July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914

T.G. Otte. Cambridge Univ, $29.99 (500p) ISBN 978-1-107-06490-4
As fascinated with WWI as four preceding generations of colleagues, Otte (The Foreign Office Mind: 1865-1914), professor of history at the University of East Anglia, delivers an opinionated account of the run-up to the war that sticks close to the primary documents. He relentlessly emphasizes the poor intellectual quality of most European leaders at the time and their weakness, both in responding to the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and that nation’s consequent desire for revenge. Paranoid about being encircled, German leaders fretted over supporting their ally Austria-Hungary, whose Great Power–status was fading; Austria-Hungary, in turn, was entirely preoccupied with the Balkans. France prioritized supporting Russia over all other considerations, while Russian leaders, humiliated by Germany in earlier Balkan standoffs, were determined not to repeat the experience. In Otte’s view, British foreign minister Edward Grey and German ambassador to London Karl Lichnowsky did not share in the general incompetence. Grey consistently urged negotiation, and Lichnowsky faithfully informed his superiors, who ignored him. This is meticulous political history, dense with footnotes but clearly written. Not shy about answering the unanswerable, Otte evaluates leading views on why the war happened as he offers points of disagreement. The book is highly accomplished but potentially controversial. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/09/2014
Release date: 06/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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