From the best-selling 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.
“[A] richly textured narrative about World War I . . . addressing the war’s build-up . . . 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.’ . . . 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.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The War That Ended Peace tells the story of how intelligent, well-meaning leaders guided their nations into catastrophe. These epic events, brilliantly described by one of our era’s most talented historians, warn of the dangers that arise when we fail to anticipate the consequences of our actions. This is one of the finest books I have ever read on the causes of World War I." (Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state)
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Detailed review of 1882 to 1914
I am making my way through as many Audible books about World War I as I can in this anniversary year (2014). I started with Margaret MacMillan's for deep background and it fulfilled its purpose admirably. The narrator spoke clearly enough that I could listen at 1.5 speed and understand everything.
I especially valued the scope of the book, as it covered cultural and general societal issues as well as the political and economic and military. The portraits of the important people, from Edward VII to the Kaiser and the Tsar, Edward Gray, Moltke, Konrad, and the French were vivid enough to help them come to life.
The writing is above average but not quite literary. Occasional references to more recent events, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the American response to 911 actually annoyed me, though many readers might find them interesting.
After listening to this book I went next to Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August." Tuchman is an outstanding writer and her coverage of the battles from August 4 through September 7 of 1914 is riveting. Tuchman is criticized for some historical errors and I may detect them as I turn to the other books on my list, but reading it made a helpful match with the MacMillan book. I recommend listening to both.
Now on my list is "A World Undone," by G. J. Meyer after which I will listen to Paul Ham's 1914: The Year the World Ended, and then Max Hastings' Catastrophe 1914: The Year Europe Went to War.
Then I will listen to MacMillan's history of the aftermath of the war with Paris 1919. I will update this review if possible so I can compare all these available titles.
The why and the how
- Tad Davis