Europe's last summer Who started the Great War in 1914?

David Fromkin

Book - 2004

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New York : Knopf 2004.
1st ed
Physical Description
349 p.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
David Fromkin (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

/*Starred Review*/ Fromkin's answer to the question posed in his subtitle is succinct: Helmuth von Moltke, imperial Germany's army chief in 1914. In his clearly delineated argument, Fromkin addresses alternative theories about the cause of World War I, but he returns to the decision chain of a small number of officials in Berlin and Vienna. Their destruction of key evidence hampers the precise reconstruction of their actions as does, Fromkin maintains, historians' confusion about what the Germans were licensing in agreeing to whatever chastisement Vienna decided to deliver upon Serbia, on the pretext of avenging the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. In contrast to theorists of rigid alliances, to whom the notorious "blank check" initiated events almost beyond human control, Fromkin arraigns the actions of Moltke and his colleagues, especially in late July 1914, when the procrastinating Austrians had yet to crush Serbia in war, as Moltke expected. Hijacking the bollixed-up situation, he overrode Kaiser Wilhelm II's resistance, Fromkin concludes, to a deliberate instigation of a second war against Russia and France. The boldness of Fromkin's argument is enough to warrant attention, but his fluidity of expression guarantees a large audience for this book. ((Reviewed February 15, 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

According to Fromkin, historians, largely inspired by Fritz Fischer, have substantially revised the traditional view of Sidney Fay that WW I was accidental. The new view, however, holding Germany and Austria clearly responsible, "has not percolated effectively into the consciousness of the wider public." Fromkin, a lawyer turned professor of international relations, history, and law at Boston Univ., summarizes this perspective, saying the key to understanding the cause is that there were two wars, the local one between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, and the war for European supremacy between Germany and Russia, which then merged and enveloped the world in the bitter struggle known as the Great War. The military staffs (not the governments) of Austria-Hungary and Germany wanted war and made their decisions to start before the triggering events occurred, which they said forced their hands. The author has written several books similar in style that have been well received. This book, clearly intended for the "wider public" rather than for serious students of history, is simply and repetitively written and has few notes, short chapters, a small bibliography, and no reference to archival material. Summing Up: Recommended. Public and undergraduate collections. Copyright 2004 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Author of A Peace To End All Peace, a New York Times best book in 1989, Fromkin here argues that World War I was an inferno set deliberately. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Fromkin (history, Boston Univ.; Peace To End All Peace) presents the thesis that the outbreak of hostilities in the summer of 1914 was not an accidental slide into bloody conflict exacerbated by complex alliances, ideologies, racism, or fervent nationalism. Instead, World War I was the product of a deliberate agenda on the part of the military elite in Germany and, to a lesser degree, in Austria. Fromkin singles out Prussian generals Erich von Falkenhayn and Helmuth von Moltke, arguing that it was their unflinching conviction that the rising power of Russia must be extinguished before it became Europe's dominant nation. The generals' preemptive strategy precipitated the whole series of events that led to total war in Europe. This theme was first expressed in Fritz Fischer's classic Germany's War Aims in the First World War and recently resurrected in The Origins of World War I, a collection of essays edited by Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig. Fromkin's scholarly stature adds further creditability to this viewpoint. Essential for all World War I collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

The world of nihilistic terrorist conspiracy, paranoid empires and diplomatic opportunism that Fromkin (In the Time of the Americans) describes in this terrific account of WWI's underpinnings will seem eerily familiar to 21st-century denizens. Fromkin allies a direct, compulsively readable style with a daunting command of sources old and new, unrolling a complex skein of events with assurance and wit and dispatching numerous conventional wisdoms. The view (most influentially stated in Barbara Tuchman's Vietnam-era Guns of August), that the war, unwanted by all, was the result of an unfortunate series of accidents, is neutralized by the clearly presented evidence of careful premeditation and planning on the part of Germany and Austro-Hungary, as is the more recent assertion of Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War that if only the rest of Europe had acceded to Germany's imperial ambitions, the whole business might have been avoided. The enormity of the horrors unleashed in that fateful summer-and the culpability of all sides in exacerbating them-has made laying blame for the war squarely at the foot of the German and Austrian leadership unfashionable, but the evidence assembled by Fromkin is strong. His pictures of a Germany feeling itself (without real cause) surrounded, convinced of an imminent national demise from which only war could save it and of the Kafkaesque Austro-Hungarian empire lurching toward Armageddon are pitiless and sharp. Readers who ate up Margaret MacMillan's account of the war's aftermath, in Paris 1919, shouldn't miss this equally accomplished chronicle of its beginning. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Draws on current scholarship to argue that hostilities that led to World War I were started intentionally, describing the negotiations and personalities of key leaders that contributed to the failure of diplomatic efforts.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Draws on current scholarship to argue that the hostilities that led to World War I were intentionally started, describing the negotiations and personalities of key leaders that contributed to the failure of diplomacy efforts and offering insights into such current issues as preventative war and terrorism. 50,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The early summer of 1914 was the most glorious Europeans could remember. But, behind the scenes, the most destructive war the world had yet known was moving inexorably into being, a war that would continue to resonate into the twenty-first century. The question of how it began has long vexed historians. Many have cited the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; other have concluded that it was nobody's fault. But David Fromkin - whose account is based on the latest scholarship - provides a different answer. He makes plain that hostilities were commenced deliberately.In a gripping narrative that has eerie parallels to events in our own time, Fromkin shows that not one but two wars were waged, and that the first served as pretext for the second. Shedding light on such current issues as pre-emptive war and terrorism, he provides detailed descriptions of the negotiations and incisive portraits of the diplomats, generals, and rulers - the Kaiser of Germany, the Czar of Russia, the Prime Minister of England, among other key players. And he reveals how and why diplomacy was doomed to fail.