McCullough was able to pull off an exceptional work of revisionist history because he avoids demonizing the Triple Entente or praising the Central Powers. Rather, he attempts to show that at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 the primary aim of the German Empire was to maintain a favorable balance-of-power in Europe, not a program of aggressive expansion. On the other hand, France had spent the years since the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 attempting to isolate Germany and form an alliance system that would shift the European balance-of-power back in its favor. It did this by first securing agreements with Russia, and finally Britain, which cemented the Entente. In the meantime, Russia was aiming to expand into the Balkans at the expense of Austria, an already rapidly decaying empire, via its partnership with Serbia. While there are many fine details I could elaborate on, its' best simply to note that the author does a first-rate job at putting it all together and letting it unravel in a very readable, comprehensible fashion. He does an excellent job at explaining how the Bismarkian system is essential to understanding pre-war German foreign policy, and even makes a limited attempt at providing a new perspective on Kaiser Wilhelm's dramatic policy changes, showing that much of it was not completely irrational or unjustified. I do think he goes a bit far when he implies that the Anglo-German naval race was simply another pretext for British naval expansion, since the same "scares" had been evoked before with France and Russia. The Germans may not have been attempting to overturn British naval superiority, but it was certainly not unreasonable for the most enlightened of British statesmen to show real concern and respond by steadily increasing production. Nevertheless, a must read for any history buff yearning for a fresh yet still credible account of the events leading to that great human catastrophe.