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Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 Paperback – 8 May 2014

4.4 out of 5 stars 451 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins (8 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007519745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007519743
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 4.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (451 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 10,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description



‘Like one of Field Marshal Haig’s family whiskies, Max Hastings is a dram that steadily improves with age … His position as Britain’s leading military historian is now unassailable … In this enormously impressive new book, Hastings effortlessly masters the complex lead-up to and opening weeks of the First World War … [He] is as magisterial as we would expect … This is a magnificent and deeply moving book, and with Max Hastings as our guide we are in the hands of a master’ Nigel Jones, Telegraph

‘Hastings is the author of consistently good histories of WWII. But with ‘Catastrophe’ he has reached a new level of excellence’ The Times

‘Magnificent … Hastings writes with an enviable grasp of pace and balance, as well as an acute eye for human detail. Even for readers who care nothing for the difference between a battalion and a division, his book is at once moving, provocative and utterly engrossing’ Sunday Times

‘Masterly … Hastings is a brilliant guide to that strange, febrile twilight before Europe plunged into darkness. Writing in pungent prose suffused with irony and underpinned by a strong sense of moral outrage … this is history-writing at its best, scholarly and fluent … for anyone wanting to understand how that ghastly, much-misunderstood conflict came about, there could be no better place to start than this fine book’ The Times

‘One could scarcely ask for a better guide to these horrors than Max Hastings … he is a superb writer with a rare gift for evoking the rhythm, mood and raw physical terror of battle … If you are looking for a humane and compelling interpretive chronicle of the formative months of this horrific conflict, you will find none better’ Mail on Sunday

‘Very readable. Character, pace, sense of landscape, battlefield detail – all are superbly done … it's a splendid read’ Observer

About the Author

Sir Max Hastings is the author of twenty-five books, many of them about war. He was educated at Charterhouse and University College, Oxford, which he quit after a year to become a journalist. Thereafter he reported for newspapers and BBC TV from sixty-four countries and eleven conflicts, notably the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Vietnam and the 1982 Battle for the Falklands. Between 1986 and 2002 he was editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph, then editor of the Evening Standard. He has won many prizes both for journalism and for his books, most recently the 2012 Chicago Pritzker Library’s $100,000 literary award for his contribution to military history, and the RUSI’s Westminster Medal for his international best-seller All Hell Let Loose. He has two grown-up children, Charlotte and Harry, and lives with his wife Penny in West Berkshire, where they garden enthusiastically.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Whiles lions war and battle for their dens,
Poor harmless lambs abide their enmity." Wm. Shakespeare. King Henry VI, Part 3.

Max Hasting's "Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War" is a masterfully crafted account of Europe's descent into the apocalypse known as the Great War. It is a study that focuses on Europe's sabre-rattling lions who led millions headlong into the valley of the shadow of death. It also provides a compelling parallel narrative of the lambs, civilian and soldier alike, who in abiding their enmity provided fodder for the carnage that inexorably followed.

Hasting has two stories to tell and he tells them well. The first third or so of the book covers the events leading up to the commencement of the war. The book starts, as many histories of WWI do, with a Prologue on the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. However, Hasting makes a compelling case for the notion that the events in Sarajevo were but the last link in a chain of events that led to the war. Hastings looks at Sarajevo as a pretext for a war that many European leaders, most notably those in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire, were hungry for; while other leaders (France, Russian and to a lesser extent Britain) felt a war was inevitable and did little to stop the march to war.

The remainder of the book is devoted to an account of the first five months of the war, from August through December, 1914. Those marked were marked by the great opening offensives, the Germans march through Belgium toward Paris, the Russian offensive in the East and the Austrian offensives in Poland and Serbia. The outcome of these battles, particularly in the west, drew the battle-lines over which the next three years of trench warfare were fought.
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I confess to being a fan of Mr Hastings' military books. I have always found them both readable and informative. This latest offering continues in that vein.
Although I am very interested in military history, my knowledge of WWI is limited and I felt that Mr Hastings would be able to broaden my understanding of this conflict.
I was also tempted by the fact that the book has a limited scope and is not an attempt to follow the war from start to finish. He covers events from the lead up to war, through to the point where the participants began to "dig in".
I was certainly not disappointed. The author covers the political developments in a clear and informative style whilst painting a very vivid picture of the personalities involved and their parts in the drama as it unfolded.
His coverage of the conflict in its early stage is atmospheric and extremely informative. Statistics are used to bolster the narrative which is never dry or stale.
He covers the various theatres of operations and includes some interesting accounts of the war at sea and in the air as well as on the home front.
If you want to know more about this tragic period in history then this is the book for you.
I sincerely hope he decides to follow up with further volumes on this subject.
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I have always found the events leading up to WW1 more than a tad tiresome, with issues such as the Balkan Wars, the arms race, German militarism etc wearing down the reader. This book, however, has managed to lend these events a fresh feel that can appeal to those not keen to investigate the minutiae of such detail. Most of the book, in fact, deals primarily with the military campaigns of the first 5 months, with coverage of huge battles in Serbia, Poland and the Western Front. Mr Hastings also includes the war at sea and the fledgling struggles of airmen to show the worth of their machines. The brutality of the Germans in Belgium is correctly documented and the treatment of prisoners also gets a mention. Lastly, the home front gets coverage, alongside tales of women giving out the 'white feather' to men who had not joined up. In short, this is an admirable book that never loses sight of the human cost of war, with some often poignant and moving excerpts from letters used to illustrate the sacrifice of the men at the front.
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Max Hastings's account of The Great War mixes strong narrative and analysis, a big picture view and telling detail, a blow-by-blow account and the wider context of the war. The effect is a compelling read and a clear picture of some of the complexities surrounding the period: the causes of the war, its conduct and its significance.
And this war is complex: long-term and short-term causes, the role of individuals and the role of institutions, the differences between having clearly defined objectives (eg annexing territory) and a willingness to push events along to see where they might go (eg Germany giving the Austro-Hungarians a blank cheque to deal with Serbia) provide a kaleidoscope of angles from which to approach the conflict.
Hastings provides a strong synthesis of accounts and overview. While he apportions blame - largely pointing the finger at Germany - he is also keen to show where different nations were at fault in different ways for their aggression or their failure to understand the consequences of their action (or in some cases inaction). Yet, while he is firm, if sometimes trenchant, in his opinions he is careful to show the basis on which he has reached his decisions.
There are a few weaknesses. While Hastings is strong on the opportunities the different players had to take a different course in the lead-up to war, he pays less attention to the longer-term causes. He captures the way Britain was caught between its focus on its empire and its desire to see a balance of power in Europe. However, at a time when Britain, France and Russia had all extended their influence in the world, I wonder if he is perhaps too quick to put Germany's actions down simply to militarism.
Catastrophe is based on a wide reading of different authorities and Hastings provides an excellent, sometimes gripping summing-up of the evidence and then direction to the jury.
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