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Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 [Paperback]

Max Hastings
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (249 customer reviews)
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Book Description

8 May 2014

A magisterial chronicle of the calamity that crippled Europe in 1914.

In 1914, Europe plunged into the 20th century’s first terrible act of self-immolation - what was then called The Great War. On the eve of its centenary, Max Hastings seeks to explain both how the conflict came about and what befell millions of men and women during the first months of strife.

He finds the evidence overwhelming, that Austria and Germany must accept principal blame for the outbreak. While what followed was a vast tragedy, he argues passionately against the ‘poets’ view’, that the war was not worth winning. It was vital to the freedom of Europe, he says, that the Kaiser’s Germany should be defeated.

His narrative of the early battles will astonish those whose images of the war are simply of mud, wire, trenches and steel helmets. Hastings describes how the French Army marched into action amid virgin rural landscapes, in uniforms of red and blue, led by mounted officers, with flags flying and bands playing. The bloodiest day of the entire Western war fell on 22 August 1914, when the French lost 27,000 dead. Four days later, at Le Cateau the British fought an extraordinary action against the oncoming Germans, one of the last of its kind in history. In October, at terrible cost they held the allied line against massive German assaults in the first battle of Ypres.The author also describes the brutal struggles in Serbia, East Prussia and Galicia, where by Christmas the Germans, Austrians, Russians and Serbs had inflicted on each other three million casualties.

This book offers answers to the huge and fascinating question ‘what happened to Europe in 1914?’, through Max Hastings’s accustomed blend of top-down and bottom-up accounts from a multitude of statesmen and generals, peasants, housewives and private soldiers of seven nations. His narrative pricks myths and offers some striking and controversial judgements. For a host of readers gripped by the author’s last international best-seller ‘All Hell Let Loose’, this will seem a worthy successor.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins (8 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007519745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007519743
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (249 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sir Max Hastings is the author of twenty-five books, many of them about war. He was educated at Charterhouse and University College, Oxford, which he quit after a year to become a journalist. Thereafter he reported for newspapers and BBC TV from sixty-four countries and eleven conflicts, notably the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Vietnam and the 1982 Battle for the Falklands. Between 1986 and 2002 he was editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph, then editor of the Evening Standard. He has won many prizes both for journalism and for his books, most recently the 2012 Chicago Pritzker Library's $100,000 literary award for his contribution to military history, and the RUSI's Westminster Medal for his international best-seller 'All Hell Let Loose'.

Product Description

Review

BOOK OF THE YEAR – AS CHOSEN BY THE INDEPENDENT, FINANCIAL TIMES, OBSERVER, TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT AND SPECTATOR.

‘Like one of Field Marshal Haig’s family whiskies, Max Hastings is a dram that steadily improves with age … His position as Britain’s leading military historian is now unassailable … In this enormously impressive new book, Hastings effortlessly masters the complex lead-up to and opening weeks of the First World War … [He] is as magisterial as we would expect … This is a magnificent and deeply moving book, and with Max Hastings as our guide we are in the hands of a master’ Nigel Jones, Telegraph

‘Hastings is the author of consistently good histories of WWII. But with ‘Catastrophe’ he has reached a new level of excellence’ The Times

‘Magnificent … Hastings writes with an enviable grasp of pace and balance, as well as an acute eye for human detail. Even for readers who care nothing for the difference between a battalion and a division, his book is at once moving, provocative and utterly engrossing’ Sunday Times

‘Masterly … Hastings is a brilliant guide to that strange, febrile twilight before Europe plunged into darkness. Writing in pungent prose suffused with irony and underpinned by a strong sense of moral outrage … this is history-writing at its best, scholarly and fluent … for anyone wanting to understand how that ghastly, much-misunderstood conflict came about, there could be no better place to start than this fine book’ The Times

‘One could scarcely ask for a better guide to these horrors than Max Hastings … he is a superb writer with a rare gift for evoking the rhythm, mood and raw physical terror of battle … If you are looking for a humane and compelling interpretive chronicle of the formative months of this horrific conflict, you will find none better’ Mail on Sunday

‘Very readable. Character, pace, sense of landscape, battlefield detail – all are superbly done … it's a splendid read’ Observer

About the Author

Sir Max Hastings is the author of twenty-five books, many of them about war. He was educated at Charterhouse and University College, Oxford, which he quit after a year to become a journalist. Thereafter he reported for newspapers and BBC TV from sixty-four countries and eleven conflicts, notably the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Vietnam and the 1982 Battle for the Falklands. Between 1986 and 2002 he was editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph, then editor of the Evening Standard. He has won many prizes both for journalism and for his books, most recently the 2012 Chicago Pritzker Library’s $100,000 literary award for his contribution to military history, and the RUSI’s Westminster Medal for his international best-seller All Hell Let Loose. He has two grown-up children, Charlotte and Harry, and lives with his wife Penny in West Berkshire, where they garden enthusiastically.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Blame Game 20 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Max Hastings's account of The Great War mixes strong narrative and analysis, a big picture view and telling detail, a blow-by-blow account and the wider context of the war. The effect is a compelling read and a clear picture of some of the complexities surrounding the period: the causes of the war, its conduct and its significance.
And this war is complex: long-term and short-term causes, the role of individuals and the role of institutions, the differences between having clearly defined objectives (eg annexing territory) and a willingness to push events along to see where they might go (eg Germany giving the Austro-Hungarians a blank cheque to deal with Serbia) provide a kaleidoscope of angles from which to approach the conflict.
Hastings provides a strong synthesis of accounts and overview. While he apportions blame - largely pointing the finger at Germany - he is also keen to show where different nations were at fault in different ways for their aggression or their failure to understand the consequences of their action (or in some cases inaction). Yet, while he is firm, if sometimes trenchant, in his opinions he is careful to show the basis on which he has reached his decisions.
There are a few weaknesses. While Hastings is strong on the opportunities the different players had to take a different course in the lead-up to war, he pays less attention to the longer-term causes. He captures the way Britain was caught between its focus on its empire and its desire to see a balance of power in Europe. However, at a time when Britain, France and Russia had all extended their influence in the world, I wonder if he is perhaps too quick to put Germany's actions down simply to militarism.
Catastrophe is based on a wide reading of different authorities and Hastings provides an excellent, sometimes gripping summing-up of the evidence and then direction to the jury.
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180 of 195 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "O piteous spectacle! O bloody times! 13 Sep 2013
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Whiles lions war and battle for their dens,
Poor harmless lambs abide their enmity." Wm. Shakespeare. King Henry VI, Part 3.

Max Hasting's "Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War" is a masterfully crafted account of Europe's descent into the apocalypse known as the Great War. It is a study that focuses on Europe's sabre-rattling lions who led millions headlong into the valley of the shadow of death. It also provides a compelling parallel narrative of the lambs, civilian and soldier alike, who in abiding their enmity provided fodder for the carnage that inexorably followed.

Hasting has two stories to tell and he tells them well. The first third or so of the book covers the events leading up to the commencement of the war. The book starts, as many histories of WWI do, with a Prologue on the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. However, Hasting makes a compelling case for the notion that the events in Sarajevo were but the last link in a chain of events that led to the war. Hastings looks at Sarajevo as a pretext for a war that many European leaders, most notably those in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire, were hungry for; while other leaders (France, Russian and to a lesser extent Britain) felt a war was inevitable and did little to stop the march to war.

The remainder of the book is devoted to an account of the first five months of the war, from August through December, 1914. Those marked were marked by the great opening offensives, the Germans march through Belgium toward Paris, the Russian offensive in the East and the Austrian offensives in Poland and Serbia. The outcome of these battles, particularly in the west, drew the battle-lines over which the next three years of trench warfare were fought.
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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
By Bobby Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have always found the events leading up to WW1 more than a tad tiresome, with issues such as the Balkan Wars, the arms race, German militarism etc wearing down the reader. This book, however, has managed to lend these events a fresh feel that can appeal to those not keen to investigate the minutiae of such detail. Most of the book, in fact, deals primarily with the military campaigns of the first 5 months, with coverage of huge battles in Serbia, Poland and the Western Front. Mr Hastings also includes the war at sea and the fledgling struggles of airmen to show the worth of their machines. The brutality of the Germans in Belgium is correctly documented and the treatment of prisoners also gets a mention. Lastly, the home front gets coverage, alongside tales of women giving out the 'white feather' to men who had not joined up. In short, this is an admirable book that never loses sight of the human cost of war, with some often poignant and moving excerpts from letters used to illustrate the sacrifice of the men at the front.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Mr Hastings is a famous journalist and here he combines journalist mush with some concise historical comment- but the book is sadly conventional in the modern idiom through its depreciation of everything to do with the British expeditionary force.

The early chapters are quite good and present the descent into war in a fairly concise way. The early battles in Serbia and the 'battle of the frontiers' are covered better than in most English language accounts. However, although Tanenberg is well described the battle of the Masurian Lakes is hardly touched on, whilst the campaigns in Gallicia and Poland are reduced to a vague overview based on letters and newspaper articles of the time. Towards the end there are chapters like 'Did you ever dance with him?' that amount to a sentimental hash of letters from people on the home front that I found tedious and over- long. In fact, due to content of this kind the whole book becomes over long.

Its not surprising that the most detailed accounts cover the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and here I became very annoyed. Call me an old fashioned patriot if you wish, but this attempt to rubbish every aspect of the BEF- not just the dodgy generalship, but the effort of common soldiers as well- I found very distasteful. This is of course the conventional modern way, but there is much here that simply is not true. It is, for example, ridiculous to claim the British were not outnumbered at Mons and Le Cateau: the numbers on the immediate front may have been similar, but behind the foremost German waves were many more- as the BEF knew very well.

I'm not at all surprised Sir John French did not trust the French army- which was precipitously retreating along side him.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A different approach.
On the centenary of the Great War, a view of the origins and early development of the conflict which, refreshingly, does not subscribe to the standard or revisionist approach taken... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Henry Morris
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very comprehensive.
Published 2 days ago by Dave
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book
Published 3 days ago by Carol Horwill
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Plenty of new facts to understand the strange politics leading up to the First World War.
Published 4 days ago by SUB
4.0 out of 5 stars ... not written by the author himself but it's an excellent guide to...
The diction suggests this was not written by the author himself but it's an excellent guide to the second half of 1914. Read it twice.
Published 5 days ago by SuperConstellation
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great
Published 6 days ago by Michelle
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good book
Published 7 days ago by Mrs ICM Kenny
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear book about a confused topic
Hastings shows his usual ability to turn a complex narrative into an excellent read. The personal narrative and the wider picture are well woven together to make tangled situations... Read more
Published 14 days ago by AVIDRDR
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Outstanding analysis.
Published 16 days ago by Dr J H F Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and well-written account of the year the lights went out...
An excellent and detailed account of the first year of the Great War, from the perspective of the main European powers. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Bridgwater Lad
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