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1913: The World before the Great War Paperback – 6 Feb 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (6 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099575787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099575788
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 150,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Charles Emmerson has suffered from a life-long addiction to maps, geopolitics and the power of history to illuminate the future. Born in Australia, Charles grew up and was educated in London. After graduating top of his class from Oxford University in modern history, he was awarded an Entente Cordiale scholarship to study politics and law in Paris. Since then he has worked for a variety of international organisations focusing on global issues, including the International Crisis Group and, latterly, as Associate Director of the World Economic Forum and head of their Global Risks' team. He now lives in London where he works as a writer and adviser on international affairs.

Product Description


"Every so often a book comes along that simply must be read. 1913 is such a work. Luminous and majestic, rich in detail and stunning in its depth of research, 1913 is a sweeping and haunting portrait of the world on the edge of the precipice… Read this book, but be prepared to stifle at the end of every page an urge to scream out a warning to those long since dead that they must take another road" (Wade Davis)

"Charles Emmerson explores an endlessly interesting question: How did the great glossy world of the European Empires come to grief in 1914? This is a most elegantly written book and should stand comparison with the much older classic, Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower" (PROFESSOR NORMAN STONE, author of World War One: A Short History)

"A masterful, comprehensive portrait of the world at that last moment in its history…" (David Crane Spectator)

"If Downton Abbey still colours your impression of what Britain was like on the cusp of the First World War, 1913 could be a useful corrective" (David Robinson Scotsman)

"One of the great merits of Charles Emmerson’s global panorama is to show events in the months leading up to the summer of 1914 as something other than a precursor to mass slaughter" (Mark Damazer New Statesman)

Book Description

A portrait of a world on the precipice of war – and the brink of globalisation.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Iain S. Palin on 8 Feb. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We have an enduring fascination with the era just before the First Wold War. It is a vanished world, apparently full of people believing uncritically in human progress and how things could only continue getting better, and of course our knowledge of the catastrophe that was about to befall it makes its glitter and optimism so poignant. We can smile sadly at the views expressed in their media of how nations were coming together, that ties of trade and finance made war between the major nations unthinkable, and shake our heads at the conviction that the ideal of human brotherhood was becoming a reality. But we also know that there is no shortage of books covering this period, so is there really a need for another one? Is there something new to be said?

Well yes, and the newness here is in the approach taken: not a broad canvas but rather a collection of almost two dozen linked sketches. What the author does is tell us about key capital and major cities throughout the world, what they were like in 1913, the lives and hopes of the people living in them, the nature and activities of those governing them, where they seemed to fit into the order of things. And he does it very well. The research has been thorough and the information is there and in some detail, but it never threatens to overpower the reader or to make things dull. The style is very readable and there is a lightness of touch and an ability to take you to a place and immerse you in it. We get enough by way of regional overview and linking themes to stop the collection feeling disjointed but the cities are the main characters.

The combination of novel approach and readability make this a great read and also a very informative one. I certainly recommend it.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Peripatetic Dip on 30 April 2013
Format: Hardcover
Emmerson's book is a lesson in the fact that if history does not necessarily repeat itself, it certainly echoes through time. City-hopping through the key intellectual, commercial, and political centres of the age, Emmerson takes the reader on a world tour that at once illustrates, with well-researched detail, what daily life might have felt like, while also drawing comparisons between cities that serve to illustrate Emmerson's broader themes of a world on the brink of seismic shifts that have eerie parallels with the challenges we face today. That he manages to pack this tour d'horizon into just over 500 pages, that flows seamlessly on its global journey and is absorbing from start to finish, is a tribute to Emmerson's writing skill and absolute mastery of his subject. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Helen Malpas on 20 Nov. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An interesting look at the world prior to the Great War. Some might think it a long boring book but he was covering the world here and perhaps each continent deserves a book to itself. However there was interest on every page, I especially like the flavour it gave of the still frontier towns of America and Canada and this was only 100 years ago, my grandfather was 40 years old at this time and I knew him well. So it shows how close we were to an almost lawless society. We might not have progressed as much as we think.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Lance Grundy on 2 May 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Starting in July 2014 and continuing until 11 November 2018 the world will remember The Great War. During that period, right across the globe, numerous memorial services will take place, books will be published, documentaries will be aired and films will be shown as the world remembers the more than nine million, mostly young men, who lost their lives in that terrible conflict. However, because the events of the First World War were so appalling and overshadowed everything which came after, there is a tendency for us to overlook what came before. What was the world like just before the Great War? This perfectly-timed book, written by Charles Emmerson, a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, aims to provide the answer.

Divided into four parts and covering twenty-three of the world's major cities this fascinating book takes its reader on a whirlwind tour of the globe in 1913. Starting and finishing in London and crossing five continents in between, Emmerson uses contemporary sources [including newspaper reports, diaries, memoirs and extracts from Baedeker guides] to paint a vivid portrait of a world on the cusp of enormous change. While Europe still dominated much of the world in 1913 and monarchical and aristocratic government prevailed across most of the continent, the forces of change were on the march.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By M on 9 May 2013
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book. It is wonderfully written, and really brings the world of 1913 to life for me. I found the global perspective of it particularly impressive - Emmerson covers a lot of ground, but as a reader I always felt I was being carried from one continent to the next with the characters and the narrative. My favourite cities were Constantinople and Jerusalem - two cities that I had known something about, but not at that time in history. And the way the book is written means that I could dip in and out at will. I would definitely recommend this - even to someone who is not necessarily a reader of big history books in general. Combining history, travelogue - and a profound reflection on a world where people didn't know what was about to happen to their world, and to their society - I thought this was a wonderful complement to all the books about World War I itself which I know will be coming out over the next few years.
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