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on 5 March 2016
T.G. Otte has written what should be classed as the definitive book of the July Crisis. He manages to combine an engaging and well-paced narrative with a convincing, and to my mind persuasive, argument. He successfully places the actions of those involved within the context of recent events and diplomatic issues (such as the Balkan Wars) and why certain key players, especially Germany and Russia, acted so differently this time round.

He doesn't ascribe any malicious intent to any of the Powers (unlike the Fischer thesis) or that the Alliance systems or mobilization plans meant that war was almost inevitable no matter what anyone did. Instead, Otte stresses the role of individuals and governments and the consequences of each of their actions throughout the crisis, without placing singular blame on anyone person or Power. Of course, certain individuals such as Jagow, Berchtold, Tschirschky, Sazonov and Paleologue do not emerge from the book with much credit, either blindly pursuing their own agendas without regard for the wider consequences or exceeding their instructions from their own government. Equally, the Governments of all the Powers, especially Austria, Russia and Germany, do not escape criticism for their actions.

Whilst ready to criticize (in a restrained and scholarly way) when required, Otte is equally ready to praise the actions of those who tried to prevent the initial escalation of the crisis and the ultimate descent into war. In taking this approach, Otte manages to portray those involved as human beings with very human successes and failures. Furthermore, this approach also enables all involved to have their roles and actions given full analysis and exposure. It is not an exaggeration to say that, of the key players, Sir Edward Grey and his actions are head and shoulders above the efforts of others to try and preserve peace, and that Otte debunks many of the old criticisms made of him (such as those by Keith Wilson). It would be interesting to read a full length biography of Grey (or an equally detailed study of his Foreign Secretaryship) by Otte.

The list of those involved (and their position) was helpful reference tool as it was occasionally hard to remember who was who (particularly in the Russian court). The copious footnotes were excellent as they meant the need to skip to the back of the book to check sources or comments made by the author was removed. However, I would like to have seen a bibliography or a 'Further Reading' section to see what primary or secondary sources Otte used, consulted or recommended. This minor point aside, there is little to fault about this excellent book, and it is certainly one that I will go back to again and again.
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on 16 July 2014
This is the first book that is written by a historian of diplomatic history that has emerged from the plethora of books about the July crisis 1914. Surprisingly Professor Otte draws out the details and the obscure documents and refrains from being judgmental on areas where the judgments have flow fast and furious. The surprises include the Kaiser. he cannot again be regarded as a war monger but a blunderer but a man who was led by the head of the German foreign service Jagow, and the chancellor Bethmann Hollweg. Two men emerge who had they been listened to in Vienna and Berlin would have prevented any third Balkan War turning into the First World War. They were the Austrian and German ambassadors in London. The Russians and the French emerge as at least a significant part of the descent into war.

This is a book to give a proper deep understanding. It is a slow read. It is a good one.
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on 2 June 2014
This is an outstanding book. Certainly, as measured by the number of bookmarks I made "I didn't know that", "that's interesting", "I must read that again" ... it warrants that description.

It is a narrative of what happened and why, from the plotting of the Archduke's assassination to Britain's declaration of war on Germany on the 4 August and it divides that fraught period into helpful sub-divisions and managers very well the difficult task of describing so much going on in parallel without confusing or losing the reader. The author also has the knack of selecting just the right bit from the many telegrams, diaries and other primary sources he quotes.

It is a good read throughout. I personally found the account of how the Austro-Hungarians reacted, got Tisza, the Hungarian prime minister, to fall into line, and made their decisions, especially informative and convincing. There is neat balance of facts and interpretation.

There is also plenty to argue with. Jagow is given a much stronger role than I expected even to the extent of giving the Austro-Hungarians a "second blank cheque" seemingly without Bethmann's approval or knowledge. Jagow and Stumm are credited with undermining the Kaiser's "halt in Belgrade" proposal without reference to Bethmann when it was forwarded to Vienna but it seems to me most unlikely that Bethmann did not see and fully approve such an important communication going out over his signature. And, it was the point where Germany's plans were beginning to unravel

The roles of two ambassadors, Paleologue the French ambassador in St Petersburg, and especially Tschirschky the German ambassador in Vienna, while not over played, are shown to be most emphatically negative, pushing in the direction of war.

A most striking feature is the rehabilitation of Grey, the British Foreign Secretary. The author blames Lloyd George for the picture of Grey as the man who failed to warn Germany in time that Britain would side with its Entente partners. He doesn't mention Albertini's scathing assessment of Grey's role. He believes Grey made it clear in the first week of July in conversations with Lichnowsky, the German ambassador, that there could be European complications, and the problem was largely that Berlin did not believe Lichnowsky's accurate reporting and analysis of the British position.

However, later on, he discusses a meeting on the 22 July between Grey and the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in which Grey talks about the possibility of a four Great Power war, i.e., Russia, Germany, France and Austria-Hungary. No Britain in this war! Also, though Grey could not be held responsible for what King George said to the Kaiser's brother (Britain would try to remain neutral) or how the brother reported it to the Kaiser, or how his German naval colleague reported it to Berlin, Grey should have been more alive to the strength and persistence of the German belief that Britain would stay out of any war.

The author addresses head on the issue of who or what to blame for the outbreak of the war in a dedicated, and convincing, chapter at the end of his book. Without giving too much away I will say he doesn't blame the "alliance system" or the "arms race" or "domestic factors" or "German imperialism".

Even in an excellent book you can find something to gripe about. In the section dealing with the assassination the author says that Apis of the Serbian Black Hand secret society was the instigator and mastermind of the plot is "now widely accepted by scholars of the period". Princip and his fellow assassins were only "useful idiots" recruited by one of Apis' henchmen. A recently published and very well researched book by the journalist Tim Butcher, makes it very clear, even though the Black Hand supplied the weapons, Princip independently and for his own reasons decided to assassinate the Archduke. Another new book by Greg King and Sue Woolmans says there were two plots that were merged into one.

That photo on the cover of the hardback is not the arrest of Princip but the arrest of an innocent bystander, Ferdinand Behr, who tried to protect Princip from the wrath of the crowd. See "Centenary News" article, published 28 May.
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In the midst of a deluge of WW1 books, this offers a fresh re-examination of the diplomatic sources from the fatal month of July 1914. Taking a panoramic view encompassing Vienna, Berlin and St.Petersburg as well as London, this explores the decisions taken by individuals in the moment of crisis and without the benefit of foresight.

Otte's book is not for the casual reader wanting a general overview of the lead up to war. It's good on the multiple 'perceptions, misperceptions and deliberate deceptions', and thus strives to find the role of individual agency in the move to war, rather than locating its causes in systemic forces.

Otte isn't the most elegant of writers but this is an interesting read for anyone with a fairly informed prior knowledge of the literature on the causes of the war.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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on 15 December 2014
This is an absolutely excellent book, focusing on the precise events which happened between assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of war, including bringing out precisely who did what - and what specific actions civil servants / officials advised - in that key period. Completely gripping and unputdownable..
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on 13 June 2016
When there are already so many books on this subject, you'd hardly think there was room for another. However if you had to choose just one, it would be this one. It is the most dispassionate and detached account by far, and it is written in a rather distant tone that reflects the way it tackles its subject. It's not an 'engaging' book, which actually makes it feel far more trustworthy! Serious, but very readable, detailed but never overwhelming, it examines the actions and decisions of the European leaders who had to deal with the crisis. It does not seek to bolster any existing theory or narrative about the outbreak of WW1, instead it examines the evidence calmly and objectively. Nor does it look for culprits, but it is not afraid to criticise. Its conclusions are quite simple, but compelling because they are based on such a through examination of the evidence: here was a war no-one planned or wanted, with the policies and actions of five great powers being implemented by men who were often acting in a surprisingly isolated or unco-ordinated position; here was a situation in which even allies did not communicate with each effectively, let alone with their rivals; here was a collective failure to grasp how an action or decision would look to someone else on the other side of the border. The Men of July 1914 do not in this account emerge as bad or stupid, but as hard-working, unimaginative,and lacked the framework to enforce well thought through actions.
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on 5 September 2014
I think this is the clearest and most detailed book I have read concerning the actions and events in the few weeks before the outbreak of WW1. An excellent read.
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on 3 March 2016
This is an excellent study displaying the very highest standards of historical scholarship. In some respects it is a return to an older style of diplomatic history with less emphasis on 'the primacy of domestic policy' and more emphasis on the outlooks and attitudes of the major politicians and officials of the powers involved. I commend the book with enthusiasm not least for the implicit warnings it gives us about how to deal with crises in our own days.
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on 5 September 2015
Who would have thought that so much novelty and in so many new ways can be added to a very old story? Assiduous professional research, mastery of historical narrative and state of the art methodology combines to give a new lease of attention to the old conundrum of the July Crisis of 1914.
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on 17 July 2014
Highly detailed story of the leaders and diplomats of the countries responsible for the war. An eye opener to the events of July 1914 . Worthwhile reading for any serious study of the war.
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