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Excellent short account of the turn of events that led to War
on 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.