The Pity of War

Niall Ferguson, Author Basic Books $30 (563p) ISBN 978-0-465-05711-5
Many readers will disagree with Oxford historian Ferguson's (Paper and Iron) daring revisionist account of the Great War as presented in this superbly illustrated book, but none will be bored by his elegant marshaling of facts to support his case. Ferguson argues that Germany had a justifiable fear of Russian and French militarism and was merely making a preemptive strike in August 1914. He suggests that Britain forced the escalation of what could have been a limited continental war by entering on the side of the Allies and then increased the body count on both sides through sheer ineptitude. An economic historian, Ferguson explains that Germany was efficient at inflicting ""maximum slaughter at minimum expense,"" paying just $5133 to kill each Allied serviceman. The bungling but economically advantaged Allies, on the other hand, paid $16,754 for each German head. For all the book's strengths, however, Ferguson comes up short in his flawed, briefly sketched analyses of the ebb and flow of diplomatic and battlefield events. Grand strategy goes unstudied. Ferguson's war is, in the end, simply an economic problem. Scarcity equals loss, and whoever has the most supplies will prevail. Ultimately, it is hard to feel satisfied with Ferguson's narrow analysis of what is surely a far more complex equation. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 608 pages - 978-0-465-05712-2
Paperback - 623 pages - 978-0-14-027523-0
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-7867-2529-8
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