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1914 The Year The World Ended
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 May 2014
The author has written books on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam, 1913, and Sandakan. He is a former Sunday Times correspondent. His academic credentials gained at the London School of Economics and Political Science are in the field of Economic History.

This is a basic yet solid narrative of the Great War. Descriptive not analytical. Although there is nothing new in the account it is a very good survey of the period before the war and a sound outline of the war itself.
The bibliography is good although some key French and Russian sources are noticeably missing. Chapter notes are also very good.

The book rests heavily, as the author readily admits, on the work of Strachan and other leading historians, that means it is based on solid reliable foundations. Inevitably, however, it reads at times like a summary of their views rather than the author's own opinions.

Chapters cover: the period 1870-1900; 1900-1914 and the war. His Appendices are useful covering casualties, diplomatic exchanges between the Powers, and Grey's address to the Commons-this is seldom given in detail and is very welcome. Of particular interest. but contentious, is the Epilogue entitled: 'The Year the World Ended'.

Given the nature of the book, the author at times gives an unbalanced account of certain key things,e.g. his statements on what was taught in staff colleges is wide of the mark. Likewise, he is wrong when he claims little notice was taken of the US Civil War. It was in fact studied in great depth. In discussing Britain's decision to go to war he fails to mention, as do most accounts, the fear that a victorious Germany would threaten our naval supremacy and hence our vital trade routes. The views of the 'futile school' remain alive and furiously kicking despite being seriously wrong.

Like almost all recent accounts of the war, Ham fails to acknowledge the crucial point that we were until 1918 the junior partners in the fight against Germany and her allies, and this had a very major effect on tactics and strategy. We should never forget French territory was under enemy occupation, ours was not.
More on the key Eastern front would also have been welcome given the length of the book-over 700 pages.

This reviewer is pleased to see the author subscribe to the view that the war resulted from the delberate decision to go to war by the key decision-makers. The evidence for this is overwhelming and although not new it has been ignored in favour of theories about: events taking over (rubbish), events spinning out of control ( what, in 4 weeks!), and sleepwalking into war ( decision makers make many errors but they do not sleepwalk). War did not have to occur in 1914, it was not inevitable. It occured because Germany and Austria-Hungary wanted war for their own reasons. Those who still choose to ignore this should study the voluminous documents instead of relying on biased interpretations of the facts.

Despite its lack of any new interpretation (admittedly difficult), Ham's book is a useful addition to the current avalanche of books on the war, (I confess I will be adding to the avalanche in due course). It will prove to be a useful account for the general reader. Students will find it a very useful prlmer.

It is lucid, nicely structured and easy to read, and the maps are excellent. The length, however, could have been pruned without harm to the text.

A useful book to add to the author's earlier books. It should be noted that this book includes a fair amount of information about pre 1914 that is in the author's book: '1913'.
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on 29 July 2015
Written by an Australian which has a different perspective of events but does ask questions (of which we will never know the answers).
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on 1 December 2014
I am not a historian or a terribly well informed person - tend to live in a box. Further, I recall history as one of the most boring subjects encountered at school.
So this book has been a pleasure. I cannot comment on the views from those more expert than I, but it more than met my needs to know about this horror that's a hundred years old this year - and in which my father fought: on the Somme. I assume that it is pretty well accurate in what it tells us, overall: and the way that it tells us is exemplary.
Ham uses words that do not send you running for the dictionary - no need to show you how clever he is. He constructs his sentences well, and communicates as would a good writer of books - rather than of texts. And above all else, he segments the truly vast amount of information into chapters that generally last less than ten pages, each of which coherently tells the tale of a particular element within the whole process of action and inaction across the power-holding world as it then was.
This makes it possible to read about a meaningful moment, and then to allow oneself to digest it for a while. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I have to confess that I find the whole process as Ham presents it rather exciting - like a good "Barchester Towers". I almost find myself syaing, at the end of each chapter, "oh no - I know what's coming" .
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on 8 June 2014
I bought this book mainly to see what it had to say about the assassination and the July Crisis, which accounts for about a third of the book.

The author's opinions in the main appear to be reasonable or at least arguable but he makes many slips and dubious or confusing assertions regarding what happened at that time. The style of writing doesn't help. In large parts it is like reading disjointed bullet points or excited newspaper headlines. It's as if the author was doing a brain dump. He clearly knows a lot but checking and editing have been sadly neglected. Here are a few examples.

P249. "Dimitrijevic and his henchmen selected the assassination squad: seven impoverished Bosnian youths" This is dubious. There is good research that shows at least three of the assassins independently and for their own reasons decided to assassinate the Archduke.

P261 "Tisza, a hardbitten political operator of pacifist inclinations .... one of those .... unafraid to articulate the prodding of their conscience. .... He sat quitely among them and seemed intent on trying to protect them from the consequences of their actions." This is highly unlikely! Tisza took a strong stand to protect Hungarian interests and as soon as he was assured of those he was just as supportive of war as everyone else. The Kaiser even said "What a man!". A few pages further on the book itself mentions the Kaiser's quote!

P282 The author says "With some relief, President Poincare, his new prime minister .... left Paris on 15 July for a long-planned state cruise to Russia" because Henriette Caillaux (the wife of a leading French politician) had been acquitted of murder. She wasn't acquitted until the 28 July when the French presidential party was on its way back.

P292 "On 22 July, eight Austro-Hungarian army corps - more than 300,000 men - approached the Serbian border." This is complete nonsense. Eight army corps is nearly half the entire Austro-Hungarian army. They ordered mobilisation on the 25 July and it couldn't be completed until the 12 August.

P293 "Giesl arrived at the Serb Foreign Ministry in Belgrade [to deliver the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum] an hour late." No he didn't. He arrived at the appointed time. The Austro-Hungarians had planned to deliver at 5pm but changed the time to 6pm which is time they gave to the Serbs.

P313 "The 26th July was a Saturday ..." It was a Sunday.

P317 "The Russian partial mobilisation had clearly begun. The German General Staff brought forward the planned invasion of Belgium." This is a strange statement. Before the Russians announced partial mobilisation Moltke prepared and sent to the German embassy in Brussels the ultimatum to Belgium that would be used if there was war with France, but it was not to be acted on until further notice.

P343 "Yet the King .... had meant that Britain would 'remain neutral' in a local war over Serbia; not that Britain would stand aside and watch Germany tear France apart". This is seriously wrong. The King was clearly talking about Britain staying out of a European war.

P363 "That is good!' Conrad shouted on receipt of the message, adding, 'Who is in command, Moltke or Bethmann-Hollweg? . . . I had the impression that Germany was wavering." It wasn't Conrad who said this. It was Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister.

P383 "That day, 4 August 1914, Raymond Poincare, the president of the French Republic, stood to address an Extraordinary Session of the French Parliament." The French President did not have the right to address the French Parliament. His speech was read out for him by Viviani, the French prime minister.

Some of these oddities are trivial, of course, but there were far too many.
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