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Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 [Paperback]

Max Hastings
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (310 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: 13 x 4.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (310 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,593 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
183 of 198 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Endgame 6 Jun 2014
By Brian Hamilton TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
This books achieves the awe inspiring combination of fact and entertainment. His blend of hard military information infused with vignettes of the average foot soldier, peasants, disaffected and the everyman is very heady and brings strong emotion to a table normally only adorned with the dry biscuit of troop movements and engagements.

Finally, we can read about the confused beginnings and the slow awakening that a world altering struggle was unfolding.

The reviews that have gone before are correct in their plaudits and the praise heaped upon Hastings are justly given, he is a man of strong intellect, cutting insight and is able to grasp disparate elements and describe in a way that is straightforward without being patronizing or 'dumbing down' the content.

I can see myself reading his other works for the sheer majesty of his writing and the towering aspirations that he loftily commands.

As it says on the blurb, 'we are at the hands of a master.'

Never have I read a book that has tackled a potentially arid subject with such emotion and humanity.

This should be an essential read for anyone with even the slightest bone of interest in their body about where we are today and what has shaped our modern world.

Essential reading.
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13 of 14 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Descent into massacre 4 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As usual from this author, an in depth analysis of the circumstances leading to the First World War, as told by those leading the various nations, and the ordinary soldier, sailer and civilian. The stories are interwoven into a single narrative, leaping from area to area, country to country.

I'm struck by the ineptitude of many of the very senior generals, in not being able to cope with modern warfare on an industrial scale. The soldier at the front seemed able to adapt, although their officers less so, and also less tolerant of war intervening into their comfortable lives.

From a British perspective, I'm also struck by the small contribution of the country to the war in 1914, in comparison to the millions of Frenchman, Russians and Germans to the conflict. Even so, the parochialism and nationalism of many of the counties involved, many resenting their allies more than their enemies!

Max Hastings makes the case that the war was largely the fault of the Germans being unwilling and unable to resist the descent into conflict. Once committed to war, all countries - sadly - were in until the end of the conflict.

Thought provoking, a very worthwhile read to stem the tide of over patriotic remembrance this year.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Another triumph of history made tangible.
My grandfather's war described as he himself might have told me. The places and people are alive now as much as then, altogether history as it should be.
Published 14 hours ago by BRIAN ROBINSON
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
excellent and readable account of such a topical event
Published 1 day ago by Michael Grant
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!
I'm ashamed to say that my knowledge of the events leading up to the outbreak of war in 1914 was very poor before reading this book. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Rob
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
very comprehensive
Published 2 days ago by carol stockdale
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
For anyone interested in WW1 history or wanting to know about the months leading up to the start of the war anf the months that followed in 1914, this is a must read, typically Max... Read more
Published 2 days ago by ger
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing read, revealing the dreadful inevitability of it all ...
Absorbing read, revealing the dreadful inevitability of it all and the shocking incompetence of our leaders. An important message for our current troubled times.
Published 2 days ago by Rod Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
have not finished the book , but Ex. read up to now.
Published 3 days ago by Top class
5.0 out of 5 stars ... unpicks the complex beginnings of this war into an easily...
Up to Max Hastings' usual standard and unpicks the complex beginnings of this war into an easily followable thread. Gripping descriptions of all the arenas of this war. Read more
Published 7 days ago by M. Stokes
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply stunning
I'm not Max Hasting's biggest fan, some of his recent works have been over blown and I disagree with his analysis of Bomber Command in WW2, however this book is brilliantly judged... Read more
Published 8 days ago by Man-O-War1977
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly - at least to me - even handed portrait ...
Surprisingly - at least to me - even handed portrait of the makings of WW1 and the first campaigns across the fields of conflict. Read more
Published 9 days ago by david evans
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