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on 16 July 2013
Not all of AJP Taylor's arguments in this book are given the credence they once were among academics and First World War enthusiasts, but this book is still a must read (for it's style and substance). War by Timetable used to be a set text for students when discussing WW1. In terms of engaging with European history and being written by one of the great non-fiction prose stylists of the 20th century it should be again.
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on 13 April 2014
If you want a no-nonsense readable account of why war broke out in 1914, this is the book for you.
It’s quite short by AJP’s standard but it carries his strong philosophy about this devastating conflict. He argues that from the 1860s the great powers had managed to maintain piece by diplomatic détente but that their dependency on this hit rock bottom in August, 1914. So, we have a view that the great powers stumbled into war, some eagerly (Germany) some reluctantly (GB). Also, he makes a strong argument that with the advent of the railways, massive mobilisation was not only achievable but could frighten, or provoke others into doing so. Interestingly, in this book, the Kaiser Wilhelm emerges with a posture, but not a real taste, for war. After reading this book, but in my view, it was a pity The Tsar, The Kaiser and George VI never got together for a cup of tea in 1914. War may have been averted. I accept this is a silly idea but no less silly than the cause of the war itself. I do not regard this book as the definitive account of the start of the Great War but, as usual, he writes s both informatively and interestingly. A good read!
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on 3 September 2013
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in World War One, whether you're a student or scholar. Taylor is an entertaining writer and his wit and judgement still resonate today.

This book concerns itself more with European History, rather than just being British focused, but War by Timetable is all the stronger for it. As with Norman Stone's recent book on WW1 the genius of Taylor is his brevity. There will be books twice as long as this one published in the next few years but they will, at best, say half as much.
Despite the grave subject matter there is still a wonderful, dry humour to Taylor's prose which popular historians of today might wish to emulate more, or be envious of.
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on 2 September 2013
Am duly looking forward to Max Hastings' forthcoming book, Catastrophe, on the origins of the First World War but as superb a writer as Hastings is this short-ish but stylishly written book by one of the 20th century's greatest historians will be hard to top. War by Timetable is a book about diplomacy (or the failings of it) rather than military history. Each of the major players was culpable, in varying degrees, in terms of the folly (or follies) which increased and caused the Great War. Bluffs were or weren't called at the wrong time. Communication and sensible decision making, via checks and balances, were lacking. All in all, it was the failure of politicians/rulers which led to the greatest tragedy of the 20th century (the greatest because in many ways it was the cause many of the other great tragedies which followed). This is an an intelligent and accessible read, with the author writing with insight and wit. Loved this book.
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on 5 June 2011
I was fortunate to meet AJP Taylor a few times and was always almost dazzled by his style and way of thinking. Perhaps his style annoyed some people and they criticized his books accordingly; even if they agreed with some of his approaches and conclusions. He presented history with a common touch, simple language, colloquialisms, common sense, and clever interpretation of original material. His forays into the minds and beliefs of the main players was most entertaining and very credible.

This text follows pretty well a TV lecture he gave sometime in the 1960s or 70s, but is much more informed and researched. He concludes, with mesmerizing speed and detail, that the Great War was caused by two simple factors. First, that partial mobilisation of armies [as token shows of force] was regarded as impossible because of the railway timetable system across Europe. Second, that the very existence of the Schlieffen Plan was certain to create a premature response by Germany to any mobilisation, anywhere in Europe, and especially in Russia. So, as soon as the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia was rejected [more correctly ignored], a war became inevitable somewhere - and somewhere inevitably became everywhere because of the timetables.

Absolutely fascinating and a good read as much as any detective novel. In fact, better than most.

The copy I received has seen better days and is somewhat creased; but perfectly legible although not in such a condition that I would want to pass it on.
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on 30 September 2014
150 pages, so quite brief, with many incisive observations typical of A.J.P. Taylor.

The 'timetable' of the title reflects the very complex transport arrangements necessary for the mobilization of an armed force - possibly running into millions of men. Partial mobilization was not workable: it was all or nothing.

Taylor writes: "Wilhelm II and the rest assumed that somehow war could be fitted in between a couple of vacations. Though they talked of war they could not imagine it. Their only military experience was on manoeuvres where action could be conveniently broken off at dinner time." "The 25th of July was a Saturday, and it was too much to expect that Sir Edward Grey would give up his weekend's fishing for a remote Balkan crisis"

In 1914 no one could imagine war on the scale of WW1. This book did much more than refresh my mind about the events leading to war. Strongly recommended.
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on 18 August 2011
AJP Taylor remains almost unrivalled at writing the kind of accessible, scholarly and controversial history - competently yet cheekily, almost irreverantly argued - that is so enjoyable. And this is an almost unrivalled example of his work. His thesis here is that the Great War started essentially because of the rigidity of mobilisation railway timetables. Once mobilisation had commenced, escalation was therefore inevitable. There's probably a message in there somewhere for the procedure-driven modern world of 'computer says no', although how significant a cause this was of WWI is open to discussion. Anyway, however much you agree with the arguments you will certainly find them thought-provoking and their presentation entertaining. A classic.
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on 11 September 2013
Written in AJP Taylor's very readable style. It is a lucid, concise account of the events in early 1914. The "war by timetable" aspect is only a minor part of the account and the title is probably down to good marketing by the original publishers! Highly recommended.
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on 16 September 2013
This was a fascinating read about the lead-up to the beginning of WWI, or how Europe practically found itself at war by accident, and despite that fact that no one actually wanted to go to war.

The personalities that come out of this account make you wonder about the men in charge of important decisions right across the continent, and would fill no one with confidence. As history books go, it is alive with dithering, changes of mind, keeping face, bluffing, misunderstanding and wilful untruths, so totally unlike your average dry history book.

It's short and sweet, doesn't get bogged down, and comes and highly recommended.
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on 14 July 2014
Classic AJP Taylor, the book is written with real verve in a wonderfully engaging style that mixes waspish observations with an original and fiercely independent analysis of the events. Concise, the book moves along at a heady pace and gives a logical and well ordered narrative of the diplomatic blunders that led to the catastrophe of WW1. Taylor had a peculiar talent for being able to explain events in a way which simultaneously avoided simple villains who provide convenient scapegoats whilst castigating those whom he considered responsible for terrible events. Impeccably researched, balanced and a book which a casual reader can enjoy just as much as a serious student of history this has stood the test of time extremely well. Whilst Taylor's often iconoclastic ideas and his relish at engaging in academic feuds may have upset many it is quite marked that many of his works have stood the time far better than those of his detractors and still attract readers. Central to Taylor's account is that fundamental difference between mobilisation in Germany when compared to the other great powers. Taylor demonstrates that whilst for Russia and Austria-Hungary mobilisation did not necessarily mean war, in the case of Germany the inflexible war plan meant that a decision for mobilisation was in actuality a decision for war with both France and Russia. Something which may surprise many is that Taylor presents a good case that Wilhelm II far from being the motive force towards war was actually one of the few key actors in the drama who tried to find a reasonable solution with his proposal for the halt in Belgrade whilst "the good German" Bethmann-Hollweg was instrumental in driving the decisions that led to a general war. Very highly recommended.
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