NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times Book Review • The Economist • The Christian Science Monitor • Bloomberg Businessweek • The Globe and Mail
From the bestselling and award-winning author of Paris 1919 comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, a fascinating portrait of Europe from 1900 up to the outbreak of World War I.
The century since the end of the Napoleonic wars had been the most peaceful era Europe had known since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the first years of the twentieth century, Europe believed it was marching to a golden, happy, and prosperous future. But instead, complex personalities and rivalries, colonialism and ethnic nationalisms, and shifting alliances helped to bring about the failure of the long peace and the outbreak of a war that transformed Europe and the world.
The War That Ended Peace brings vividly to life the military leaders, politicians, diplomats, bankers, and the extended, interrelated family of crowned heads across Europe who failed to stop the descent into war: in Germany, the mercurial Kaiser Wilhelm II and the chief of the German general staff, Von Moltke the Younger; in Austria-Hungary, Emperor Franz Joseph, a man who tried, through sheer hard work, to stave off the coming chaos in his empire; in Russia, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife; in Britain, King Edward VII, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and British admiral Jacky Fisher, the fierce advocate of naval reform who entered into the arms race with Germany that pushed the continent toward confrontation on land and sea.
There are the would-be peacemakers as well, among them prophets of the horrors of future wars whose warnings went unheeded: Alfred Nobel, who donated his fortune to the cause of international understanding, and Bertha von Suttner, a writer and activist who was the first woman awarded Nobel’s new Peace Prize. Here too we meet the urbane and cosmopolitan Count Harry Kessler, who noticed many of the early signs that something was stirring in Europe; the young Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a rising figure in British politics; Madame Caillaux, who shot a man who might have been a force for peace; and more. With indelible portraits, MacMillan shows how the fateful decisions of a few powerful people changed the course of history.
Taut, suspenseful, and impossible to put down, The War That Ended Peace is also a wise cautionary reminder of how wars happen in spite of the near-universal desire to keep the peace. Destined to become a classic in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, The War That Ended Peace enriches our understanding of one of the defining periods and events of the twentieth century.
Praise for The War That Ended Peace
“Magnificent . . . The War That Ended Peace will certainly rank among the best books of the centennial crop.”—The Economist
“Superb.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Masterly . . . marvelous . . . Those looking to understand why World War I happened will have a hard time finding a better place to start.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“The debate over the war’s origins has raged for years. Ms. MacMillan’s explanation goes straight to the heart of political fallibility. . . . Elegantly written, with wonderful character sketches of the key players, this is a book to be treasured.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A magisterial 600-page panorama.”—Christopher Clark, London Review of Books
Macmillan, professor of international history at Oxford, follows her Paris 1919 with another richly textured narrative about WWI, this time addressing the war's build-up. She asks, "What made 1914 different?" and wonders why Europe "walk over the cliff" given the continent's relatively longstanding peace. She begins by addressing Germany's misfortune in having "a child for King"; Wilhelm II sought to secure Germany's and his own world power status by inaugurating a naval race with Britain. Britain responded by making "unlikely friends" with France and Russia. Germany in turn cultivated relations with a near-moribund Austria-Hungary. Macmillan tells this familiar story with panache. A major contribution, however, is her presentation of its subtext, as Europe's claims to be the world's most advanced civilization "were being challenged from without and undermined from within." Exertions for peace were overshadowed by acceptance of war as "a tool that could be used" against enemies made increasingly threatening by alliance systems. The nations' war plans shared a "deeply rooted faith in the offensive" and a near-irrational belief in the possibility of a short war. Macmillan eloquently shows that "turning out the lights" was not inevitable, but a consequence of years of decisions and reactions: a slow-motion train wreck few wanted but none could avoid.
The War That Ended Peace
A comprehensive history of the institutional inadequacies and personal biases and failures that led to the Great War. Excellent command of the many threads that comprised the noose which strangled Europe. One hundred years later we are still living with the consequences of the decisions made and acts taken.
A scholarly tome
History would be so simple if the crisis that became World War I had a single perpetrator to blame, such as Gavrilo Princip, or Imperial Germany. No such luck, as MacMillan shows; this whodunnit is more akin to “Murder on the Orient Express”. Worse, the fatal catastrophe could have been prevented like so many prior near-misses, if some of the usual suspects had still been around, or if the other perpetrators had, once again, set aside grievances and prior regrets.
I enjoyed this book, but it’s not a light read, and about ten percent of the pages are scholarly notes. MacMillan guides the reader on a timeline through all the various miscalculations, missing persons, and missed opportunities that ended the Concert — thus leading to the cataclysm and collapse of Imperial Europe.
Never before have I read a book about the causes of ww1 like this one. Such detail as to the scenarios. Would recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out the causes of that war