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The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War [Paperback]

Professor Margaret MacMillan
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Jun 2014

WINNER of the International Affairs Book of the Year at the Political Book Awards 2014

Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2013

The First World War followed a period of sustained peace in Europe during which people talked with confidence of prosperity, progress and hope. But in 1914, Europe walked into a catastrophic conflict which killed millions of its men, bled its economies dry, shook empires and societies to pieces, and fatally undermined Europe's dominance of the world. It was a war which could have been avoided up to the last moment - so why did it happen?

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, and ending with the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, award-winning historian Margaret MacMillan uncovers the huge political and technological changes, national decisions and - just as important - the small moments of human muddle and weakness that led Europe from peace to disaster. This masterful exploration of how Europe chose its path towards war will change and enrich how we see this defining moment in our history.

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The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War + The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 + Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914
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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (12 Jun 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846682738
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846682735
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 5.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 292 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)

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
126 of 134 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Failure of Brinkmanship 19 Oct 2013
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sleep Walking Into War 26 April 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A gripping read, suitable for a history novice, or an expert.
Beginning with the Paris Exhibition of 1900, Prof MacMillan charts European history to the outbreak of war, picking out, with the benefit of all we now know, how a series of events, along with a prevailing culture of militarism, and theories of how war should be conducted, and all the limitations of the period too, brought us closer to war.
As the introduction makes clear, it was not so much that the European powers intended to go to war, its that the various options were gradually narrowed down, so war became, apparently the only choice. I say apparently, for as Margaret Macmillan points out, there are always choices.
Even as we all know the outcome, the book holds the reader in suspense, as time and events march on.
Throughout the book we get a sympathetic appreciation for all the key players, with their strengths and foibles. Each chapter deals with significant events, e.g. the two Morocco crises, the Balkan wars, or aspects and movements of the time, e.g. the peace movements, military plans, militarism. We learn how all of this shapes the leaders of the day, and the various alliances that form between the powers. In the main, there's helpful analysis towards the end of each chapter, of what impact these events/factors had on the path to war. We also get an appreciation of the period, and how the key players were men (mainly men) of their time.
We are treated throughout the book to a then European perspective. How Europeans felt, how Europeans reacted, what values Europeans held dear, and so on. We get an insight into early 20th century European culture; this I found refreshing, exhilarating almost, drawing out a European identity.
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54 of 59 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant but challenging read
A few days ago, I finished reading this tome of over six hundred pages for the second time. Margaret McMillan’s book is a long read, and requires the reader to try to put him- or... Read more
Published 11 hours ago by mjhobbes
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Clarity of Writiing
In this book Professor Margaret McMillan has written the clearest account humanly possible of the manifold causes, both long term and short, of the First World War. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Constantius10
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Fantastic book, It explains everything in a very easy to understand way,. Very hard to put down!
Published 2 days ago by Michael J W Blake
3.0 out of 5 stars WHY WAS IT NOT STOPPED ?
Like so many book of the genre it delights in the jigsaw of pieces that brought us to the time when the picture showed the first guns were fired. There it stops. Read more
Published 6 days ago by M. D. Frampton
5.0 out of 5 stars Contents extremely well researched and easily readable. Many new...
Outstanding background to the European situation prior to World war 1.Contents extremely well researched and easily readable. Read more
Published 9 days ago by Prof Gordon C. Speers
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're interested in the causes of the great war then I can't...
Superb book. If you're interested in the causes of the great war then I can't recommend this book enough.
Published 11 days ago by Lews Therin
4.0 out of 5 stars Corrects some myth
This story shows in detail that the war was mostly a series of miscalculations. And that Germany was by no means keen on war. Read more
Published 14 days ago by GwydionM
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Thoughtful.
A marvellous book. At the end of the 19th century there was a very common view that we would never see a major war again. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Andrew Howell
3.0 out of 5 stars Mistake that makes me wonder
I have not got far with this but I have seen one particularly bad error.

Professor MacMillan writes that Erskine Childers, the author of the Riddle of the Sands, was... Read more
Published 23 days ago by hatterfou
4.0 out of 5 stars Good... but
Unlike most books on this period the personal characters of the main participents are detailed and facts about therir personal lives emerge. Read more
Published 25 days ago by James Wells
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