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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2014
This is a very readable account of WWI as experienced at the time by the German and Austro-Hungarian participants. It succeeds in being at the same time dispassionate and compassionate, chronicling the agonies of warfare with blame laid only on the relatively few on all sides who were morally guilty by the standards of the time. The author shows great skill in including just enough statistical data to explain the forces at work and just enough documentation of personal experience to engage sympathy with protagonists. A particular strength is the attention to civilian morale and the micro-economics which proved so important. The one weakness might have been that it assumes a good knowledge of the geography of, for example, Galicia and East Prussia but this is easily remedied with maps found on the internet.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Ring of Steel, Alexander Watson, Allen Lane, 2014, 816pp.

This is a superb book, extremely readable while also being a comprehensive study of the Central Powers during the First World War. It is not concerned with the military aspects of the war, as such, but the `total history', looking at all aspects of the struggle as it affected the two Great Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. It is a narrative history, but manages to address different subjects in each chapter while maintaining the narrative.

The first chapter looks at the political leadership of the two states, explaining the background to their desire for a war, and the author states quite clearly that there are no serious modern historians who dispute that the Central powers wanted a war and actively pursued it. he does, however, explain just why they wanted it, and how they went about getting it.

The second chapter looks at the mobilisation, and how the two states had prepared their armies over the years leading up to the war. The third looks at the war plans of the two powers, and how they unfolded in the opening moves of the war. I was quite pleased to see that the author has read up on the `Schlieffen Plan' controversy, and while not accepting Dr Zuber's thesis word for word, (as you can see from the relevant Notes for the chapter) did accept that it was Moltke's plan that was unleashed in 1914. (This is one of my favourite subjects - see Inventing the Schlieffen Plan: German War Planning 1871-1914 for more details.)

Each chapter looks at a different aspect of the war as it relates to the Central Powers, and is backed up by many years of research into the relevant European archives. This is not just another book written by someone who can only read the English-language. This is a deeply researched and analytic work, which also manages to be incredibly easy to read and understand. The author has a ready quote from a participant to illustrate many of his descriptions, but they do not dominate the book, merely illuminate it.

What is clear from this is that the Central Powers were simply unprepared for a modern, `total war'; Austria-Hungary far more than Germany, and were unable, due to their antiquated political structures, to organise themselves the way the French, British and EVEN the Russians were able to. By studying the European-language sources for this period, the author has written an illuminating book that shows us aspects of the Great War that few, if any, writers have managed to do before. I am usually one for reading military histories of the war, but I was enthralled by this, and quite surprised by what it had to say about certain military events that I thought had been adequately explained in the past. This shows you how little genuine research has been done by popular writers who just repeat what has gone before. This is a landmark volume that should be read by anyone with an interest in the Great War.

Note that although an 800+-page book, the 'story' only takes up about 560-odd pages, so it is actually quite manageable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 April 2015
The experiences of the populations of the Central Powers are invariably overlooked, or at best referred to sketchily. Alexander Watson's important book rectifies that and is an much-needed addition to the libraries of anyone wanting a complete view of the Great War. The German view of the effectiveness of the Allies' blockade, as well as their military strategy, certainly gave me an additional dimension to my knowledge of the conflict. The enormous internal ethnic forces in Austro-Hungary, as well as the surprising amount of political unrest both there and in Germany, was a real eye-opener to me. The author gives a balanced perspective of all the participants, highlighting their shortcomings and strengths. He apportions blame as to the causes of the war and it is startling to read how decisions affecting millions could be taken so rashly. For a real understanding of World War One this book is an essential read.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2014
Ring of Steel tells the story of World War 1 from the "other side of the hill" and claims to be the first modern history from this viewpoint.

Being a World War 2 devotee this book really opened my eyes to the German/Austro Hungarian viewpoint and decision making in World War 1. It really is a fascinating read telling the story of how Germany and Austria-Hungary initially mobilised the support of their populations to but as military losses mounted, and Allied blockades caused hunger and hardship on the homefront, doubts set in.

Whilst politics are key to understanding the German/Austro-Hungarian position social and economic effects of the war are covered extensively too.

Some nuggets from the book that I hadn't necessarily realised:

Russia mobilised before Germany, sparking German fears of invasion from the East that unified support across all political divides of the German and most of the Austro-Hungarian populace.

The general belief in Germany and Austro-Hungary that the war was purely a defensive reaction contrary to the Allies view of Germany/Austro-Hungary as the aggressor.

How complex the Austro Hungarian Empire was with its collection of separate nationalities and eleven spoken languages creating no ethnic, language, or national unity as in Germany.
There’s many more, but I’d recommend buying the book for those.

Whilst a lot of books are currently being produced from the Allies point of view Alexander Watson has filled a vacant space in our knowledge of the German and Austro-Hungarian viewpoint. Highly recommended.
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on 10 July 2015
Ring of Steel by Alexander Watson is an excellent book examining the First World War from the German and Austro-Hungarian side. It is well-written, detailed, informative, opinionated and puts the much less frequently told story of the war from the other perspective. If you are interested in the issues that were affecting both of these countries in the lead up to 1914, the causes of the war from the less frequently examined point of view and how the war progressed and the major events and campaigns, including the less studied Eastern Front, then this is the book for you. Nevertheless, do note that this is not a work about the First World War but about the Central Powers in the context of that conflict, and although the military story is part of the narrative it is not dominant focus of this volume. Overall, an excellent book, from the less frequently told side of the war.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2015
An excellent and prompt service by the paperback bookshop, I bought this book with them because their service has always been first class and I would personally always recommend them.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 December 2014
I've always found it quite hard to understand the century I was born into, and this is not helped by a constant flood of misleading, cliché ridden and selective information in books and TV documentaries. It is regrettable that nearly every one amongst the avalanche of World War One books released this year serves to perpetuate the confusion.

In contrast this book is like a breath of fresh air, for it provides some of the missing pieces of the jigsaw. The Eastern European perspective is such an important part of the story, and that's what we get here. And the book has one incredibly rare and precious characteristic - it does not take sides.

The neutral stance enables the reader to have some sympathy with the German and Austrian perspective in 1914. But ironically it emphasises the stupid recklessness of some of the actions taken by both Governments later on.

A nice feature is that the author has researched a huge amount of material in the original language (I assume he is completely fluent in German). The inclusion of contemporary newspaper reports, for example, really helps to understand the mind set of the protagonists. It is good too that this is not a military history - most of it focuses on the impact of the war on society at large.

The book is not perfect. It is not very well written, and the author never really gets his arms round his material. So the book is rather jumbled and rambling. It takes quite an effort to finish. One could easily imagine other books covering this material much more eloquently. However, those other books do not yet exist, so I am giving Watson four stars for his invaluable service in uncovering this important material in English.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2014
This is a well written and constructed book that fills many holes in my knowledge of the Great War (GW). The writing suits me as it is clear and concise. The writing could be used as a blueprint on how to write a readable history book on a complex and detailed subject.

As an amateur I cannot judge the historical content but it seems comprehensive and well researched.

The GW has been a subject of my interest since the 1950s. In that time I spent much of my time more on the military aspects of The Western Front, The Middle East, Persia, Central Asia and The War at Sea. I read Prof. N. Stone's account of the Eastern Front 1914-17, more than thirty years ago, and a few short books on the fighting in Eastern Europe post the war's end e.g. Poland v Russia, Ukraine v Russia thus my limited knowledge.

These are just some thoughts on what I learned:

1) I knew virtually nothing about Austria-Hungary and what its role was and what the impact the war had, both during the conflict and after its end. This book shows what the Empire and its subjects went through in the war, how it affected its political unity, the suffering of the population, how ethnic violence was a one of the products of the ebb and flow of the battles across Eastern Europe lands and the Government's mismanagement of the various peoples in the Empire.

2) The content on Germany is equally absorbing showing e.g. how food and labour, including POWs, was managed; the German attitude to Belgium if the former won the war; that the the military, not the politicians, ran everything from 1916 a stark contrast to Britain. The book gives more detail than I knew before on why the Germans resumed the unrestricted U-boat war in 1917.

3) I had always assumed that the shortage of food in Germany and Austria-Hungary was solely due to the British blockade but a contributory factor was the devastation of fought over lands in the east where Russia, as it retreated, followed a scorched earth policy. The book also draws attention to the rise of anti-semitism in both Germany and all parts of the Empire during the war and its aftermath as the new countries were created and boundaries of existing places changed.

4) The book demonstrates how and why the the autocratic rulers of the two countries failed and had to be replaced by democratic rule.

A vital book in understanding the enemy of the Entente and the Allies and its approach to the war.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2014
fantastic
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2014
POSITIVE

It is a very good effort to see Germany and the Germans (including Austrians) in the first world war neither as purely military history nor as a precursor to Hitler.

He presents the German atrocities in Belgium as a one time short term reaction to a military situation without going to the extremes of either side. He is also informative on Russian and Austrian atrocities which have always received far less coverage. He is also clear on the way war aims shifted as time passes and is at least understanding of some of the logic (Ludendorff's in especially) rather than dismissing it as megalomania.

He is also good in pointing out some forgotten issues - that Austria population suffered far greater shortages of food than Germany and that the central powers treaty with Russia would have left her larger than she currently is while it reorganised the Russian empire on wilsonian lines (although intended for their own benefit). Above all he points out how life became a struggle for survival for much of central Europe's population.

NEGATIVE
Its more a study of Austria and Prussia rather than Germany and Austro-Hungarian. The author tends to treat Prussia as Germany and is really clear if he means Prussian or German institutions (some more on the other German states - especially Bavaria would have helped.) Hungary's is usually only mentioned to criticise its politicians (correctly in my view) for their selfishness and short sightedness.

SUGESTIONS
The Resurrection and Collapse of Empire in Habsburg Serbia, 1914-1918 by Johnathan Gurmz is hard going but has a lot to say about Hapsburgs atrocities and the food supply situation of the empire. Its best is on the Hapsburg armies changing view of Serbia and Serbs from a threat to a resources and a responsibility. Amazingly the Serbs were (theoretically and seemingly in practice) better fed than the Austrian (but not Hungarians) populations largely because the army moved to a paternalistic vision where the Serbs were its responsibility while the civilian populations of the rest of the empire weren't
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