The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914

Margaret MacMillan. Random, $35 (800) ISBN 978-1-4000-6855-5
Macmillan, professor of international history at Oxford, follows her Paris 1919 with another richly textured narrative about WWI, this time addressing the war’s build-up. She asks, “What made 1914 different?” and wonders why Europe “walk[ed] over the cliff” given the continent’s relatively longstanding peace. She begins by addressing Germany’s misfortune in having “a child for King”; Wilhelm II sought to secure Germany’s—and his own—world power status by inaugurating a naval race with Britain. Britain responded by making “unlikely friends” with France and Russia. Germany in turn cultivated relations with a near-moribund Austria-Hungary. 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.” Exertions for peace were overshadowed by acceptance of war as “a tool that could be used” against enemies made increasingly threatening by alliance systems. The nations’ war plans shared a “deeply rooted faith in the offensive” and a near-irrational belief in the possibility of a short war. 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. Agent: Christy Fletcher, C. Fletcher & Company LLC. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/09/2013
Release date: 10/29/2013
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