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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.
©2013 Max Hastings (P)2013 Blackstone Audio
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Jean on 12-13-13


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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40 of 41 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Rollin on 10-07-13

Outstanding history

What made the experience of listening to Catastrophe 1914 the most enjoyable?

Hastings' handling of detail of soldiers' lives in the trenches, the tensions among politicians and military leaders, the personalities and shortcomings of military leaders and the local political and social contexts of the countries involved: Austria, Russia, Serbia, France, German and Great Britain. A truly formidable social, political and military history of the events leading up to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the first months of the war.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Catastrophe 1914?

The forays of individual soldiers carrying out incredible feats of bravery and later receiving medals.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Some parts are extremely painful, especially the detailed narratives of life in the trenches.

Any additional comments?

Max Hastings has written a fantastic and innovative history of a much researched period. Fans of European history will enjoy this book.

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13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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