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July 1914: Countdown to War [Hardcover]

Sean McMeekin
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 July 2013
The outbreak of the First World War was 'a drama never surpassed'. One hundred years later, the characters still seem larger than life: Archduke Franz Ferdinand, brooding heir to the Habsburg throne; the fanatical Bosnian Serb assassins who plot to murder him; Conrad and Berchtold, the Austrians who exploit the outrage; Kaiser Wilhelm and Bethmann Hollweg, backing up the Austrians; Sazonov, Russian Foreign Minister, trying to live down a reputation for cowardice; Poincare and Paleologue, two French statesmen who urge on the Russians; and not least Winston Churchill, who, alone among Cabinet officials in London, perceives the seriousness of the situation in time to take action. July 1914 tells the story of Europe's countdown to war through the eyes of these men, between the bloody opening act on 28 June 1914 and Britain's final plunge on 4 August, which turned a European conflict into a world war. The outbreak of war was no accident of fate. Individual statesmen, pursuing real objectives, conjured up the conflict - in some cases by conscious intention. While some sought honourably to defuse tensions, others all but oozed with malice as they rigged the decks for war. Dramatic, inevitably tense and almost forensically observed, Sean McMeekin's unique book retells the story of that cataclysmic month, making clear as never before who was responsible for the catastrophe. You will never think the same way again about the origins of the First World War.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (4 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848315937
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848315938
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.2 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 146,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'A work of meticulous scholarship ... McMeekin's description of the details of life in the European capitals - small events that influenced great decisions - makes July 1914 irresistible.' -- Roy Hattersley Times 'A genuinely exciting, almost hour-by-hour account of the terrible month when Europe's diplomats danced their continent over the edge and into the abyss.' -- Nigel Jones BBC History Magazine 'Sean McMeekin's splendid July 1914 unravels all the shenanigans, bluffs and bunglings by which Europe's leaders and diplomats turned a minor murder in a Balkans backwater into total war ... There are scenes in July 1914 that linger long after the cover is closed.' -- John Lewis-Stempel Sunday Express 'McMeekin shows us precisely why the conflict happened ... [he] tells these stories with clarity and skill, drawing expert portraits of all the characters involved.' -- Keith Lowe Mail on Sunday 'Learned, punchy and enjoyable ... the book reads like a crime drama.' -- Christopher Clark London Review of Books 'A refreshingly original counterpoint to the traditional focus' -- Bronwen Maddox Prospect 'A shocking history, told with edgy, angry authority.' -- Iain Finlayson Saga Magazine 'Sean McMeekin, in July 1914, [offers a] new perspective ... McMeekin has chosen the zoom lens. He opens with a crisp but vivid reconstruction of the double murder in the sunshine of Sarajevo, then concentrates entirely on unraveling the choreography day by day.' -- Harold Evans New York Times Book Review '[A] detailed account of the events and decisions that marked the road to war' Times Higher Education '[McMeekin] has ... literary and historical skill to make this a page-turning read.' Literary Review [A] superbly researched political history of the weeks between the assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I... McMeekin's work is a fine diplomatic history of the period, a must-read for serious students of WWI, and a fascinating story for anyone interested in modern history.' -- Publishers Weekly Publishers Weekly 'McMeekin's chronicle of these weeks in July 1914: Countdown to War is almost impossible to put down... [McMeekin] delivers a punchy and riveting narrative of high politics and diplomacy over the five weeks after Sarajevo, more or less day by day, dwelling on small groups of decision-makers in and between the various capitals, and their interactions, by turns measured, perplexed, cordial, artful, angry, even tearful.' -- RJW Evans The New York Review of Books '[A] thoroughly rewarding account that spares no nation regarding the causes of World War I... McMeekin delivers a gripping, almost day-by-day chronicle of the increasingly frantic maneuvers of European civilian leaders who mostly didn't want war and military leaders who had less objection.' Kirkus Reviews 'Sean McMeekin is establishing himself as a-or even the-leading young historian of modern Europe. Here he turns his gifts to the outbreak of war in July 1914 and has written another masterpiece.' -- Norman Stone author of World War Two: A Short History 'Alluding to historical controversies, McMeekin ably delivers what readers demand from a WWI-origins history: a taut rendition of the July 1914 crisis.' -- Booklist 'Blending scholarly research with a breezy and descriptive writing style, McMeekin makes a reader feel like a firsthand witness to the key events of that fateful summer ... a primer for today's diplomats on how not to allow a small event to spiral out of control into a major war.' Columbus Dispatch 'A fascinating account' -- Giles MacDonogh author of Prussia '[McMeekin's] research skills are obviously admirable and his sources are impressive ... this is an excellent account of the days between the Sarajevo assassination and the outbreak of the First World War.' The European Royal History Journal 'This is a meticulously researched and vividly written reconstruction of the decisions that led to war in July 1914. McMeekin captures the human drama of this fateful month and offers a provocative assessment of the different players' moral responsibility.' -- James Sheehan, author of 'Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?: The Transformation of Modern Europe' 'Winners write the histories, so wars are misunderstood. Sean McMeekin takes a wider stance to get a fresh angle of vision on The Great War, and casts all war-making in a new light.' -- Charles Hill, Diplomat in Residence at Yale University, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and author of 'Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism' 'Sean McMeekin has given us a riveting and fast-paced account of some of the most important diplomatic and military decisions of the 20th century. He depicts with chilling clarity the confusion, the incompetence, and the recklessness with which Europe's leaders went to war in that fateful summer. Any understanding of the world we inhabit today must begin with an examination of the events of July 1914. McMeekin provides his readers with a balanced and detailed analysis of the events that gave birth to the modern age.' -- Michael Neiberg, author of 'The Blood of Free Men'

About the Author

Sean McMeekin's books include The Berlin-Baghdad Express, The Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power (Penguin/Allen Lane) and The Russian Origins of the First World War (Harvard University Press). He lives in Istanbul with his wife, Nesrin, and their daughter, Ayla.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
92 of 118 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Giving Revisionism a bad name! 4 July 2013
McMeekin is right in one respect. All the big powers made disastrously bad decisions during the July crisis. Most readers will go along with that conclusion but McMeekin is a revisionist. His book forcefully lays out why it was Russia that surpassed the others in the wilful badness of its decisions and Russia is to blame for the outbreak of the war.

This is strongly reflected in his various comments on the leaders in the driving seat in each of the three most closely involved powers. You can summarise them by saying Berchtold (Austria) is a fool, Bethmann (Germany) is a tragic fool, and Sazonov (Russia) is a cunning fool.

Whoever you think is to blame, it is Russia that reacted to the decision of Austria-Hungary, fully supported without qualification by Germany, to destroy Serbia as an independent state and give large parts of it to its neighbours.

McMeekin is saying it was right for Austria-Hungary and Germany to do this, and in Germany's case it was deceived into allowing the situation to get out of hand, and let Russia, encouraged by the French, plunge Europe into war.

The author supports his analysis with a rather large number of dubious accounts and blatant errors. Examples are given below.

## Bethmann's knowledge and state of mind when he and the Kaiser met the Austrian envoys at Potsdam on 6 July [p100, p104]

McMeekin portrays Bethmann, the German Chancellor, as not being in touch with what was going on when the Austrian ambassador called on the Kaiser at Potsdam to get German support. He arrived at the last minute probably too exhausted from his trip to perceive how acute the situation was.

This contradicts what other historians say.
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51 of 68 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Book Too Far 8 July 2013
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
One wonders why this book was ever written. Although written with clarity and making use of original documents, as have many others, this account of the causes of the First World War tells us nothing that has not been known for at leasy 40 years. In recent years there has been a deliberate attempt by a number of well-known writers to declare Germany innocent of bringing about the Great War of 1914. They have failed miserably because the facts (documents) refuse to support their thesis. To their credit, several outstanding German historians refuse to go along with this desire to find Germany not guilty. Of course, other nations piled fuei on the growing bonfire after 1911 but it was always Germany's intention to seek European hegemony. Her Kaiser and leaders believed passionately that Germany deserved her place in the sun. The success of her military ventures during the 19th century served to encourage this arrogant view. This new work is therefore yet another attempt to sully the record. It also fails to achieve its objective for several reasons. Germanphiles will, of course, remain unconvinced of this allowing emotion to overide the evidence.

McMeeken's book rehashes the well-known assassination, the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum, the involvement of Berchtold, and the various mobilisations. It is diplomatic history that lacks a deep knowledge of military strategy and politics.
He is very reliant, often without attribution, on previous works, for example the late Professor Alan Taylor's work on the link between mobilisation plans and railways. His attempt to blame Russia for 'a monstrous slaughter' fails to take into account the key fact that Russia had to mobilise early given the size and configuration of her armed forces.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and entertaining. 10 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this an eminently readable book which took the reader day by day in detail through the month leading up to WW1. A most enjoyable and informative read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Topical and ineresting 24 April 2014
By margie
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Good to read a book which flows and also tells the facts dispassionately. Amazing how arrogant certain people of a certain were to those whom they thought of as expendable
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3.0 out of 5 stars Bit of a difficult read 27 Mar 2014
By LDT123
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
With so many foreign names, it was difficult to remember who was whom. A lot of dates and statistics made it a difficult read but then I suppose that was what the book was about. A very good and accurate picture of the lead up to the war but not really for me.
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44 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read, but with serious caveats 7 July 2013
McMeekin attempts to give a day by day account of the period between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the start of the war a month later. The foregoing is the strong part of the book, which people who haven't read much about WWI will appreciate. But while he brings nothing new to the basic story, nor is his writing exceptionally better than hosts of previous authors that have told this same story over and over again, the questionable part of the book are his rather controversial claims about the origins of the war.

For example he writes that Russian ambitions to capture the Straits and "Constantinople" is what motivated her actions in July 1914 and that "the European war" had to come first. Such a war, according to McMeekin, would provide Russia with "the pretext" to conquer Constantinople, but Russia "could not be seen to start it" and "only the unique sequence of events following Sarajevo" would provide Russia with the opportunity to have French and British "backing." Whereby in contrast Germany, according to McMeekin, would have been dragged into the war "kicking and screaming."

In a very distorted and inaccurate account of Russian pre-mobilization activity McMeekin attempts to argue Russia's 'war guilt' based on her partial mobilization having been ordered on 26 July (the Army Corps of the military districts Kiev, Odessa, Kazan and Moscow were activated that day for a possible partial mobilization against Austria), it cannot be disputed that it was Austria-Hungary who was the first to declare war on another country, namely Serbia.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a thriller!
This is the best book I've read so far on the events leading up to the outbreak of the First World War - although Max Hastings is very good on the first month of the War... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Remember the Alamo
5.0 out of 5 stars Countdown to a great read!!
Good quality read. Cetainly well researched with enough facts to keep your brain working and put in a way that the learning is enjoyable
Published 3 months ago by P. D. Roberts
4.0 out of 5 stars July is a warm month
McMeekin's book is a detailed study of the month before the outbreak of WW1 and as such is pretty detailed about what happened during the build-up. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. D. McKenna
4.0 out of 5 stars The folly of war.
An excellent and well researched book.
Concerns the critical and complex period leading up to the First World War .
Published 3 months ago by Vulcan
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of events.
Found this book enlightening, more of a WW2 buff, so this book made me ditch a lot of preconceived ideas. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, interesting, enthralling...
Since learning the causes of WWI for "O" level at 16, I have remained curious and bemused until now as to how all the great powers got embroiled in this catastrophe, but... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Barefootgypsy
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended for students studying this period of History
I have taught this particular topic at A level and this book would be an excellent resource for both Tutors and students studying the causes of the 1st World War particularly the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mary Lynch
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Analysis
Well written and fascinating. Puts the spotlight on bungled decision making with a terrible outcome. Perfect timing for the 100 year anniversary and the focus of public attention.
Published 5 months ago by Ronald W Mackintosh
3.0 out of 5 stars insightful but maybe to much so
This book goes into immense detail about the weeks leading up to war. Every twist and turn of diplomacy recounted makes it very insightful. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Paul Whitehead
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting account of the origins of World War One
In the run-up to the centenary of the start of World War One, we are going to get vast doses of propaganda. Read more
Published 8 months ago by William Podmore
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