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on 29 January 2014
How Wars Begin A.J.P Taylor
As a TV presenter, A.J.P Taylor spoke to the camera fluently, without any audio-visual props – and
mesmerised us all. His story-telling, his wit and his clinical analysis brought clarity to some of the
muddiest historical waters. In print, his message is still compelling.
Taylor chooses an interesting selection of conflicts to uncover some general truths about war.
He sees the French revolutionary wars as a great turning point in European conflict, with armies
contesting ideologies for the first time. He then shows how war can take on the guise of grotesque
comedy. The Crimean War grew out of a dispute between Othodox and Catholic key-holders to the Holy
Christian Places in Jerusalem. 'As it was the Turkish government that had to allot the keys, both France
and Russia put pressure on Turkey. France sent a battleship through the straits to Constantinople' ….......
and so to war.
In the chapter on Bismarck's Wars, AJP recounts a charming incident prior to war between Austria and
Prussia when in the middle of 1865, the King of Prussia and his ministers met at Gastein and held a
council of war to decide 'whether they should go to war with Austria the next week'. Gastein was
actually in Austrian territory. 'Fancy going on holiday in your enemy's territory and discussing whether
you should go to war with him.'
Taylor made a fascinating observation about the presence of the Archduke and his wife in Sarajevo in
1914. 'His wife was only a countess so she did not rank as an archduchess but if he went to Sarajevo
which was still under military occupation he could go as Inspector General of the army and she would
rank right at the top. It was to give his wife a treat that he went to Sarajevo.'
These essays are stylish and lucid – a great accompaniment to the literature of international relations.
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on 11 December 2014
Amongst popular historical circles, Taylor is a household name due to his long standing career and academic rigor. However, this piece of work falls short in terms of academic feats and falls most certainly into the category of 'pop' history.

The book is woefully short, which does not necessarily have to be a bad thing as quality always comes before quantity. Ye considering that Taylor looks to analyse six different conflicts spanning two centuries, the phrase "bit off more than he could chew" springs to mind. There is simply too much crammed into too few pages, resulting in arguments and analysis that come across as rushed and not entirely convincing at times.

Due to the fast paced nature of the book, Taylor fails to delve into any sort of detail with regard to his case studies. As a result, the work comes across as him putting across a bit of a monologue rather than presenting a series of topic for debate. Monologue at times unfortunately turns to diatribe at times.

With regard to the book's presentation, I read the kindle version and it was rife with miss-prints in terms of spelling errors and incorrect dates!! If one does not already have a fair bit of contextual knowledge before approaching this book then be prepared for serious confusion. I am unaware of whether such poor editing is unique to the kindle version but it became extremely frustrating being told that Hitler invaded Russia in 1911 and that Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1915...

Not to say that there aren't many positives in the work. It's short length and broad time span allow it to give a very brief coverage of a large spa of history, allowing the reader to perhaps gauge an interest in a specific area to follow up. There are certainly numerous interesting pieces of insight put forward by Taylor that on occasion are extremely thought provoking, especially his points with regard to military deterrents. Yet as already mentioned, the length means that as soon as he begins to make what appears to be developing into a significant argument, the next chapter begins and the reader is left hanging and somewhat disappointed.

In all, an average at best attempt to put across some views on the complex and at times baffling nature of warfare. An informative although brief read perhaps for a plane journey or to put in one's toilet literature bowl to make house guests think you're a bit of a thinker....As long as you pay minimum money for it (glad I only paid 99p), you might not feel too let down.
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on 17 November 2014
AJP Taylor is a wonderful writer who encouraged generations of people to love history, including me. In his day, he was a highly respected heavyweight academic historian who also won mass appeal in countless newspaper columns and short TV chats. However, time has moved on and I suspect a lot of what he had to say in this book is now dated and could be easily challenged by modern day historians. He is a good story teller. He reminds me a lot of Alastair Cook's 'Letter from America'. In seeking to draw the reader in, he over simplifies to the point where I begin to question whether he is giving a true account of events.

This book is a great read but I'm not sure I'd use it as my main source in a history essay, unless I was perhaps writing about historiography.
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on 11 August 2014
Yeah, well, at my age I can remember seeing Taylor on the box talking straight into my schoolboy mind and making me so interested in history - so can you blame me for liking him still? I know it's flawed - but it's still rather interesting to see how historians were thinking 40 or 50 years ago.
Taylor makes some valid points along the way too, and I'd recommend this as a quick and mildly thought-provoking read. A West Coast train journey (Scotland) or Atlantic flight should do the trick.
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on 11 April 2014
Mr Taylor is one of the great modern historians and he presents complex situations with clarity and insight. This is no dust-dry tome, but an engaging and educational read. Highly recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 January 2015
AJP Taylor has done much to raise the popularity of history in decades past in the UK and for that alone he needs to be highly lauded. This book, like several others from his portfolio, is a translation of televised lectures into a book format (albeit quite short as a result). The basic premise is that wars often begin not as a product of purely rational analyses and that often the decisions get made in a haphazard way, that countries often declare wars they have little chance of deciding in their favour.

This is then described over a series of case studies, including the Crimean War, the WW1 etc. They are all packaged in a very readable format and will be great for coctail party soundbites and general trivia. The book lso succeeds in transporting the message that many of these decisions were partially arbitrary or driven by events or structures that almost by definition produced results not favourable to the war declaring party.

Where the book works much less well is for readers with a more serious interest in history. Those will probably find both the soundbite format and the depth of the presented analysis that this means to fall short of desired.

Irrespectively, there is still a large readership that would benefit from reading the book and which will not be deterred from havig a first dip into history by the presentation (which in the more serious historical research can be drier) and thereby I can generally recommend the book. If your interest is piqued, or if you generally want to dig deeper, there is a large body of literature to satisfy your thirst for knowledge afterwards anyway.
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on 13 June 2015
This was a short, but interesting look at the background causes of major wars over the last few hundred years. As it turns out, the real reasons behind all the destruction and bloodshed are not necessarily what we think they are. Instead of aggression from one side, it's more often fear of aggression by both sides - and you have to add into that misunderstanding, poor communications and sheer incompetence. You could even argue that WW1 started because of railway timetables!

The writing is generally clear and engaging, but let down by many more typos than you'd expect in a book of this standard. It's especially crucial when the dates are clearly wrong. For example, in the chapter on the Second World War, we're told that Hitler tried to invade Great Britain in 1910 - which obviously should be 1940, unless this is actually an alternate history!

It's probably too short and too shallow for serious historians, but for those with a more casual interest, it's generally quite readable and thought provoking.
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on 15 July 2014
This is the first book I have read by AJP Taylor. I don't think I'll be buying anymore.

To say he's such a famous historian, there isn't really much insight here. Taylor's basic thesis is that a lot of wars happen because people get drawn into them unintentionally, rather through an aggressive design by one or more parties. There isn't really much more here than that, and it's quite poorly written. A few times, the author seems to simply wander away from the current point for a paragraph or two.

I can't say I would recommend this.
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on 1 April 2014
The classic work by the master historian. What more can I say it should be mandatory reading for students of all ages.
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on 25 May 2013
AJP Taylor is a name I remember being bandied about when I was a child. This is the first book
I have read, and I must say that he writes with beautiful clarity. There is no unnecessary up-your-own jacket
prose - it's like a really great lecture. The topic is interesting but only worth a quick read for an hour.
Some of the 19th C wars were interesting - some I was not acquainted with.
What remains of his old lectures on youtube are great but there's only one or two - but a masterful and gripping lecturer.
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