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Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918

Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918 [Kindle Edition]

Alexander Watson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

For the empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary the Great War - which had begun with such high hopes for a fast, dramatic outcome - rapidly degenerated as invasions of both France and Serbia ended in catastrophe. For four years the fighting now turned into a siege on a quite monstrous scale. Europe became the focus of fighting of a kind previously unimagined. Despite local successes - and an apparent triumph in Russia - Germany and Austria-Hungary were never able to break out of the the Allies' ring of steel.

In Alexander Watson's compelling new history of the Great War, all the major events of the war are seen from the perspective of Berlin and Vienna. It is fundamentally a history of ordinary people. In 1914 both empires were flooded by genuine mass enthusiasm and their troubled elites were at one with most of the population. But the course of the war put this under impossible strain, with a fatal rupture between an ever more extreme and unrealistic leadership and an exhausted and embittered people. In the end they failed and were overwhelmed by defeat and revolution.

About the Author

Alexander Watson is Lecturer of History at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has been a Research Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, a British Academy Postgraduate Fellow at the University of Cambridge and, from 2011-13, Marie Curie Inter-European Fellow at Warsaw University. His first book, Enduring the Great War, won the Fraenkel Prize.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 29212 KB
  • Print Length: 785 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1846142210
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 Aug 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00IB43Q8U
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #11,406 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dispassionate and compassionate 14 Aug 2014
By fasi
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a very readable account of WWI as experienced at the time by the German and Austro-Hungarian participants. It succeeds in being at the same time dispassionate and compassionate, chronicling the agonies of warfare with blame laid only on the relatively few on all sides who were morally guilty by the standards of the time. The author shows great skill in including just enough statistical data to explain the forces at work and just enough documentation of personal experience to engage sympathy with protagonists. A particular strength is the attention to civilian morale and the micro-economics which proved so important. The one weakness might have been that it assumes a good knowledge of the geography of, for example, Galicia and East Prussia but this is easily remedied with maps found on the internet.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ring of Steel 22 Aug 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating book for those with an interest in history of the period from the perspective of the Central Powers. It is a model of detachment and judgement of events one hundred years ago. One tends to forget that those caught up in the events were human beings too. Buy this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sobering but insightful analyses 9 Aug 2014
By Brigitte Muehlegger - Published on
Alexander Watson, the author of a prizewinning study of the British and German armies during the first world war, makes a substantial contribution to this growing body of literature in Ring of Steel. In his analysis, it was the mobilization and radicalization of Germany and Austria-Hungary between 1914 and 1918 that created the context for Europe’s descent into the “bloodlands” of the 1930s and 1940s. “The great material and emotional investment” of the Central Powers, he contends, “ensured that defeat, when it came, would have a catastrophic impact on their societies.”

These experiences resulted from disastrous political decisions made by elites in Berlin and Vienna. Watson shows how poorly the civilian and military leaders of the Central Powers understood their societies, epitomized in the fears of Habsburg ministers and generals that their multi-ethnic empire was on the verge of disintegration in 1914. In reality, Austria-Hungary was more robust than its leaders appreciated: national minorities wanted more autonomy, not independence, and knew how to make compromises.

Groundless assumptions also impaired decision-making in Berlin. Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 was the “most disastrous decision of the war”, according to Watson. By bringing the US into the conflict just as Russia was at the point of revolution, the French army about to mutiny and Britain on the edge of bankruptcy, German leaders missed an opportunity to win. Similarly, the 1916 Hindenburg plan, designed to increase armaments production, instead fueled inflation and created chaos.

In the Habsburg empire, mobilization took place within individual national communities, each of which understood the war in different ways. This became a problem as the war dragged on and the claims of different national groups clashed. In Germany, the government successfully presented the war as defensive and, therefore, legitimate. Socialists as well as nationalists could rally to the defense of the Fatherland. Yet even the rallying point of opposition to Tsarist despotism and rapacious British and French commercialism began to dissolve in bitter disputes within Germany about war aims from 1915. A defensive war covered myriad ambitions, including extravagant territorial demands. Food shortages undermined social solidarity in both states, particularly from 1916.

German and Habsburg elites sought to preserve social cohesion through propaganda and repression. Austria-Hungary was considerably more repressive, reflecting its elite’s distrust of its own people. In neither state did governments introduce meaningful political reform. Instead, they offered the prospect of “holding out” and “total victory”. Even the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, which constituted an apparent “total victory” against Russia, undermined the Habsburg regime as previously loyal Poles railed against the terms.

The failure of Germany’s spring offensives in 1918 was followed by a rapid disintegration of army morale, which drifted back to the German home front as the war ended in ceasefire and revolution in November 1918. The peoples of the Central Powers were left without a sense of the purpose of the war, and without respite from insecurity and hunger. Watson concludes that the search for meaning in all of this led to an intensification of ethnic violence, culminating in the Holocaust.
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