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July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 Hardcover – 5 Jun 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 555 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st Edition edition (5 Jun. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107064902
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107064904
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.1 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 242,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


'Anyone planning to wade through the vast outpouring of literature on the First World War might do well to make July Crisis their first port of call.' Jules Stewart, Military History

'By returning meticulously to sources that many historians have ignored, one of Britain's brightest new-generation historians, Thomas Otte, has come up with a startlingly original yet wholly believable new interpretation of the true causes of the Great War. This is historical scholarship at its best, with the bonus of being written with a gently ironic yet extremely funny wit, in a subject that isn't naturally given to it.' Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War (2010)

'This account of the July crisis will become the gold standard for all future historians. Unlike almost all contemporary studies, Otte has gone back to the original sources and used both public and private collections, some never cited before, to trace the unfolding of these fateful days. His judgments are convincing and clearly presented. Otte catches the drama of these weeks and carries the reader with him to the very end.' Zara Steiner, author of The Lights That Failed (2005) and The Triumph of the Dark (2011)

'The first new analysis of the origins of the war based on original documents, July Crisis: The World's Descent into War will become the classic account. Otte's scholarship is unsurpassed: his judgments are judicious and fair and based on a deep understanding of both the evidence and its context. It is unlikely to be superseded.' Keith Neilson, author of Britain, Soviet Russia and the Collapse of the Versailles Order, 1919–1939 (2005)

'Thomas Otte brings impeccable and painstaking research and a flair for story-telling to illuminate Europe's last weeks of peace in 1914. From the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo to the outbreak of a general war five weeks later, he shows how a series of individual decisions led towards the catastrophe.' Margaret MacMillan, author of The War That Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War (2013)

'… distinguished and readable …' Wall Street Journal Online

'Drawing on painstaking research and many new sources, Otte illuminates the importance of timing in understanding the crisis.' Financial Times

'If you want to understand how Europe stumbled into suicide in 1914, read this book.' The Independent

'Historians like Otte are painting a whole new picture of the origins of the Great War … But the best part of this virtuoso examination of the 38-day political and diplomatic crisis that stretched from the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand to Germany's declaration of war on Russia is the way Otte, a professor at the University of East Anglia, restores individual actors to where they should be: at the centre of historical events. Once it began, the First World War was so unpredictable in its course and so momentous in its outcomes – some of which, like the current Iraqi crisis, the world is still working through – that historians have increasingly tended to pin its outbreak on huge impersonal forces, a socio-economic-technological horror story whose time had come. By poring over archival records and postwar memoirs (the latter with a properly jaundiced eye), Otte brings to light the calculations (mostly bad) and motivations of the handful of men whose decisions brought Europe to catastrophe.' Brian Bethune, Maclean's

'I've rarely read a more sickeningly thrilling first chapter than the opener of July Crisis … Otte takes you step by fateful step to the moment that changed the world forever.' Katharine Whittemore, The Boston Globe

'… especially forensic and diligent …' Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs

'Otte's account is refreshing, captivating and compelling in its description of the twists and turns of the crisis and, above all, humane in its analysis of the ambiguities and frailties of its protagonists. It dispels so successfully the usual teleological march to war, that this reviewer repeatedly found himself believing that an outcome other than the tragic one we all know would ensue.' J. F. V. Keiger, International Affairs

'2014 seemed a good year to read a bit more about 1914, and there were a lot of new books to choose from … But the best account is T. G. Otte's July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914, which unpacks the motives and muddles of the leaders of Europe with unmatched clarity. Read it slowly.' Lowy Institute

'July Crisis is an insightful and comprehensive analysis of the politics and diplomacy of every country involved in Europe's descent into the madness that was the First World War. By placing the emphasis on individuals Thomas Otte has created a compelling portrait of the men at the center of causes of the First World War, and challenges readers to reassess the importance of the individual in the war's history. Without a doubt July Crisis will become the standard by which all other work on this time period will be judged.' Justin Quinn Olmstead, Francia-Recensio

Book Description

A definitive new account of the catalytic events that led to the outbreak of the First World War. Thomas Otte argues that neither martial culture nor the alliance system played a decisive role for much of the crisis. Instead he reveals the fatal flaws, failings and miscalculations of those who led Europe into war.

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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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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.
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Format: Kindle Edition
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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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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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.
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