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The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 [Paperback]

Margaret MacMillan
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 July 2014

The New York Times Book Review • The Economist • The Christian Science Monitor • Bloomberg Businessweek • The Globe and Mail

From the bestselling and award-winning author of Paris 1919 comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, a fascinating portrait of Europe from 1900 up to the outbreak of World War I.
The century since the end of the Napoleonic wars had been the most peaceful era Europe had known since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the first years of the twentieth century, Europe believed it was marching to a golden, happy, and prosperous future. But instead, complex personalities and rivalries, colonialism and ethnic nationalisms, and shifting alliances helped to bring about the failure of the long peace and the outbreak of a war that transformed Europe and the world.
The War That Ended Peace brings vividly to life the military leaders, politicians, diplomats, bankers, and the extended, interrelated family of crowned heads across Europe who failed to stop the descent into war: in Germany, the mercurial Kaiser Wilhelm II and the chief of the German general staff, Von Moltke the Younger; in Austria-Hungary, Emperor Franz Joseph, a man who tried, through sheer hard work, to stave off the coming chaos in his empire; in Russia, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife; in Britain, King Edward VII, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and British admiral Jacky Fisher, the fierce advocate of naval reform who entered into the arms race with Germany that pushed the continent toward confrontation on land and sea.
There are the would-be peacemakers as well, among them prophets of the horrors of future wars whose warnings went unheeded: Alfred Nobel, who donated his fortune to the cause of international understanding, and Bertha von Suttner, a writer and activist who was the first woman awarded Nobel’s new Peace Prize. Here too we meet the urbane and cosmopolitan Count Harry Kessler, who noticed many of the early signs that something was stirring in Europe; the young Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a rising figure in British politics; Madame Caillaux, who shot a man who might have been a force for peace; and more. With indelible portraits, MacMillan shows how the fateful decisions of a few powerful people changed the course of history.
Taut, suspenseful, and impossible to put down, The War That Ended Peace is also a wise cautionary reminder of how wars happen in spite of the near-universal desire to keep the peace. Destined to become a classic in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, The War That Ended Peace enriches our understanding of one of the defining periods and events of the twentieth century.
Praise for The War That Ended Peace
“Magnificent . . . The War That Ended Peace will certainly rank among the best books of the centennial crop.”The Economist
“Superb.”The New York Times Book Review
“Masterly . . . marvelous . . . Those looking to understand why World War I happened will have a hard time finding a better place to start.”The Christian Science Monitor
“The debate over the war’s origins has raged for years. Ms. MacMillan’s explanation goes straight to the heart of political fallibility. . . . Elegantly written, with wonderful character sketches of the key players, this is a book to be treasured.”—The Wall Street Journal

“A magisterial 600-page panorama.”—Christopher Clark, London Review of Books

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade (29 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812980662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812980660
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 296,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The story of how intelligent, well-meaning leaders guided their nations into catastrophe. Immersed in intrigue, enlivened by fascinating stories, and made compelling by the author's own insights, this is one of the finest books I have read on the causes of World War I (Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State)

Once again, Margaret MacMillan proves herself not just a masterly historian but a brilliant storyteller (Strobe Talbott, President, Brookings Institution)

A masterful explanation of the complex forces that brought the Edwardian world crashing down. Utterly riveting, deeply moving, and impeccably researched, MacMillan's latest opus will become the definitive account of old Europe's final years (Amanda Foreman) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

The definitive history of the political, cultural, military and personal forces which shaped Europe's path to the Great War - now in paperback. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
This item has not been released yet and is not eligible to be reviewed. Reviews shown are from other formats of this item.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
110 of 117 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Failure of Brinkmanship 19 Oct 2013
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
'Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death' (Bismarck).

'It had to come' (US Ambassador in London, 1914).

'Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilised, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves:and these were of doubtful utility'. (W.Churchill).

'Please restrain Conrad' (Archduke Ferdinand in 1908).

'You'll be home before the leaves fall'. (Kaiser to troops in August 1914).

'He was like a battleship with steam up and screws going but with no rudder, and he will run into something one day and cause a catastrophe'.( Sir Edward Grey describing the Kaiser).

Professor Sir Michael Howard has written that you cannot understand the causes of the Great War or indeed any war unless you also understand the political, economic, social and cultural environment in which it took place. Hence, the ramshackle nature of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the constitutional arrangements of Germany post 1870,the surging nationalism in Serbia and the fragile nature of Tsarist Russia must be understood.For this reason, historians like Professor Margaret Macmillan now concentrate more on issues and developments in all of these fields instead of researching only diplomatic exchanges.

This essential requirement reveals the paucity and trivial nature of some of the offerings in the current cascade of books on the Great War, and why this account shines like pure gold. Those accounts that 'read like novels' do so because most of them consist of fiction and myth. No war has been so subjected to mythology, or stands so much in need of the correcting force of fundamental simplicities, as the Great War.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Cry 'Havoc' and let slip the dogs of war..." 17 Oct 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
As a Brit, studying the First World War at school in the seventies, memories of the Second World War were still fresh and bitter enough amongst parents and teachers that there was never really a question that the Germans were the 'bad guys' in both wars while we (the Brits, primarily, though a little bit of credit was occasionally given to the Allies) were the knights in shining armour. Enough time has passed since both wars now for a more rational view to be taken and this book by Margaret MacMillan is a well balanced, thoughtful and detailed account of the decades leading up to 1914.

MacMillan begins by giving an overview of the involved nations as they were at the turn of the century - their political structure, alliances and enmities, their culture and economic status. She then takes us in considerable depth through the twenty years or so preceding the war, concentrating on each nation in turn, and going further back into history when required. She introduces us to the main players: political, military and leading thinkers. She explains how and why the two main alliances developed that divided Europe and shows the fears of each nation feeling threatened or surrounded by potential enemies. And she shows how this led to an arms race, which each nation initially thought would act as a deterrence to war. Throughout she draws parallels to more recent history and current events, sometimes with frightening clarity.

In the mid-section, MacMillan discusses public opinion and cultural shifts, highlighting the parallel and divisive growth of militarism and pacifism and how the heads of government had to try to reconcile these factions.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heavyweight chronicle of a tragedy. 14 Mar 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A good write-up in the Economist magazine promoted me to purchase this book. I am well read on W.W.1 & 2 matters, via W.C. Churchill, General Spears inter alia. The detail is amazing. The build up is relentless. The tragic outcome, of a war that should never have happened, and it's even worse aftermath, 20 years later, is pitiless. For anyone who wishes to review these events, this 600 page magnum opus is a must. The most frightening thing is that little within Europe seems to have changed as a result - we are still a collection of now impoverished, bickering nations. Buy today!
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, precise language but so repetitive 10 Dec 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
They Were Counted (The Writing on the Wall: the Transylvanian Trilogy)

I was so excited about this book because Prof. Macmillan's general reviews have been excellent and I have just finished the Transylvanian Trilogy which she quotes (link above) so getting a better idea of the causes of WWI was of great interest.

There is no doubt that Prof. Macmillan knows her subject well but she repeats many of the circumstances that she cites as cause for war and the book seems to me a little muddled in the chronology of characters and events. It is easy reading, it is not overcomplicated, it just takes me back to school where the historical facts had to be repeated several times to ensure that us dummies did not forget them. That said, I have learned a few relevant and more irrelevant facts.

If it were not disrespectful, which is certainly not my intention, I would comment that Prof. Macmillan may have either been otherwise preoccupied during the writing of this book or her publishers may have asked her to pad it out. So many books coming on to the market at the moment do not seem to have been properly proof-read and maybe the combined pressures of Christmas and the 100th aniversary of WWI have led to the sad faults that I have found in this volume.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellously illuminating count-down to WWI
Macmillan's lively study of the various contributing factors to a European slaughter as pointless as unavoidable, shows how decisions of a defensive nature by the major players... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Gerbil
5.0 out of 5 stars in depth overview
Excellent review of all circumstances leading up to the start of the Great War. Readable and informative throughout the text
Published 5 days ago by simon p bunn
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting period of European history
The best book that I have read about this period. Written by an academic but a page-turner nevertheless. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Robin W Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars A worth to read book
This book is an important contribution to the understanding of the origins of the FWW.
An essential read for the serious historian.
Published 15 days ago by D. Katsirea
5.0 out of 5 stars Wide ranging and Insightful
"Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it". The apparent peace and prosperity of Europe in 1900 turned to the appalling tragedy of World War. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Mrs L P Antill
4.0 out of 5 stars I understand how and why the war started now.
At times this is a magnificently written book with fascinating detail about the people and events that drew us into the war. Read more
Published 18 days ago by diane
5.0 out of 5 stars A slow burner
Having read a few military histories (and this isn't one) I have been used to a linear narrative and lots of numbers and dates. Read more
Published 22 days ago by D. Payne
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched
A very well researched book, as always by Margaret Macmillan, but as has already been commented on, repetitive. Read more
Published 23 days ago by Lartets
5.0 out of 5 stars Man's stupidity writ large.
Of all the books that I have read about WW1 this is clearly the best in my opinion. Prof MacMillan sets out in clear, easy to read English, the steps leading up to war itself and... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Mr. D. McKenna
5.0 out of 5 stars a sense of deja vu
This book is extraordinarily well researched, and written and with such a lightness of touch that you won't notice how much information you're taking in, in an entertaining way. Read more
Published 26 days ago by renewu
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