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The Russian Origins of the First World War Paperback – 3 May 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (3 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674072332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674072336
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 392,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Going against a century of received wisdom, Bilkent University professor McMeekin offers a dramatic new interpretation of WWI...Rifling the archives, analyzing battle plans, and sifting through the machinations of high diplomacy, McMeekin reveals the grand ambitions of czarist Russia, which wanted control of the Black Sea straits to guarantee all-weather access to foreign markets. Maneuvering France and England into a war against Germany presented the best chance to acquire this longed-for prize. No empire had more to gain from the coming conflict, and none pushed harder to ensure its arrival. Once unleashed, however, the conflagration leapt out of control, and imperial Russia herself ranked among its countless victims." --Publishers Weekly, 26th Sept 2011

" Casting a contrarian eye on the first major conflict of the twentieth century, Sean McMeekin finds the roots of WWI inside Russia, whose leaders deliberately sought--for their own ends--to expand a brawl that the Germans wanted to keep local. The author tracks the fallout of these antique plots right down to the present geopolitical landscape. Barnes & Noble Review 20120113 An entirely new take on the origins of World War I comes as a surprise. If war guilt is to be assigned, this book argues, it should go not only (or even primarily) to Germany--the long-accepted culprit--but also to Russia...Bold reading between the lines of history." -- Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs, 1st Jan 2012

" As Sean McMeekin argues in this bold and brilliant revisionist study, Russia was as much to blame as Germany for the outbreak of the war. Using a wide range of archival sources, including long-neglected tsarist documents, he argues that the Russians had ambitions of their own (the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, no less) and that they were ready for a war once they had secured a favorable alliance with the British and the French." -- Orlando Figes, Sunday Times, 1st Jan 2012

"The book is a refreshing challenge to longstanding assumptions and shifted perspectives are always good." --Miriam Cosic, The Australian, 3rd March 2012

About the Author

Sean McMeekin is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University in Turkey.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Brandtner on 23 July 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sean McMeekin has done the history of World War One a great favour by adopting a resolutely Eastern perspective on it: for him, not unlike David Fromkin in his famous "A Peace to End All Peace", World War One should actually be called "the War of the Ottoman Succession". While this leads to a certain underestimation of the responsibility of the other European players for the outbreak of the war, as well as a clear underestimation of the Serbian role, it throws the Russian part into sharp perspective. It is important to learn that Russia had in fact implemented a partial mobilisation already in early 1914, as it is interesting to note that the annexation of Istanbul and the Straits was a Russian war aim even when Turkey was still neutral. In fact, McMeekin makes a plausible case that German support for the tumbling Ottoman empire in the years before World War One more than any other factor contributed to Russian hostility against Germany. What McMeekin fails to explain, however, is why Russian operations in World War One never actually included a strategic offensive with the aim of capturing "Tsargrad" (which would have certainly made more sense than the Kerensky offensive in July 1917). As it was, Russian offensives were mainly directed against Austria-Hungary, with an only secondary emphasis against Germany. It seems that the influence on the "Western Front school" was fully as important in Russia as it was in Great Britain and France, and the highest Russian military decision-makers seem to have been convinced that "the shortest road to Constantinople runs via Berlin".
One issue that is certain to touch many a raw nerve is Dr.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Chris Baker VINE VOICE on 17 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Without doubt the most interesting and thought-provoking book on the First World War that I have read for many years. Sean McMeekin, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University in Turkey, challenges many of the basics of our understanding of the origins and conduct of the war and our appreciation of Russia's part in it. He draws deeply upon primary and secondary sources from Russia, Turkey, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Britain and France and brings out of it a compelling and refreshing look at events.

Most WW1 historians have presented Russia as a backward, lumbering player on the Allied side: its advantages of huge scale were lost to an autocratic regime and bureacracy. It was slow to mobilise, compliant, victim of an early crushing defeat and huge losses on the Eastern Front and subject to the earthquake of Bolshevik revolution in 1917. McMeekin presents a different view, of a Russia that was modernising fast and growing economically at the rate of China today; that it managed superb diplomatic manouevres to bring Europe to a general war while making Russia's role look confined to support of Serbia; and that it did so to support its own mission to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and annex much of Asia Minor, including the great strategic prize of Constantinople (which it already planned to rename as Tsargrad). Not only was Russia not slow to mobilise, it did so in secrecy days before the other belligerents and put itself into an advantageous position for a strike into Galicia. (The latter being of precious little help to its ally France, who desperately needed large scale engagement of the German armies, not the Austrians).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Pythagoras on 11 Nov. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It has to be admitted - Western efforts to understand the world wars have been strongly centered upon Western Europe, as if the actual conflict took place along the cultural fault of the river Rhine, everything else being just strategic spillovers, propagandistic pretexts or political chain reactions. This is understandable considering the fact that the Cold War created an urge in Western Germany, France, England and USA to heal the wounds of the destruction brought about by the wars and to overcome what was considered as the main cultural suicide of Europe in 1914-45.

But the Cold War is over and it is time to have a look beyond the concepts it once identified: otherwise, the Western beholder has no legitimate excuse to complain about the incomprehensibility of the post-1989 global conflicts. Timothy Snyder ("Bloodlands") has recently struggled to take attention away from the battlefields of Normandie, instead focusing upon the fact that the most horrifying tragedies of the 20th century - for which there was never set any "happy end" the kind of which becomes the topic of Hollywood movies - took place in the borderland between Hitler's and Stalin's reigns of terror.

In a similar vein, Sean McMeekin has presented us with two publications - "Berlin-Baghdad Express" and "The Russian Origins of the First World War" - in which the real epicenter of the First World War appears to be, in fact, the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East.

This is important for two reasons. First, it shows that the "Middle East" is not a periphery that has strangely jumped into the center of attention in 2001, as the bewilderment of many Western beholders still seems to imply.
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