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on 3 November 2015
As above we need to know that there was an alternative and that people tried to find a differ answer
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on 25 December 2014
There has recently been quite a crop of books that purport to show not only that Britain's involvement in world war one was generally a good idea, but also that there was no real alternative and that the country was united behind the Asquith government's decision to declare war on Germany.

Newton's book has a different mission: to show that British involvement in the war was far from being the only possibility and to examine the various flaws in British domestic politics and diplomacy that led the country towards war rather than peace.

In a well written and handy volume, he succeeds in both these aims, while always backing up his arguments with useful footnotes that will appeal to the serious reader as a basis for further research. Along the way he takes a useful look at some of the key figures opposed to war like John Morley, whose arguments and motivations have often been discounted or attacked for their supposed naivity.

He also reminds us of the insidious way in which promoters of a possible continental military commitment by Britain had quietly been working to advance their agenda for more than a decade, with no real public debate and even senior politicians and officials kept in the dark.

His discussion of events immediately leading up to 4 August is especially useful, reminding as it does of the way in which crucial decisions were rushed through a miminum of discussion and that the supposed guarantee to Belgium was more of an ex-post facto justification for war than a binding agreement that Britain was bound to honour.

All in all, it is hard to escape the conclusion that so called "liberal imperialists" like Grey and Churchill had, along with their backers, been looking for an excuse to cut an awkward imperial rival down to size for some time. Sarajevo and the events that flowed from it merely provided the crisis that they had been looking for.
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on 12 October 2014
Thorough analysis of the political classes at work in the last days of July 1914 and the beginning of August 1914.

Neutralists outmanoeuvred.
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on 16 February 2015
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on 7 September 2016
A radical history viewpoint that is well argued and very well written. WW1 effects and part two WW2 give pause to what might have been, the victory in 1918 becomes to these eyes a phyric victory.
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on 4 March 2017
well written
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on 25 January 2017
This book is well worth reading, not just as a study of history, but to remind ourselves of the fundamental nature of politics and politicians. On 15 February 2003, 2m people marched through London to protest against war in Iraq. On 2 August 1914, a mass of Londoners converged on Trafalgar Square to protest against British involvement in a European war. In both cases the decision for war had already been taken and war was a foregone conclusion. In both cases secret deals and agreements, made without due process or consultation, dragged the country towards war. In both cases downright lies, obfuscation and constant moving of goalposts made sure the 'correct' decision was taken.

The overwhelming emotion when reading this excellent and throughly researched book is extreme sadness. We know where this will lead: Ypres, the Somme, Passchendaele. Did Asquith, Grey, Churchill and Haldane really believe in a quick 'surgical' war that would put Germany in her place and maintain the Pax Britannica? If they did, they were soon to be bitterly disillusioned, and millions would pay for their short-sightedness with their lives.
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on 9 July 2014
This is a fascinating new study of the lead up to World War One, and specifically, Britain’s role in rushing into the Great War. It is particularly interesting as it is a highly focused study on the two weeks preceding the outbreak of the war – 23 July to 4 August, 1914.

It seems to me that the challenge with any academic work on any topic is to remain that (academically important), whilst also being accessible. I was pleased that this book met that challenge for me, remaining an exciting read to the end, as events changed day-to-day, even hour by hour, but also adding so much new and detailed information to the historical record.

In the chapters covering the events as they change from day to day, we see an intricate portrait of the cabinet debates, the arguments, resignations, political wheeling-and-dealing, and diplomatic machinations all happening at a frenetic pace.

If one is to draw a conclusion from the book, it is to challenge two national beliefs that we almost all hold in Britain. One, that Britain’s entry into the Great War was inevitable, and secondly, that Britain was united and free of any argument or debate when we did.
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on 17 March 2015
If you have a framed photo of Lord Kitchener, or even Winston Churchill, at your bedside, or like reading regimental professors of war who regard dear Dougie Haig like a favourite great uncle, this book may discomfort you.
If, though, you want to know about the complex interactions and multitude of motives, focused top-down, during the ten days in London prior to the 1914 British declaration of war on Germany; and to supplement one of the more balanced general explanations of the causes of the Great War, then this book is for you. It is true in hindsight that nobody even remotely understood the more distant consequences of their passions. Blank cheques had been issued wholesale.
Much can be learnt about the fervent political cultures and networks of the Tory Imperialists, International Feminists, and the fractured Liberal Cabinet. It is clear that anti-war viewpoints were not invented postwar by Blackadder & co, but existed in hearts and minds as war was declared. The arguments of the women's rally against the coming war reminded me of the opening scenes of Joan Littlewood's Oh What a Lovely War. They understood what these stupid men were doing.
The depth and range or research, analysis and writing make this a very worthwhile addition to a historian's library. The detail is telling: for instance, the British declaration was brought forward one hour just in case the Germans made a raid on British assets timed for midnight CET rather than GMT. London elites, like other capital's, were in states of psychic siege. The writing has been described a good and a little polemical. Frankly, the subject matter justifies quiet a lot of sarcasm, much more than in Newton's writing. He is very right on one thing: the pacifists were the realists and the militarists were the sentimentalists.
Once again I'm struck with the thought that some of the best academic work on the British Great War comes from citizens of the old Dominions. They care about their subject matter, understand the culture and are not corrupted by the desire to excuse.
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on 7 December 2014
Excellent. I read it in two sittings. What it reveals is the extent of the opposition to war amongst socialists, radicals and feminists in the UK in 1914 and the way in which the Liberal cabinet, party and the country were bounced into the war by Imperialists on both sides of the House of Commons. The then government's foreign policy stands indicted as ineffectual and duplicitous.

A convincing counter to the customary account of the outbreak of WW! which interprets our involvement as a heroic response to German aggression.

Of course this is not the whole story of the catastrophe and blame also attaches to the Germans, the Russians and the French.

Well researched and very convincing.
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