it favorably to August 1914. Both concern WW1 and both are by excellent writers. This one is much broader and has more of a philosophic and historic goal. August 1914 is more simply narrative, it tells what happened. This tries to get at why it happened.
It impressed on me again (as though I am not reminded of it every single day listening to and reading the news) that our leaders are human -- and sometimes leave their humanity behind and become insane or simply stupid.
One thing I especially appreciated about this book as an audio book was that the author is constantly reminding the lister of who any given person is and where they fit into the story. This is good for reading but for an audio book, in which one cannot easily flip back 10 pages, it is essential. When Bethman-Hollweg shows up, the author reminds you that he was the Chancellor of Germany. I found this enormously helpful. (In contrast, the book Heretic Queen has just as many characters but one was almost never reminded who they were after their first appearance.)This was simply a wonderful history book, informative and very, very thoughtful.
I have read numerous pre-Great War books, beginning with Barbara Tuchman's "The Proud Tower" many, many years ago. This book gave me a completely new insight and lots of new details that I had never heard. The focus of the story is not war, per se, but how the great powers lost the peace. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in why the 1st World War was fought.
Jack of all Trades, Master of None
Yes, there are some interesting tidbits in there that are worth revisiting.
I read this as part of a "trilogy", "Paris 1919" also by MacMillian which chronicles the treaty of Versaille as well as "The coming of the Third Reich" which deals with the rise of the Nazi Regime in Germany.
All three of these books together paint a rather intriguing picture on how the world ended up the way it is today.
Nothing in particular. He does a good job of reading the script, but as it is mostly a factual book not fiction, he's not "creating characters", which is good. It gives the book a more "historical" tone.
Several, mostly because the book makes it abundantly clear how a bunch of small decisions can lead to very big changes.
One of the best histories.
The author's Paris 1919. In both books MacMillian does an excellent job both describing the overall state of Europe at the time and describing the personalities responsible for the course of events.
Some of the comments complain about the many pauses in the narration. After a while that did get annoying. So I increased the speed of the Audible app on my iPhone to 1.25x and it sounded "normal".
The only fault with the book is the author's unnecessary comments concerning present day politics and events. Some of the comments are more her opinion than fact. They distract from the historical narrative and make one wonder whether some of her historical reporting is also just her opinion.
José M. Batista
This is an historical narrative that reads like a thriller and makes one feel we are living the events but at the same time allows us to understand them from a broader and deeper perspective. I wish all history books were like this! Great narration to boot!
It's hard to come to terms with how the Great War started and this book helps explains the key players, powers and conditions that ultimately resulted in WW1. Reading this book offers perspective, yet its conclusion remains - the causes of the Great War are many - as numerous as the lessons that ought to have been learned - and sometimes were; and often not
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