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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Month That Changed The World: July 2014 by Gordon Martel

Map of Europe at the beginning of World War I

Book Review
The Month That Changed The World: July 2014
 by Gordon Martel
Published May 8th, 2014
Oxford University Press

It is the hundred year anniversary of the start of World War I, so there are a bunch of books out.  I'm not into military history, which is a HUGE sub-category of history.  Walk into any used book store and the "Military History" section is often as big as the rest of the history section combined.  Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, those are the big four.  World War I is a distant fifth, but hey hundred year anniversary- that's bound to arouse some interest.

Map of Europe at the end of World War I- Austria lost, big time.

 As the introduction carefully explains, The Month That Changed The World is an attempt to write the start of World War I in a kind of narrative format- he cites as inspiration detective fiction.  Considering approximately 100% of the action is diplomats writing letters and heads of states having meetings with government officials, detective fiction is a stretch, but Martel does create a convincing day to day narrative.

 Sooooo.... who started World War I?  The Austrians, with their strange obsession with Serbian nationalism, and their quixotic desire to "avenge" the death of a crown prince that everyone already hated, are prime culprits. With his careful discussion of the background and personalities of the principle actors, Martel demolishes the idea of an unavoidable war- World War I was anything BUT unavoidable, and the sheer amount of finagling that went on prior to the commencement of hostilities belies any claims to the contrary.

 Second prize goes to the Germans, who were a willing aiding and abetter of Austrias' aggression. After the war turned into a huge disaster for the Germans, they took the lead in trying to erase the idea that they might have been instrumental in causing the war in the first place, but the evidence that Martel collects is hard to rebut.

  Third place would have to be the Russia, though with them it seems more of a case of simple incompetence vs. real ill will.   The Russian military was unable to pull off a "partial mobilization" specific to Austria, and their clumsiness pushed the Germans closer to the brink.

  After that you've got the English, French, Italians and Turks, who were all involved, but ultimately were in the passenger seat.   I don't think The Month That Changed The World: July 1914 is quite the general interest book the author set out to write, but it is a good take on the how and why of the start, and  isn't the beginning the only interesting part of war?


Anonymous said...

I'm a large fan of Margaret MacMillian's "The War That Ended Peace", It's an excellent roadmap to the personalities and circumstances that lead to the choices made to begin the war.

by Mario S. said...

The podcast Hardcore History is on WWI right now. Five parts, 4 hours a pop. Think you'd like it if youve never listened.

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