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on 23 June 2016
In this long but easy-to-read volume, Professor MacMillan describes the events leading to the world’s greatest ever traffic accident. She shows that, while all the various parties with their varied and often wildly divergent interests actually didn’t want war, for various reasons (fear, honour, national pride, wanting to be perceived as a great power or simply taken seriously, and fear for the future in a changing world) they were prepared for it. Indeed, many seemed to accept it as inevitable and even necessary. In the succession of minor (and generally successfully defused) international crises leading to the First World War, the parties were often to be found calculating when they could afford to go to war, and perhaps more importantly, how this related to the preparedness of the putative adversary, even to the point of contemplating a pre-emptive strike. However, they were all basically relying on bluff, and had given relatively little thought as to what would happen when all the bluffs were called.

Whose fault was it? Everybody’s and nobody’s. They all – Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Serbia – made individual blunders in the affair. Those individual blunders were of themselves survivable, but together they represented a pile of tinder. The spark was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo and the pig-headed determination of Austria-Hungary, backed by the thoughtless “blank cheque” provided by Wilhelmine Germany, to use this as a reason have it out with the detested Serbia, but the tinder was ready and waiting.

Professor MacMillan brilliantly brings out all the varied threads of these events of a century ago, reinforcing Christopher Clark’s “sleepwalkers” thesis in his book of the same name. Besides, it was (a) not going to be that bad, and (b) all over by Christmas anyway. Pity nobody happened to mention which Christmas.

Only one teensy-weensy niggle – Erich Ludendorff was never ennobled, so he was never “von Ludendorff”.
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on 19 September 2016
I most enjoyed the set period pieces, such as the very detailed description of the Great Exhibition of 1900 and Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Also some great portraits of leading statesmen. Every now and then MacMillan makes a comparison with contemporary events - I'm not quite sure about these "insights" - they are rather loose and very subjective. Perhaps the book does not give a blindingly original insight into the actual causes of the war, but it does give a feel for the times, and a sense of how Europe was ready to allow the "causes" to trigger the hostilities, rather than acting decisively to avoid the disaster.
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on 17 March 2014
This book was both easy to read and an all-encompassing history of the events that led to the Great War. Indeed, it was more than that, as it showed how events as far back as the Franco-Prussian war influenced the views and actions of those who played a key role in 1914.

It chose not just to concentrate on the major players, but also how rivalries in Africa and central European ethnic groups sucked in the bigger powers and often led to the tail wagging the dog.

For a topic that has been so well covered, I learnt much that was genuinely new to me and made me realise how little I understood about that part of our continent.

An excellent book and one I would wholly recommend to anyone who wants to understand how the world we live in today was shaped and the signs we should look for that may indicate the long peace is under threat.
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on 13 October 2017
Thorough and engaging study of the origins of this most calamitous and avoidable of all wars. Not your usual brief skip through the events immediately before the descent into madness but a well researched and presented look in depth at all the participants and their histories, explaining what drove their decisions and actions. Be prepared to be astonished at the illogical and crazy notions that otherwise apparently sane leaders thought made sense and weep for mankind and the future.
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on 6 November 2015
on reading a few pages i had that same feeling i had when i first read AJP Taylor or B Liddel Hart.
An absolutely superbly written, researched and formulated piece of work.

For me this book is an education of a time and events that i thought i understood. It presents to me a far more sophisticated, balanced
and realistic picture of the lead up to world war 1 than i have ever read before.

A joy to read and engrossing !.
Magnificent in it's intellectual achievement.
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on 23 February 2014
Professor Macmillan's gentle touch and deft handling of familiar players and events in the terrible drama is praiseworthy. No caricatures, no oversimplifications, no over-drawing of German paranoia, British muddle, French intramural conflicts or Austro-Hungarian blunders. Instead, a realistic depiction of the crucial role of personalities under pressure, the recurrent, too familiar theme of weak civilian leaders' yielding to military threats and press hysteria, drawing the wrong lessons from "experience", failing to rely on available information, but instead going with the flow of events when even a word of resistance might have saved the lives of millions.
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on 9 January 2014
I discovered much from this book, not just the build up to the Great War, but by comments and comparisons, insights to recent events. Margaret MacMillan has written an enjoyable book, in which, for me, she unravels the mass of events prior to August 1914. The Balkans, Bosnia, Serbia, Christians, Muslims, their relationships with each other and with the Ottoman Empire and the Turks, and how that obscure corner of South East Europe caused Germany to march into Belgium - all became clear. Her book is not just about the Balkans, much more of Europe as a whole. The changing and developing alliances of the European nations are explained and the characters examined. The Ems telegram, the blank cheque, Social Darwinism become more than buzz words. Her twelve page, last chapter, 'Epilogue : The War', is in itself a wonderful wrap up of the war, well worth a sit down in a book shop and a browse through that bit alone.
The bonus dimension is the human one. The players in this unfolding tragedy are fleshed out and are given real personalities, not always forgiving or sympathised with, but at least we get to share a prism through which they saw the world.
I'm not an academic nor a student, just someone with a curiosity about the coming centenary, and wanting to have a sensible balanced account of the confusion as opposed to reading a truncated, highly personalised view by a media celebrity pushing out a book to catch a sale. The War that Ended Peace - highly recommended.
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on 3 April 2014
"Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it". The apparent peace and prosperity of Europe in 1900 turned to the appalling tragedy of World War. We have also lived in a peaceful and apparently progressive time, full of advances in technology, commerce and international relations. We are tempted to think, as people in 1900 thought that international problems could be solved, but we now know that they were not and understand the horrors that ensued. Let us not make the same mistake again. This book spells out a range of issues, personalities, strategies, national cultures and misunderstandings that escalated even as the players thought they were doing the right thing to protect themselves from their apparently too powerful neighbours.
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on 30 January 2018
Amazing and deep book about origins of First World War and very good overview of Europe around 1900.
When they say that there are no specific reason for certain historical events, this books give a beautiful example.
It is as well a book about pacifism and how there is always another option.
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on 6 March 2014
This is one of the most readable and enjoyable books I have read about 20C history. Full of amusing anecdotes, pertinent examples and with a good, clear structure which tugs the reader through the cascading events of the final years of peace, it is a joy to read and is one of those books I would love to read again. It is not the definitive book - I doubt there can be such a thing as there are so many facets about this period and it principally a diplomatic and social history without spending too much time on issues such as the economic situation. However, that said I think that anyone wanting a thorough, entertaining account would be very pleased with this account. Hugely enjoyable.
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