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on 13 April 2014
If you want a no-nonsense readable account of why war broke out in 1914, this is the book for you.
It’s quite short by AJP’s standard but it carries his strong philosophy about this devastating conflict. He argues that from the 1860s the great powers had managed to maintain piece by diplomatic détente but that their dependency on this hit rock bottom in August, 1914. So, we have a view that the great powers stumbled into war, some eagerly (Germany) some reluctantly (GB). Also, he makes a strong argument that with the advent of the railways, massive mobilisation was not only achievable but could frighten, or provoke others into doing so. Interestingly, in this book, the Kaiser Wilhelm emerges with a posture, but not a real taste, for war. After reading this book, but in my view, it was a pity The Tsar, The Kaiser and George VI never got together for a cup of tea in 1914. War may have been averted. I accept this is a silly idea but no less silly than the cause of the war itself. I do not regard this book as the definitive account of the start of the Great War but, as usual, he writes s both informatively and interestingly. A good read!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 31 January 2014
This short book summarises the series of mishaps, misunderstandings (both accidental and wilful) and coincidences (along with a certain measure of malice) among the great powers that led to the outbreak of the First World War. He describes almost amusingly and ultimately, of course, tragically the rigid adherence of the great powers to train timetables for mobilisation of their troops, combined in other areas with absurd lack of planning, such as there being no plans for shared intelligence and planning between the British and French armies. He then looks at the chance events that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, and the course of the decision-making process in Vienna, Berlin and London that led to war. This is a classic statement of the thesis that the world blundered into this war, statesmen and military leaders believing that war could not actually really come about it, but willing or feeling forced into pushing decisions along in a certain direction. Although he doesn't say so explicitly here, and there is plenty of blame to be shared all around, I think he believes that Austria-Hungary is more responsible than any other nation for setting the train of events in motion, for wanting to punish Serbia for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, while refusing to accept that the assassin Princip was not being supported or encouraged by the Serbian government. Reading the unfolding narrative, one is left with a horrible feeling of how differently events could have turned out, especially if any of these leaders could have foreseen the horrors to come.
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on 30 September 2014
150 pages, so quite brief, with many incisive observations typical of A.J.P. Taylor.

The 'timetable' of the title reflects the very complex transport arrangements necessary for the mobilization of an armed force - possibly running into millions of men. Partial mobilization was not workable: it was inevitably all or nothing.

Taylor writes: "Wilhelm II and the rest assumed that somehow war could be fitted in between a couple of vacations. Though they talked of war they could not imagine it. Their only military experience was on manoeuvres where action could be conveniently broken off at dinner time." "The 25th of July was a Saturday, and it was too much to expect that Sir Edward Grey would give up his weekend's fishing for a remote Balkan crisis"

In 1914 no one could imagine war on the scale of WW1. This book did much more than refresh my mind about the events leading to war. Strongly recommended.
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on 14 July 2014
Classic AJP Taylor, the book is written with real verve in a wonderfully engaging style that mixes waspish observations with an original and fiercely independent analysis of the events. Concise, the book moves along at a heady pace and gives a logical and well ordered narrative of the diplomatic blunders that led to the catastrophe of WW1. Taylor had a peculiar talent for being able to explain events in a way which simultaneously avoided simple villains who provide convenient scapegoats whilst castigating those whom he considered responsible for terrible events. Impeccably researched, balanced and a book which a casual reader can enjoy just as much as a serious student of history this has stood the test of time extremely well. Whilst Taylor's often iconoclastic ideas and his relish at engaging in academic feuds may have upset many it is quite marked that many of his works have stood the time far better than those of his detractors and still attract readers. Central to Taylor's account is that fundamental difference between mobilisation in Germany when compared to the other great powers. Taylor demonstrates that whilst for Russia and Austria-Hungary mobilisation did not necessarily mean war, in the case of Germany the inflexible war plan meant that a decision for mobilisation was in actuality a decision for war with both France and Russia. Something which may surprise many is that Taylor presents a good case that Wilhelm II far from being the motive force towards war was actually one of the few key actors in the drama who tried to find a reasonable solution with his proposal for the halt in Belgrade whilst "the good German" Bethmann-Hollweg was instrumental in driving the decisions that led to a general war. Very highly recommended.
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on 8 June 2014
With the anniversary of WWI fast approaching, I wanted to brush up my knowledge of World War I and its origins. I downloaded this book as I recalled AJP Taylor's other works when I was a student and liked his direct, sometimes blunt writing. This did not disappoint. Although written sometime ago, it puts more recent books to shame by its brevity, style and the way it challenges you. There were several times that my knowledge was challenged and sometimes changed by this book. For example, I thought Gavrilo Princep was put up to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand by Black Hand Gang. Taylor shows how he was not a member and that it was likely that no-one in Serbia had an idea of his planned actions. Another example of where my previous views were challenged was this "As the record shows, Wilhelm II was one of the few who made persistent and consistent attempts to avoid war. Bethmann had greater responsibility, yet came off far better". I liked the way that AJP Taylor shows it was a complete muddle and that "all were trapped by the ingenuity of their military preparations, the Germans most". I wish I had read this book when doing A level history. I would recommend this book to any student of history as well as those wishing to understand what lead to the terrible events of 1914-1918.
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on 16 September 2013
This was a fascinating read about the lead-up to the beginning of WWI, or how Europe practically found itself at war by accident, and despite that fact that no one actually wanted to go to war.

The personalities that come out of this account make you wonder about the men in charge of important decisions right across the continent, and would fill no one with confidence. As history books go, it is alive with dithering, changes of mind, keeping face, bluffing, misunderstanding and wilful untruths, so totally unlike your average dry history book.

It's short and sweet, doesn't get bogged down, and comes and highly recommended.
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on 23 January 2015
If the central premise of this book is correct, in that the First World War came about largely because of a misunderstanding about the different definitions of 'mobilisation' in the various countries, then this clearly makes the war even more pointless than it has frequently been portrayed. Mr. Taylor evokes a picture of a group of countries being herded toward a war that nobody seemed to want, as a consequence of the machinations of a few who definitely did want that outcome, or who thought that they could achieve their ends without it ever coming to all-out war. Deeply depressing.
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on 14 July 2014
I have been a great fan of AJP Taylor since he used to appear regularly on television 40 or more years ago, standing alone in an empty studio set, national health glasses perched on the end of his nose, hands clasped together in front of him and speaking totally without notes with fluid clarity for up to an hour.

This book is just as I expected. I could see him there like that talking to me just as he always did. The book was riveting from start to finish and I learned a lot about the prominent characters as they lurched by misunderstanding and stupidity to the awful conclusion.

I loved it.
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on 2 April 2014
AJP Taylor has an excellent reputation as a historian. I have found inthe past that amny historians write extremely well - many could take up fiction writing as a side-line - and this book is no exception. It is extremely short - you never know how many pages with kindle - but well-broken down into sections that are self-contained. The author has a clear familiarity witht the scenario and main cast members and is able to move effortlessly from Potsdam to London to Sarajevo or Belgrade. He depicts a scenario where everyone lurched or slipped into an appaling conflagration, with a clear impresion that teh whole thing could have been called off right up tothe last moment.
Very informative history, very well-written.
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on 24 April 2014
Very good analysis which considers the impact of the both the attitudes and misconceptions of the key characters involved in the events which lead to the outbreak of war and how the technology of the early 20th Century - the impact of railways and the rigidity of military mobilisation timetables, the inadequacy of telephone communications - contributed to the disaster of WW1.
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