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on 27 April 2018
An explosive account of the build up out break and early months of WWI. Hastings always willing to give his opinion but also trying to stay faithful to the evidence gives his assessment of the state of Europe in 1914 while making it clear that in his view Germany shoulders the majority of the blame for the war which engulfed Europe.
Hastings is pretty scathing in his assessment of Moltke, Joffre and Sir John French who he believes made careless and costly mistakes which they showed no sign of learning from. French in fact seems reluctant to have fought at all and made endless disparaging remarks about his allies.
A central theme in the book is that the weaponry, particularly artillery and machines guns meant huge damaged could now be inflicted on battlefields like never before seen. However in all armies across the nations their transport and communication systems lagged behind and their tactics were antiquated. Hastings seems less than impressed with the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith who while in Hasting's view correctly took the country to war and dispatched the BEF to France failed to prepare the country for total war. The Royal Navy was perhaps the only section of the armed forces properly prepared for the conflict though the Navy was still too effected by a "Trafalgar mentality" expecting a large showdown between capital ships.
The structure of the book follows the various fronts once the war commences, for instance there is a chapter on the failed Austrian invasion of Serbia, a chapter on the failed Russian invasion of East Prussia and a chapter on the failed invasion of Western France. There is another chapter on the naval battles in 1914.
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on 11 June 2015
My first Max Hastings book, and I although I only got half way so far, it's been well worth it just for this fraction alone. A studious history of how international tensions grew prior to WWI corrects some widely held fallacies. The maneuvering of the Allies post-1900, combined with Russian support of an irritating Serbia, grow into an enveloping existential threat to Germany and Austria making them conclude that military action was their only survival strategy while Britain, devoid of an army (as today) but with control of the seas, prevaricated about land action and Italy, looking out for new colonies, waited to ally with whoever seemed likely to win. All sides emphasize their defense priorities, while building weapons inventories, and studiously avoid any suggestion of starting actual hostilities. In this unstable situation the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Serbia was a gift from heaven for the Austrians who claimed it was sufficient Serbian government provocation for the war they were itching for. Privately the Austrians were glad to see the back of him.
A wealth of personal observations from the man in the street and the rookie troops, from all the combatant nations, reveals how the dreams of a rapid and glorious victory rapidly turned to carnage and stalemate, while the French administration initially tries to re-fight their most recent war, for example ordering the cavalry to charge German machine guns.
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on 19 May 2015
I'll keep it brief. This is a highly readable account of the build up to the beginning of World War 1 and the first months of war. You do feel, however, that once Hastings stops telling the story in detail at around Christmas 1914, you are missing out. Perhaps that's because throughout the book he teases us with the changing personal and military fortunes of the political and military leaders post 1914. I'm sure many readers of this book have a very limited knowledge of this war and would be eager to hear about the Somme, the American entry into the war, the Russian exit and how the allies turned the tables on the central powers leading to the Austria-Hungary collapse and the defeat of Germany.

Admittedly the book would need to be twice its current length. But having read his fuller history of World War 2 in All Hell Let Loose, I was left a little disappointed.
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on 27 June 2014
In the opening salvo of publications marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, Max Hastings’ book has been an early victor, with critical acclaim buttressed by commercial success. Continuing the approach adopted in previous works on the Second World War, Hastings ranges widely across his subject matter, describing the motives and actions of the majors players, and the consequences of the decisions made on high upon those at the sharp end. A particular strength is the sheer number of voices brought into play, not only soldiers of all ranks but those of civilians caught up in the conflict, so often forgotten in conventional military histories.

The opening chapters necessarily deal with the origins of the war. The Allied insistence at Versailles in 1919 that Germany accept responsibility for initiating hostilities was the first encounter in a bitter historiographical war of words whose intensity continues to the present. While some historians have focused on structural factors – nationalism, imperialism, the arms race and the alliance system – these elements only created the tense backdrop to international affairs in 1914; in the end, it was human agency that led to war.

The traditional modern orthodoxy that the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary were the prime movers behind the outbreak of war emerged in the 1960s through the work of German historian Fritz Fischer, at the time the subject of fierce controversy in his homeland. There have been some recent challenges, the most convincing coming from the Cambridge-based Australian historian Christopher Clark, who is sympathetic to Austria-Hungary’s claim for damages against the rogue state of Serbia, arguing that if blame is to apportioned then all the main combatants held a smoking gun.

Hastings refutes such notions, advancing the case that ‘Germany bore principal blame’, that the Balkan crisis was converted into world war as a result of ‘ill-conceived Austrian design, with German support’. While I believe his case against the Central Powers is possibly ‘too’ well-argued – I don’t think it ever possible to get to the full truth in this matter – there can be little doubt that the German government failed to prevent the outbreak of war, while some of its leading lights actively sought a military decision in 1914.

Following on from Hastings’ thesis on the culpability of the Central Powers is his argument that Britain was right in joining France and Russia to prevent what he contends would have been a militarist German domination of Europe. Many believe the First World War to have been a terrible and futile waste of life; Hastings makes a good case that while the war was certainly terrible it was ultimately not futile.

In terms of the campaign narrative, the war on the Eastern Front is well represented – with new material for Anglophone readers – and due attention paid to the initial Anglo-German naval encounters and the opening stages of the Royal Navy’s blockade of Germany. At the heart of the book though is Hastings’ account of the fighting in the West: the great German drive through Belgium and France; the catastrophic French offensives during the Battle of the Frontiers; Joffre’s recovery and French victory on the Marne; the Race to the Sea and the bitter fighting around Ypres where the British made their first military contribution to the Allied cause. Winston Churchill famously described the opening phase of the war as ‘a drama never surpassed’, and Hastings has done justice to the drama in this substantial volume: magisterial in tone, rich in anecdote and human detail, and resolutely sure in its interpretation of the complex events of 1914.

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on 25 February 2018
This is arguably the best account of the 1914 campaign ever written. It focuses on all of the fronts in Europe, such as the Western and Eastern Fronts, and is incredibly detailed with rich accounts of the battles of Tannenberg, The Marne, The first battle of Ypres, and little Serbia kicking Austria Hungary out of their country twice before the end of the year. I only wish there could have been some accounts of when the great war started in Africa and the Middle East, most notably against the Turks. There was also little about the war at sea, except for a riveting account of Britain's first naval victory of the war the forgotten battle of Heligoland Bight in August 1914 in the North Sea. Overall one of Max Hastings greatest books. I just wished there was a follow up book about 1915.
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on 14 December 2015
A very good and detailed account of the run up to the First World War and the main battles in 1914. Max Hastings has done some excellent research for the book. The diplomacy and fighting is told from the ordinary persons and soldiers viewpoint as well as from the leaders and generals perspective. I recommend this book to other readers and the price from amazon makes this a bargain. My small criticisms are that there is no glossary of the main politicians and generals to refer to, I had to write out my own list ,since the text quite rightly moves from one nation to the next. My other small criticism is that the authors section on which nation and individuals were responsible for the war is too short and not very clear.
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on 20 September 2016
I have read much on WW1 but mostly from the military perspective or a soldier's memoirs.

This book gave me an altogether different view, the politics intermingled with effects on the human tragedy unfolding across Europe in late 1914.

I very much enjoyed Max Hasting's alternative perspective from the standard histories, as interesting and informative as they are, this gave me a different insight.

An important read for anyone who cares about the next 50 years..........Lest we forget!
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on 26 November 2016
The book arrived in a well packaged and secure condition in advance of the due date and was as described by the seller and well worth the money. At the time of writing the book has not been finished being read, nevertheless it bristles with facts, details and information and is a good detailed history of that time. It has been well and meticulously researched and many maps and photographs support the text as do the copious chapter notes and bibliography at the end of the book. It is difficult to add to the four and half pages of reviews at the front of the book.
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on 18 July 2014
Very well written book and a cracking read which gave a strong sense of the context of the war and the developing views of soldiers and civilians on all sides. Hastings also I think is very good at not adopting a 'jingoistic' 'British perspective and concentrating on the failures of others, which makes it all the more surprising that when he outlines death rates by nation he omits to break down the British figures. These show that British troops from Scotland had a death rate of 26%, over twice the UK average and significantly higher than the French at 16%. My Scots Grandfather was an infantry solider during WWI. He was fortunately wounded: and decorated for saving men off the wire in no man's land. You really do feel for all of that social class and wider generation who were at the front line of this tragedy and no matter the number of clever arguments about the 'right' of longer-term British political objectives, you are still left with the feeling of utter tragedy and folly, and the careless attitude to life displayed by aristocratic, political and military elites of that day.
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on 7 January 2016
Undeniably a Tour de Force from Max Hastings, this book charts the background to the first world war, the events leading up to the assissinations in Sarajevo, the tumble into war, and the first throws of the dice before the conflict bogged down into relatively static trench warfare. Roughly speaking, this book finishes during the winter of 1914/15, when trench war begins. A must for anyone wanting to know about the motiviations of the different parties for going to war, their goals and influences, the assumptions and presumptions they made, and the way they felt that the other side would blink first. An excellent book.
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