cover image July 1914: Countdown to War

July 1914: Countdown to War

Sean McMeekin. Basic, $29.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-465-03145-0

McMeekin’s newest (after The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power) is a superbly researched political history of the weeks between the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I. Many historians believe that had Austria acted decisively in that interim, the “War to End All Wars” may have been averted. Instead, the Austrian government vacillated, finally taking decisive action after more than a month of convoluted and awkward diplomatic maneuvering. Relying on extensive research in numerous archives, as well as diaries and correspondence from key national leaders, McMeekin examines the intricacies of Austrian politics and diplomacy to explain the delay, carefully reconstructing the exploits of leading actors—particularly the Austrians and their crucial false assumption that Russia would not mobilize in defense of Serbia. Though the account is full of honest men making difficult decisions under extreme pressure, there are also numerous examples of intentional deceit, even among allies like Austria and Germany, and France and the United Kingdom. McMeekin’s work is a fine diplomatic history of the period, a must-read for serious students of WWI, and a fascinating story for anyone interested in modern history. 17 b&w images. Agent: Andrew Lownie, Andrew Lownie Literary Agency (U.K.). (Apr.)