Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Catastrophe 1914: Europe goes to War by Max Hastings

Catastrophe 1914: Europe goes to War by Max Hastings

Last year was the 100th anniversary of World War One and, as with any similar milestone, there was a plethora of new books in late 2013 and 2014 regarding the subject. Catastrophe 1914 was one of these and has been on my to-be-read list for some time.

Max Hastings is a recognized and respected military historian, and in reading this book, it is easy to see why. He does an excellent job of presenting the theories to date and putting forth his own. His own theory on the start of the war adds complexity to the idea that the leaders of Europe were sleepwalkers, blindly wandering into confrontation while still laying large amounts of fault at the feet of the Germans.

The truly compelling aspect of Catastrophe is the addition of journal entries, letters, and other firsthand accounts of not just battles, but the effects of the war on those back at home, demonstrating the shifting conceptions of the conflicts morality and justifications.  These accounts are compelling and serves to make this not a book about “great figures” and “great events” that populates far too many historical accounts. Instead, Hastings uses this to bring the war, its causes, and its effects to life. This is not to say that he ignores the main figures of events, quite the opposite. He humanizes Europe’s leaders, again with accounts and primary documents to give the reader a sense of them as people and not historical figures.

At 628 pages it certainly is a long read, but it is fascinating to read a more complex and nuanced account of the start of World War One and its impact on the world and ordinary people. I would certainly recommend this well-crafted account of the first year of the First World War

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