• Catastrophe 1914

  • Europe Goes to War
  • By: Max Hastings
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 25 hrs and 25 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (47 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I: the dramatic stretch from the breakdown of diplomacy to the battles - the Marne, Ypres, Tannenberg - that marked the frenzied first year before the war bogged down in the trenches.

In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings gives us a conflict different from the familiar one of barbed wire, mud, and futility. He traces the path to war, making clear why Germany and Austria-Hungary were primarily to blame, and describes the gripping first clashes in the West, where the French army marched into action in uniforms of red and blue with flags flying and bands playing. In August, four days after the French suffered 27,000 men dead in a single day, the British fought an extraordinary holding action against oncoming Germans, one of the last of its kind in history. In October, at terrible cost the British held the allied line against massive German assaults in the first battle of Ypres. Hastings also recreates the lesser-known battles on the Eastern Front, brutal struggles in Serbia, East Prussia, and Galicia, where the Germans, Austrians, Russians, and Serbs inflicted three million casualties upon one another by Christmas. 

As he has done in his celebrated, award-winning works on World War II, Hastings gives us frank assessments of generals and political leaders and masterly analyses of the political currents that led the continent to war. He argues passionately against the contention that the war was not worth the cost, maintaining that Germany’s defeat was vital to the freedom of Europe. Throughout we encounter statesmen, generals, peasants, housewives, and private soldiers of seven nations in Hastings’ accustomed blend of top-down and bottom-up accounts: generals dismounting to lead troops in bayonet charges over 1,500 feet of open ground; farmers who at first decried the requisition of their horses; infantry men engaged in a haggard retreat, sleeping four hours a night in their haste. This is a vivid new portrait of how a continent became embroiled in war and what befell millions of men and women in a conflict that would change everything.

©2013 Max Hastings (P)2020 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“The political and chattering classes are right to be worried: if any region today could cause a crisis comparable to that of 1914, it is the Middle East. They need a new book on the outbreak of World War I, and now they have it in Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. [Hastings is] an outstanding historian...a victorious foray.... Tuchman has been supplanted.” (Hew Strachan, The New York Times)

“[World War I’s] centennial is almost upon us. Among the resulting flood of books, it’ll be hard to find one better than this early entry...absorbing and compulsively readable.... Like an eagle soaring over this vast terrain, Hastings swoops in and out, spying broad features and telling details alike...superb.” (Alan Cate, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Hastings over the past two decades has become the contemporary premier historian of 20th-century war.... The real strength of this story is how Mr. Hastings portrays the principal characters, not as stereotyped tyrants, greedy empire builders or mindless militarists, but rather as very real human beings with as many flaws as virtues.... Will the past be prologue? Get this book.” (James Srodes, Washington Times

What listeners say about Catastrophe 1914

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

I thought I knew the battle of the frontiers

I really enjoy Max Hastings. I didn't buy this book right away but I'm glad I did. If you like the Guns of August you'll enjoy this book. I really enjoyed the new perspective of August 1914. The first half of the books was fantastic. The second half was some of the most boring material I've ever heard! oh my goodness it was unbearably boring. For some reason the Marne was mixed up in all of this boring stuff and it was a weird pacing choice for the book. All in all excellent and I'll listen again and again.

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Sobering

As indicated in the headline, this is a sobering lesson on a horrific period of human history. Max Hastings is a great writer and clearly did his research. As is always the case, Simon Vance makes the words come alive. I think I'd listen to him read the phone book, (Are there still such things?)
My only complaint is that Hastings' frequently uses quotes in languages other than English, most often in French, and they are rarely translated. I realize that it is a failing on my part to be largely ignorant of languages other than my native tongue, but I feel I missed out on some of the important insights Hastings felt needed to be added to the narrative. It should have been relatively easy for Mr. Vance to provide a quick translation.
In summary, it is a long book, but well worth the time. Just be prepared for an overwhelming sadness because of Man's inhumanity.

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Knowing Something More

Knowing something more than we did before the Great War. Why would it matter if we found out why it happened? We think we knew. Maybe we could find out more? What for? Because it may mean enough to us that we might actually learn enough to enjoy a lasting world peace. Wishful thinking unless every nation subscribed to and practiced with us. This is as humorous as it is a behind the scene before the production of the Great War.

1 person found this helpful