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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
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This review is from: 1913: The World before the Great War (Hardcover)
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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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 May 2013 12:19:33 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 May 2013 12:20:28 BDT
Tomfrom66 says:
What I found particularly insightful, and pertinent to our own time, was the undercurrent of nationalism just below the surface - or on the surface in Imperial Germany's case - which destroyed the world's first globalization.
It's here that I wonder if history is about to repeat itself: the second globalization of our own time has promoted what one writer - Jonathan Friedman - has called "a return to primordial loyalties", examples being UKIP. and the revival of neo-Nazism in Greece's 'golden dawn' movement.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 May 2013 20:29:53 BDT
Five years ago any such comment would have seemed grotesque but how things have changed in that short time.

A fascinating study of the political events leading to the Great War is Ian Massie's Dreadnought, a work that should complement this one I hope.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 May 2013 21:41:01 BDT
Last edited by the author on 15 May 2013 21:43:25 BDT
Lance Grundy says:
Thanks for the recommendation, I'll add it to my Wish List. I'm just about to read Christopher Clark's book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 and I notice that Max Hastings has a new book out about the First World War in September, Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914, which also looks very interesting.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jun 2013 21:40:50 BDT
Manzikert says:
If any country resembles Germany in 1913 it's China although I would argue China today is even more unstable and unpredictable than Germany was. Anyway it's disputable that Germany was any more nationalistic than its contemporaries,. National neuroses were widespread: French revanchanism for 1870/71; Russia's smarting from its humiliation in 1905; the young turks seeking to reassert its fromer glory and it could even be argued that Britain was the most nervous, its position under threat more than any other: from Germany in Europe, Russia in the East and the US. All these countries knew that time was on their side.
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