Catastrophe 1914

  • by Max Hastings
  • Narrated by Simon Vance
  • 25 hrs and 26 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I - from the breakdown of diplomacy to the dramatic battlesthat occurred before the war bogged down in the trenches.
World War I immediately evokes images of the trenches - grinding, halting battles that sacrificed millions of lives for no territory orvisible gain. Yet the first months of the war, from the German invasion of Belgium to the Marne to Ypres, were utterly different - full of advances andretreats, tactical maneuvering, and significant gains and losses. In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings re-creates this dramatic year, from the diplomatic crisis to the fighting in Belgium and France on the western front and Serbia and Galicia to the east. He gives vivid accounts of the battles and frank assessments of generals and political leaders, and shows why it was inevitable that this first war among modern industrial nations could not produce a decisive victory, resulting in a war of attrition. Throughout we encounter high officials and average soldiers, as well as civilians on the home front, giving us a vivid portrait of how a continent became embroiled in a war that would change everything.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful


I have spent the past three years reading everything I can get my hands on about world war one. Now that we are on the brink of the one hundredth anniversary of the Great War many new books are coming to market. “Catastrophe 1914” is one of them. In 1930 Sir Winston Churchill wrote “No part of the Great War compares in interest with its opening”. Max Hastings’s book addresses only the last six months of 1914. The book is well researched and Hastings draws on a wide range of documents and firsthand account to chronicle the events. The major strength of the book is how Hastings portrays the principal characters, not as stereotype but as real human beings with as many flaws as virtues. The author uses excellent narrative skill as he provides the wide-lens approach to the broad political and economical environment, but he also pays close attention to the details of his characters and their lives that makes for a human story. As you read the book you can see how the author rejects the long held academic theories about the war. He goes step by step and destroys the myths about the war’s beginning, and briefly destroys the theories about the consequence of the wars ending and also about what if German had won. Hasting sketches the steps by which Europe descended into war, he does not break new historiographical ground but rather skillfully outlines evidence by several generations of scholars into a readable narrative that is highly understandable to the lay reader. The author covers both the Western and Eastern fronts of the war as they were entirely different wars being fought at the same time. Hastings held me spellbound throughout the book. If you are interested in WWI history this is an excellent book to provide you with understanding and insight as well as wet your appetite for more. Simon Vance did an excellent job narrating the long book.
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- Jean

Mythbuster and denier destroyer

Everything I thought I knew about The Great War was wrong. This book has set me straight. The author writes a book with attitude and has the goal of destroying the myths about the starting of the war and correcting the lies about the war and explaining why it was important in its day and is still relevant for understanding today.

I always thought that "both sides were to blame", and that the sacrifices the triple entente (France, Britain, and Russia) made did not justify the cause. I was wrong. The author lays out the case on how the Germans are to blame with their blank check, their invading neutral Belgium and the Austrians with their wanting to punish all of Serbia for the actions of one teenager, Princip for the assassination for an Archduke that most of his fellow countrymen didn't even care for. The author states that "it's really not that complicated, July 23, 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia, the next day Russian responded", and so on. The book is much more nuanced than that one sentence indicates, but he makes clear Germany wanted war and they made it happen. So, that they could gain complete Hegemony of Europe and impose their will.

Also, the author points out that Germany didn't really play by the rules of the game and by orders of magnitude were more servere and, for example, were more likely to kill civilians who were taken hostage and commit multiple other atrocities and did the acts by orders from their hierarchical chain of command in contrast to the Allies who would have do such things only by rogue actions. Another strong argument the author makes is that German Hegemony of Europe would have had dire consequences going forward the rest of the world.

The author did quote the magazine "The Economist" twice. Once was how Serbia wasn't worth Britain's trouble and another how an early negotiated peace should be attempted. It's nice to see that "The Economist" is just as wrong today as they were 100 years ago.

There was another similar thing the author kept bringing home. The Germans after the war kept building up a denier mythology about the war: "if only they had more men", or "if that general had fought harder" Germany would have won the war. That kind of denier mentality is most certainly not true.

The book gave me an interesting trivia question, "what do Ronald Coleman, Herbert Marshall, Claude Rains, and Basil Rathbone all have in common?". Answer: besides being four of my most favorite actors they were all in the same regiment in Belgium during the first year of the war.

Overall, the book is necessary reading for understanding about the war and why it matters today and at the least might destroy a falsehood or two one might have about it.

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- Gary

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-24-2013
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.