- Paperback: 608 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; New edition edition (19 Oct. 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465057128
- ISBN-13: 978-0465057122
- Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 14 x 21 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,636,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
The Pity of War: Explaining World War I Paperback – 19 Oct 2008
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If someone less distinguished than Niall Ferguson--a fellow and tutor in Modern History at Jesus College, Oxford--had written The Pity of Waryou could be forgiven for thinking that he was a man in search of a few cheap headlines by contradicting almost every accepted orthodoxy about World War I.
Ferguson argues that Britain was as much to blame for the start of the war as was German militarism, and that had Britain sacrificed Belgium to Germany, the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution would never have happened, Germany would have created a united European state, and Britain could have remained a superpower. He also contends that there was little enthusiasm for the war in Britain in 1914, but equally he claims that it was not prolonged by clever manipulation of the media. Instead, he purports that the reason men fought was because they enjoyed it. He also maintains that it wasn't the severity of the conditions imposed on Germany at Versailles in 1919 that led inexorably to World War II; rather it was the comparative leniency and the failure to collect reparations in full.
The Pity of War has no pretensions to offering the grand narrative of World War I. Instead it reads like a polemical tract; as such it is immensely readable, well-researched, and controversial. You may not end up agreeing with all of Ferguson's arguments, but that should not deter you from reading it. All of us need our deeply-held views challenged from time to time; if only to remind us why we've got them. --John Crace --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
As the 20th century draws to a close, Ferguson (Modern History/Oxford Univ.; The House of Rothschild, 1998) renders a brilliant reassessment of one of the century's most far-reaching and tragic wars, the First World War. Ferguson unpacks the terror and tragedy of the war while demolishing widely held beliefs about it. One of these was that the war was an inevitable result of regnant imperialism and militarism: Ferguson argues trenchantly that the trend in Europe in 1914 was away from militarism and that German feedings of growing military weakness started the war. Ferguson also contends that equivocal British policies in Europe and failure to maintain a credible army to back up its continental commitments, among other factors, led Britain needlessly to transform a continental conflict into a world war. Ferguson also establishes that until the collapse of the German leadership's morale in late 1918, Germany was actually winning the war by any important measure - though vastly economically inferior to Britain, Germany had defeated three of the Entente powers and came close to defeating France, Britain, and Italy. Moreover, Ferguson contends, because of the tactical excellence of its armies, Germany was far more efficient then the Entente powers at inflicting casualties on its enemies until the very end of its failed 1918 offensive. The author also attacks the common view that the masses greeted the war enthusiastically in 1914. He scrutinizes in depth the propaganda war, the often draconian suppression of dissent in the belligerent countries, the soldiers' diverse and often banal motives for fighting, and shifting combatant attitudes toward surrender, which, he asserts, was a risky act, since both sides routinely killed surrendering men. Changing attitudes toward surrender may have contributed to the final collapse of German form. In the end, Ferguson concludes, WWI was not unavoidable, but "the greatest error of modern history." Moving, penetrating, eye-opening, and lucidly reasoned. An important work of historical analysis. (Kirkus Reviews)See all Product Description
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It is often asserted that the First World War was caused by culture: to be precise, the culture of militarism, which is said to have prepared men so well for what they yearned for it. Read the first page
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Top Customer Reviews
He lists as "Excuses" for high Allied casualties the fact that the Germans were mostly defending, difficulties in communications as armies had grown too large to control in the absence of radios, and the "learning curve" as the Allies figured out tactics that would work (less obvious at the time than they seem with hindsight) and built the weight of artillery needed. All of these are true and amongst the reasons why the First World War turned out the way it did, as was the sheer fact of three large Armies crammed in near-stalemate conditions onto the narrow Western Front, with no obvious alternative strategy available. So why label these explanations "excuses", or write "here the excuses must stop"? Were the Germans somewhat better, on a tactical and operational level, at waging war than the Allies? Well yes I guess they probably were, but they threw it all away by strategic idiocy, eg. picking a fight with every other major power at once.
He quotes Norman Stone (another academic who can sometimes be too clever for his own good) as saying German manpower was "inexhaustible" because each year the number of fresh eighteen-year old lads exceeded total German dead. This is flatly contradicted by Holger Herwig ("Germany and Austria-Hungary at War") who states that Germany was running out of manpower by the time she called up the Class of 1900, even before desertion became rampant.Read more ›
Did it have to be this way? Professor Ferguson regards it as essentially history’s biggest traffic accident. It was a war nobody wanted, but not only did it come but it also stayed for four years, in spite of the horrific cost in men and money. This is not a conventional battle-by-battle history; Ferguson takes an entirely different tack – he poses (and seeks to answer) ten questions:
1. Was war inevitable?
2. Why did Germany’s leaders gamble on war in 1914?
3. Why did Britain get involved in a Continental war?
4. Was the war really greeted with popular enthusiasm?
5. Did propaganda and the press keep the war going?
6. Why did the huge economic superiority of the British Empire not inflict defeat on the Central Powers more quickly, and without US assistance?
7. Why did the military superiority of the German army fail to deliver victory over the French and the British on the Western Front?
8. Why did men keep fighting in the appalling conditions?
9. Why did men stop fighting?
10. Who won the peace?
The answers he comes up with are occasionally surprising.Read more ›
But I feel D.A. O'Neil's review rather mistakes the purpose of the book, and is less than fair to it. It is, indeed, "dry" stuff compared with Barbara Tuchman or Lyn MacDonald, but if your object is to *understand* what happened, and how something else might easily have happened instead, this book is well woth buying and reading in full, though not necessarily at one sitting.
The author is primarily an *economic* historian, and is not setting out to answer questions about what happened and why at a battlefield level. He has a better understanding than many of his kind of the fact that wars are not determined exclusively by social and economic factors, but by who "gets there fustest with the mostest" and how they fight when they get there; but he is more interested in the external factors that influence these things - in particular the "sinews of war", the material resources that enable states to raise, train, equip, feed and pay troops, which are often forgotten.
Ferguson demonstrates at least two very surprising things about the War: that the Allies were much richer in resources than the Central Powers, but failed to make that advantage tell on the battlefield for almost four years; and that the Germans were militarily much more effective, in terms of killing their enemies, but still lost. He does not give a quick or glib answer to these questions, but that is a strength, not a weakness.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I like Ferguson's books and this keeps up his high standard. This is a much- needed examination of the war from angles that are often neglected and I found most of his points to be... Read morePublished 7 months ago by hardtruth
Extremely informative and a well written book. The enormous amounts of facts that Niall Ferguson throws at us are understandable because of his very approachable style.. Read morePublished 11 months ago by V FARRANTS
Bit of a text book with the amount of data but an interesting analysis none the less.Published 16 months ago by AF
Fascinating character, our Niall - never one to respect conventional pieties. Not another corpse-count and tour de trenches but a sober yet dazzling consideration of how we... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso'
Brillian as usual by Niall Ferguson. Going behind the obvious into the personal, political, human and of course economic reasons this was was fought and one. A must-read!Published 19 months ago by Mr Gareth R Pritchard