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Publisher's Summary

In this monumental history of the First World War, Germany's leading historian of the 20th century's first great catastrophe explains the war's origins, course, and consequences. With an unrivaled combination of depth and global reach, Pandora's Box reveals how profoundly the war shaped the world to come.

Jörn Leonhard treats the clash of arms with a sure feel for grand strategy, the everyday tactics of dynamic movement and slow attrition, the race for ever more destructive technologies, and the grim experiences of frontline soldiers. But the war was much more than a military conflict, or an exclusively European one. Leonhard renders the perspectives of leaders, intellectuals, artists, and ordinary men and women on diverse home fronts as they grappled with the urgency of the moment and the rise of unprecedented political and social pressures. And he tells how the entire world came out of the war utterly changed.

Postwar treaties and economic turbulence transformed geopolitics. Old empires disappeared or confronted harsh new constraints, while emerging countries struggled to find their place in an age of instability. At the same time, sparked and fueled by the shock and suffering of war, radical ideologies in Europe and around the globe swept away orders that had seemed permanent, to establish new relationships among elites, masses, and the state. Heralded on its publication in Germany as a masterpiece of historical narrative and analysis, Pandora's Box makes clear just what dangers were released when the guns first fired in the summer of 1914.

©2018 the President and Fellows of Harvard College (P)2018 Tantor
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about Pandora’s Box

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Best 1 Voume WW1 History I've Read Since College

This is a fantastic book. It represents a complete history of the war with a thorough coverage of its world and moment in history – and not once did the narrative become tedious. The writing, the material, and the English translation remained crisp throughout. The author, Jorn Leonhard, examines battles and strategies on all fronts and in all theaters; even those beyond Europe and the Middle East and into the Pacific, Africa, and the southwest Atlantic. In addition, Leonhard describes the cultural and social geography of the regions, societies, cultures, and political systems that formed the environment or "setting" of the war.
Although I would (and below I do) quibble with Leonhard about some of the specific examples used to support his general points, the particular relationships, comparative positions of individuals, and societies he has highlighted to demonstrate his broader observations work very well. Leonhard's presentation of his themes and arguments remain sound from the start through the conclusion. This is a solid work of scholarship and I also applaud the translator, Patrick Camille, for maintaining a vivid prose style into the English version. I enjoyed this book a great deal and I will soon re-read it.

The weakest portions of the narrative rest in the initial discussions concerning the background to the outbreak of the war and later in his examination of the Versailles peace talks. The consequences of the war on world history and on the subsequent histories of the combatants and the wide range of peoples and circumstances overall is excellent. The entire main narrative of the war years from its outbreak to it repercussions across Europe and elsewhere, the military actions and decisions, the political actions and decisions along with cultural, social, and economic realities and considerations make for interesting and informative reading.

There are two details or particular considerations which I believe could have strengthened Leonhard's general observations about certain developments. Leonhard does not include Clemenceau's consistent efforts to obtain British and American guarantees to support France's territorial borders against any future rise in German militarism during the Versailles negotiations. The debates on Clemenceau’s suggestion of this revealed a great deal which supports the author’s points regarding the conflicting views and aims among the leading allied negotiators. The meetings between the Big Three (France, the USA, and Britain) on this subject highlighted the clear differences of perspective. This difference was most pronounced between Clemenceau and Wilson, and only to a lesser degree, for George. Clemenceau's desire for something more practical and more direct than the League of Nations to enhance the security of France evidences the strongest support for Leonhard’s argument that France did not come out of the war with great confidence in its future security.

Wilson’s response that such an arrangement would have no meaning supports the author’s assessment of Wilson and America’s future actions just as well. Wilson argued that such a commitment on the part of the US and Britain would simply initiate the same problems that caused the war and be contrary to the purpose of creating the League of Nations. A short discussion of this moment in the Allied negotiations would have clearly illuminated Leonhard's points about the practicality of the Versailles Treaty and the difficulties the diplomats at Versailles faced in developing a successful treaty which could stabilize the forces unleashed by the war while accommodating a new era in world diplomacy. For all practical purposes, France was left as the defender of an order it never once felt it had the power or the support to defend.

The other consideration the author should have used to greater effect pertains to the background section of the work. The annexation of Alsace and Lorraine by Germany after the 1870 war created a wound between the two nations which would not heal. People as diverse as Otto von Bismarck and Karl Marx warned that the annexation would create a permanent barrier to reconciliation between the two states. The hostility over what the French referred to as “our two lost daughters” and “the hole in the Vosges” became a central fixture in the diplomacy of Europe after 1870. A great degree of the complexity of Bismarck’s diplomacy resulted from the permanence of that single problem. The diplomatic environment created by that event would have contributed mightily to Leonhard's background narrative.

Of all that was presented in this book, I only have one comment which is negative. I do not know if this is from the translator or the writer, but a word like "leitmotif" should be used far more sparingly than it was used in this narrative. It is the kind of word which draws a great deal of attention to itself so, using it too frequently minimizes the importance and impact of the word when it gets used and its strength is appropriate.

All 5 stars on this book and I look forward to reading it again. Likely, I will get the Kindle edition to go with the Audible edition.

7 people found this helpful

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Excellent reading of a complex book

This is an excellent but complex book which is a brilliant analysis of the Great War.
I was impressed by the reader and his efforts to bring this potentially difficult work to life.
This really is a must listen for those interested in a deeper analysis of the origins, conduct and effects of the war.

15 people found this helpful

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informative but hard to follow

It throws a tremendous amount of information at you but the firehose is hard to drink from. what makes it particularly difficult to follow is the constant movement back and forth through time. but even while working out, I still learned a lot, I just definitely still missed a lot

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Dave Hunter

I have listened to this book twice and may even consider listening a third time. It is remarkable how much of today’s world was created during the First World War.

3 people found this helpful

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Not a Military or Political History of the War

This is a social science 'history' of the war. Parts are interesting, but a lot of it is merely the authors social commentary on the evils of Western society. I would not recommend.

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Societal impact of WWI. Not a history of WWI.

I bought this long title, expecting a detailed account of the battles of WWI along with some of its geopolitical impacts. Instead, I got *all* geopolitical impact with, at best, cursory mentions of the actual battles.

The writing is long-winded; the author uses a paragraph where a sentence would do, And goes into ridiculous amounts of detail on irrelevant minutiae. I frequently found myself drifting off and then realizing "Oh, are you still talking?". Really, the writing goes on and on, but conveys little information. It's like spending an afternoon with someone who's intent on showing you their stamp collection for hours.

But the actual battles are dismissed with a mere few paragraphs. The Somme is wrapped up in five minutes. The Battle of Jutland, in 30 seconds (mainly a listing of the losses), Passchendaele receives a sentence or two, in passing.

So, by 1917 I had started timing segments. I think the exit of Russia took about 45 minutes, well that's fair. The entry of America took about the same. But not a focus on submarine warfare or the Lusitania; no, with an in-depth review of the number of German art exhibits at Harvard during the lead up to 1917. You what? But what really finished me off was a 20+ minute digression into the war's impact on Liberalism.

There's most definitely a place for a book on the indirect societal impact of WWI, but it should be branded as such.
If the subtitle was changed from "A history of the First World War" to "A history of the societal impact of the First World War" I'd be fine with it. (Well, it still takes too long to convey minimal useful information, but that's a separate issue).

So anyway, I gave up on it and moved to "A World Undone" -- a substantial improvement. For example, comparing both books on the 1914 causes, AWU gives more useful information in significantly less time.

Frankly, I wouldn't bother with Pandora's Box.


12 people found this helpful

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The best WW1 history book

To understand the WW1 and its implications, this book is the key. Its encompassing narrative, loads of details and descriptions of the kong lines of history makes this book a must.
I would recomend it as a must read!

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Hit or miss

While listening to this audio book I had to take frequent breaks, the interesting story and drama were dragged down by information dumps and paragraph after paragraph of the socio political impact of the war that, frankly, are hard to listen to.

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Ahhhhhhmazing.....

What gem, a true wealth of information. Examines nearly every aspect of life at the turn of the century heading into the war and even hoes beyond 1918.... a true masterpiece!!!!

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Just A Bit Dull

I’m sure the story is a good one but I couldn’t concentrate on it because my brain kept switching off due to the pretty dull narration. It isn’t quite monotone but it’s not far off it.

2 people found this helpful

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  • M. J. Brown
  • 07-20-19

Extraordinary achievement.

The best analysis of the socio-economic and political impact of WW1 in a single volume. Opens up the Eastern Front for those overly familiar with the Western Front.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Asta Rootsi
  • 09-26-20

Best book on WWI for those interested more in what what going on around the battlefield

I have read/listened to a great number of books on this topic, but this is by far the best I have encountered. First of all, because it connects the events with the intellectual history and how ideas were born out of the experience of war and in all theatres. It looks chronologically through the years and dwells only enough on the actual fighting, concentrating more on the impact on the home societies and aforementioned ideas. This war’s impact was so much greater than the actual fighting or the individual experience and this book captures this aspect brilliantly.

The narration is also brilliant, making it difficult to put the book down.

3 people found this helpful

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  • dave
  • 02-29-20

superb

Brilliant. Probably the best history of World War 1.

The American accent of the reader somehow conveys a neutrality that the the text has.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-18-21

Fascinating Read

The epitome of WW1 volumes… comprehensive and insightful into the large and minor events of the tragedy!

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  • Shane Greentree
  • 09-07-21

"a landscape in which nothing was the same"

Jörn Leonhard's sweeping and widely acclaimed history is one that deserves its praise, presenting a comprehensive, thoughtful and deeply analytical account of the war and its aftermaths. Highlights include
Leonhard's attention to intellectual responses and attempts to interpret the war as it went on, along with a focus that incorporates the Eastern Front and other areas of conflict. While I wouldn't recommend it as a first book to read on the war due to it not following a simple narrative and paying relatively little attention to individual battles, it is both rewarding and rich. David DeFries' narration is also compelling and clear, making this an enjoyable 39 hours.

My only criticism is that the Audible chapters lack titles, which is unfortunate due to Leonhard's careful thematic structure. To aid other readers, this is a list of which chapters in the book map to the 70 Audible chapters:

Chapter One: Legacies: The First World War and Europe’s Long Nineteenth Century (Chapter 1) [p.1]

Chapter Two: Antecedents: Crises and Containment Before 1914 (Chapter 2) [p.21]

I: Balances of Power and Dynamics of Change (Chapter 3)

II: Conflict Areas and Action Logics (Chapter 4)

III: Panoramas of Progress, Scenarios of War (Chapter 5)

IV: Master Narratives and Open Outcomes (Chapter 6)


Chapter Three: Drift and Escalation: Summer and Fall 1914 (Chapter 7) [p.71]

I: Incubation of the War (Chapters 8-9)

II: August Landscapes: Euphoria, Fear, and the Logic of Retrospect (Chapter 10)

III: Machines and Materials: The Escalation of Killing (Chapter 11)

IV: Becoming a Soldier, Being a Soldier: From Mobilization to the Mass Army (Chapter 12)

V: Dynamic Violence, Global Zones, and Local Experiences (Chapters 13/14)

VI: Controls and Shortages: Militarized States and Improvized War Economies (Chapter 15)

VII: Loyalty and Recognition in Nations and Empires (Chapter 16)

VIII: Explaining the War: National Security and Intellectual Empowerment (Chapter 17)

IX: Five Months On: Mobilization, Disillusion, and the Irony of War (Chapter 18)


Chapter Four: Stasis and movement: 1915 [p.237] (Chapter 19)

I: Looking for Military Decisions: Battle Zones and Strategies (Chapter 20)

II: Violence in War's Shadow: Occupation Regimes and Ethnic Difference (Chapter 21)

III: Progressive Tools of Violence, War, and Their Political Costs (Chapter 22)

IV: Wait-and-See Neutrality and Rival Promises: New Players and Their Expansionist Fantasies (Chapter 23)

V: Contingency and Stubbornness: The Soldiers' Experience of the Front, and the Limits of Wartime National Rhetoric (Chapter 24)

VI: Shirkers, Profiteers, and Traitors: Economic Pressures, Social Conflicts, and Political Volatility on the Home Front (Chapters 25/26)

VII: Multi-Ethnic Societies at War: From Undisputed Loyalty to the Escalation of Ethnic Violence (Chapters 27/28)

VIII: Justifying War, Understanding Violence: Intellectual Responses to the Wartime Experience (Chapter 29)

IX: Seventeen Months of War: Radicalization and Extension Beneath a Surface of Stasis and Movement (Chapter 30)


Chapter Five: Wearing Down and Holding Out: 1916 (Chapter 31) [p.385]

I: Total Battles, Strategic Dead Ends, Tactical Innovations: The Transition to Modern Warfare on the Western Front and the High Seas (Chapters 32/33)

II: Space and Movement: The Price of Expansion into South-Eastern Europe and the Near East (Chapter 34)

III: Hunger and Shortages, Compulsion and Protest: The Tectonics of Society Struggling to Survive (Chapters 35/36)

IV: Policy Change: From the Limits of the Imperial Order to the Crisis of Political Legitimacy (Chapter 37)

V: Human Material and the Battle of Materiel: Planning, Front-Line Experiences, Ways of Coping (Chapter 38)

VI: Bodies and Nerves: The New Contours of the War Victim (Chapter 39)

VII: Discourses of War: Communication, Control, and the Limits of Opinion Formation (Chapter 40)

VIII: The Crisis of Representation: Images and Stagings of the War (Chapter 41)

IX: Twenty-Nine Months of War: Expectations and Experiences Halfway Through the War (Chapter 42)


Chapter Six: Expansion and Erosion: 1917 (Chapter 43) [p.549]

I: Crises and Innovations: The Asynchronicity of Space and Twentieth-Century Warfare (Chapter 44)

II: Nearing the Limits: Soldiers Between Deviance and Protest, Captivity and Politics (Chapter 45)

III: Lenin and Wilson: Internationalism as Revolutionary Civil War and Democratic Intervention (Chapter 46)

IV: Revolutions, Collapsing States and the Continuity of Violence: Russia Between International and Civil War (Chapters 47/48)

V: Shaky Promises: The US Decision to Enter the War and the Question of the American Nation (Chapter 49)

VI: The Revolution of Rising Expectations: 1917 as a Global Moment (Chapter 50)

VII: Social Polarization and Political Erosion: The Limits of Consensus in the Home Societies (Chapters 51/52)

VIII: The Duel Defensive: Liberals in the War (Chapter 53)

IX: Demography, Class and Genders: The Contours of Post-War Societies (Chapter 54)

X: Economic and Monetary Tectonics: The Political Economy of a New World Order (Chapter 55)

XI: Forty-One Months of War: The Impossible Year, Between Competitive Utopias and Illusions of Peace (Chapter 56)


Chapter Seven: Onrush and Collapse: 1918 (Chapter 57) [p.721]

I: From Front to Space of Violence: Dictated Peace and Civil War in Eastern Europe (Chapter 58)

II: Endgame: The War of 1914 Returns to the Western Front (Chapters 59/60)

III: Wars of Disillusion: Anticipating the Post-War Period in Southern and Eastern Europe (Chapter 61)

IV: Remobilization and Costly Victories: The Price of Cohesion in the Allied Societies (Chapter 62)

V: Hopes and Crises: Germany Between Peace-Utopias and the End of the Monarchy (Chapter 63)

VI: Break-Up Wars and Independence Struggles: The Dissolution of Continental Empires (Chapter 64)

VII: Armistice or Surrender: Ending the War in a Climate of Exhaustion (Chapter 65)

VIII: Fifty-Two Months of War, One Month of Peace: Indeterminacy of Victory and Defeat, Desynchronization of War and Peace
(Chapter 66)


Chapter Eight: Outcomes: Wars in Peace and Rival Models of Order, 1919–1923 (Chapters 67/68) [p.837]

Chapter Nine: Memories: Fragmented Experiences and Polarized Expectations (Chapter 69) [p.875]

Chapter Ten: Burdens: The First World War and the Century of Global Conflicts (Chapter 70) [p.891]