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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual approach gives real insights into a vanished world
We have an enduring fascination with the era just before the First Wold War. It is a vanished world, apparently full of people believing uncritically in human progress and how things could only continue getting better, and of course our knowledge of the catastrophe that was about to befall it makes its glitter and optimism so poignant. We can smile sadly at the views...
Published 13 months ago by Iain S. Palin

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A View Of The World Prior To War
An interesting look at the world prior to the Great War. Some might think it a long boring book but he was covering the world here and perhaps each continent deserves a book to itself. However there was interest on every page, I especially like the flavour it gave of the still frontier towns of America and Canada and this was only 100 years ago, my grandfather was 40...
Published 16 months ago by Helen Malpas


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual approach gives real insights into a vanished world, 8 Feb. 2014
By 
Iain S. Palin (Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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We have an enduring fascination with the era just before the First Wold War. It is a vanished world, apparently full of people believing uncritically in human progress and how things could only continue getting better, and of course our knowledge of the catastrophe that was about to befall it makes its glitter and optimism so poignant. We can smile sadly at the views expressed in their media of how nations were coming together, that ties of trade and finance made war between the major nations unthinkable, and shake our heads at the conviction that the ideal of human brotherhood was becoming a reality. But we also know that there is no shortage of books covering this period, so is there really a need for another one? Is there something new to be said?

Well yes, and the newness here is in the approach taken: not a broad canvas but rather a collection of almost two dozen linked sketches. What the author does is tell us about key capital and major cities throughout the world, what they were like in 1913, the lives and hopes of the people living in them, the nature and activities of those governing them, where they seemed to fit into the order of things. And he does it very well. The research has been thorough and the information is there and in some detail, but it never threatens to overpower the reader or to make things dull. The style is very readable and there is a lightness of touch and an ability to take you to a place and immerse you in it. We get enough by way of regional overview and linking themes to stop the collection feeling disjointed but the cities are the main characters.

The combination of novel approach and readability make this a great read and also a very informative one. I certainly recommend it.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful and engaging tour of a world with striking parallels to our own, 30 April 2013
Emmerson's book is a lesson in the fact that if history does not necessarily repeat itself, it certainly echoes through time. City-hopping through the key intellectual, commercial, and political centres of the age, Emmerson takes the reader on a world tour that at once illustrates, with well-researched detail, what daily life might have felt like, while also drawing comparisons between cities that serve to illustrate Emmerson's broader themes of a world on the brink of seismic shifts that have eerie parallels with the challenges we face today. That he manages to pack this tour d'horizon into just over 500 pages, that flows seamlessly on its global journey and is absorbing from start to finish, is a tribute to Emmerson's writing skill and absolute mastery of his subject. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A View Of The World Prior To War, 20 Nov. 2013
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An interesting look at the world prior to the Great War. Some might think it a long boring book but he was covering the world here and perhaps each continent deserves a book to itself. However there was interest on every page, I especially like the flavour it gave of the still frontier towns of America and Canada and this was only 100 years ago, my grandfather was 40 years old at this time and I knew him well. So it shows how close we were to an almost lawless society. We might not have progressed as much as we think.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unearthing a World on the Eve of Disaster, 2 May 2013
By 
Lance Grundy (Great Britain) - See all my reviews
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Starting in July 2014 and continuing until 11 November 2018 the world will remember The Great War. During that period, right across the globe, numerous memorial services will take place, books will be published, documentaries will be aired and films will be shown as the world remembers the more than nine million, mostly young men, who lost their lives in that terrible conflict. However, because the events of the First World War were so appalling and overshadowed everything which came after, there is a tendency for us to overlook what came before. What was the world like just before the Great War? This perfectly-timed book, written by Charles Emmerson, a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, aims to provide the answer.

Divided into four parts and covering twenty-three of the world's major cities this fascinating book takes its reader on a whirlwind tour of the globe in 1913. Starting and finishing in London and crossing five continents in between, Emmerson uses contemporary sources [including newspaper reports, diaries, memoirs and extracts from Baedeker guides] to paint a vivid portrait of a world on the cusp of enormous change. While Europe still dominated much of the world in 1913 and monarchical and aristocratic government prevailed across most of the continent, the forces of change were on the march.

Further afield, new powers were rising and a new trend, 'globalisation', was beginning to deconstruct the existing order, unleashing enormous political, economic and social change in its wake. Emmerson's "1913" captures this zeitgeist perfectly, conveying both the sense of optimism and uncertainty which pervaded global society on the eve of the Great War. It seems that right across the globe there was a feeling that life was changing and mostly for the better. All sorts of new technology and consumer goods were becoming widely available and living standards were rising across much of the 'old' and 'new' worlds. Then "bang"...

I thought this was a fantastic book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Easy to read and informative, it combined three things which interest me: history, travel and politics [even if you're only interested in one or two of these things I'd imagine it would still be a worthwhile read]. Although it runs to over 500 pages it's a book you can dip into and out of at your leisure as each chapter, at around 20 pages, can be read as a stand-alone essay on the featured city. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Great War of 1914-1918 and we commemorate those who were killed, we need to ensure we remember them not just as soldiers but also as people. To do that we need to understand the world which formed them, the culture they came from and the times they lived through. Welcome to 1913, the world as it was before the Great War.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, 9 May 2013
I really enjoyed this book. It is wonderfully written, and really brings the world of 1913 to life for me. I found the global perspective of it particularly impressive - Emmerson covers a lot of ground, but as a reader I always felt I was being carried from one continent to the next with the characters and the narrative. My favourite cities were Constantinople and Jerusalem - two cities that I had known something about, but not at that time in history. And the way the book is written means that I could dip in and out at will. I would definitely recommend this - even to someone who is not necessarily a reader of big history books in general. Combining history, travelogue - and a profound reflection on a world where people didn't know what was about to happen to their world, and to their society - I thought this was a wonderful complement to all the books about World War I itself which I know will be coming out over the next few years.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating...seriously..., 8 Jun. 2014
Having read a number of texts on WWI as well as the Edwardian and late Victorian eras I find it rare to come across a book that offers a truly different angle on the period; however this really is an original and quite fascinating take - I won't say on the year before the Great War because that would be doing it an injustice, rather - on the 20th Century.
In his introduction the author makes an insightful observation which largely sets the books' tone; '[W]e tend to mentally compress time when it falls within our own lives, and extend it when it falls in the lives of past generations. Any yet for those alive in 1913...the Boxer Rebellion of 1901 - when foreign troops marched into the Forbidden city in Peking...is as close in time to 1913 as the events of September 11, 2001 are to us today'.
By setting the context in this way the author encourages his readers to appreciate the perception people had of their world at the time. The reader starts to think about how people alive then would have applied notable events from their recent past, for example; the largely unexpected outcome of the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War, the pomp and spectacle of the 1911 Delhi Durbar and the shocking sinking of the Titanic in 1912, in order to make sense of their present.
The other key points the author makes, also very convincingly, are that (1) the world of a century is not so long ago and (2) how highly internationalised the world was in terms of trade, communications, travel and immigration in 1913 (it is pointed out that international trade did not reach its 1913 share of global output again until 1970). In terms of the former argument, the very premise of this book - a whistle-stop tour around the world as it was in 1913 - provides rich context on important events occurring later in the twentieth century, for example the motivations of the Japanese government in entering WWII. Regarding the global nature of 1913, the chapter on Detroit and excerpts taken from the 'Ford Times' are especially enlightening - it is not difficult to draw parallels between Ford's domination and the cultural titans of the present like Google and Amazon.
Lastly what I appreciated about the structure of this book is its division into four main segments each with five to six 'bite size' (hesitate to use that description, but is quite apt) chapters - perfect for consuming one at a time on the morning and evening train commutes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read, 12 Nov. 2014
By 
Teemacs (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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The Europeans of 1913 had the world all sussed out - continuing progress and prosperity on all fronts. Sure, there were minor hiccups here and there, things that weren't going quite according to plan, things perhaps posing vague threats to the Established Order one day (in the case of the UK, the Irish Home Rule question, the suffragette movement, the clamour of organised labour for a fairer deal, the commencement of grumbling among the colonies), but nothing really to worry about. And then the ceiling fell in. This book looks at that world, how it felt, what it was doing, how it saw itself progressing and how ill-prepared it was for What Came Next.

In such a book, knowing What Came Next, there is the temptation to hindsight, to be smarter than they were, to see the omens of the train wreck to come in the way they didn't. Thankfully, Mr. Emmerson resists the temptation to do do this, but in a couple of excellent chapters at the end, he does look at how it all evolved and changed, and how what emerged in 1918 was far different from what seemed to be promised as 1913 changed into 1914.

I think this book captures very well a world that was about to change forever and the repercussions of which change are with us to this day.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful panorama of the world's great cities in the last year of peace, 21 Aug. 2013
Emmerson' fine book does not, as Norman Stone's oddly misleading preview on the back suggests, explore why the First World War started, something hundreds of books have attempted without much success. It does something far more interesting. It offers a wonderfully informative panorama of some 20 great cities around the world, from London and Paris to Berlin, Vienna, New York, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Cairo, Durban, Melbourne, Bombay, Tokyo, Jerusalem, Constantinople... Emmerson's book is highly informative, indeed scholarly, but his style is very lively. He creates colourful portraits of each of his chosen cities, all booming just as the first Age of Globalisation was about to end in the first global war. He looks back years, even decades, to explain how each city had reached its 1913 state. (Only an occasional carelessness with numbers mars the book. He casually states that Edo/Tokyo was the world's biggest city in the 1850s; earlier, he had rightly listed London's then far greater population.) The omission of Glasgow, then definitely a world city both culturally and economically, is perhaps another fault, although Emmerson clearly cannot cover every metropolis. But these are minor blemishes on a wonderful panorama, a timely and, with hindsight, poignant survey of the world of the Belle Epoque just before 1914.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhere lurking must surely be the definitive eve-of-war book. But this isn't it., 4 Aug. 2014
By 
Smst1 (SW England) - See all my reviews
Undeniably well-written, but ultimately unsatisfying. Presented here are a series of vignettes describing the great - and lesser - cities of the world on the brink of war, with precious little effort to link the narrative and present a bigger picture. These vignettes, while in themselves fascinating, contain virtually no foreshadowing of the conflict to come. Perhaps that's the whole point. Much more interesting is the almost throw-away Epilogue. A few notes and observations about the general state of the world post-1918. A better book I think would have been to link these pre-1914 vignettes with more post-1918 analysis, which I think would have driven home the scale of the war and its worldwide effect. Somewhere lurking must surely be the definitive eve-of-war book. But this isn't it.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Threshold of Modernity - A Global Look at the Year 1913, 30 May 2013
By 
John Kwok (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
Today we view the year 1913 as the final year of peace and prosperity before the horrendous calamity that was World War I, as the last vestige of a bygone era lost forever. In "1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War", Charles Emmerson shows instead a time that was far more cosmopolitan and far more modern, than most would dare to admit; a time when much of Europe and even, the Americas, viewed itself as full partners in a global civilization whose intellectual and cultural roots originated in Western and Central Europe. A time when even the middle class populations of North America and Europe could undertake grand tours that would span across Europe, from London and Paris to Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and even, Constantinople (Istanbul). A global civilization in which the educated elites of India, Africa and East Asia (most notably Japan) viewed themselves as participants, even if they didn't subscribe to all of its cultural values. Divided into four sections, Emmerson shows us the capitals of Europe, from London to Rome and Saint Petersburg (Part I The Centre of the Universe), the most vibrant cities of North America, including New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Mexico City (Part II The Old New World), other cities that were all too often major outposts of the great empires, from Winnipeg and Melbourne to Bombay and Durban, Algiers, Buenos Aires, Tehran and Jerusalem (Part III The World Beyond) and the state of affairs within the Ottoman, Japanese and British empires, and the newly established Republic of China, as seen from the perspective of their most important cities (Part IV Twilight Powers). Combining backgrounds in history, international relations and international public law, Emmerson has written a book worthy of comparison with those from the likes of Niall Ferguson and Paul Kennedy, especially with regards to discussing relevant economic and political history, even if, as he confesses, his account of the year 1913 is one that is an "impressionistic endeavour", which he notes in the Afterword. Much to his credit, Emmerson has written a compelling history of the year 1913 that should challenge existing misconceptions of it, and suggest potentially bold new avenues of scholarship that may reinforce its themes.
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