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A magisterial book - well written and well argued.
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.