The War That Ended Peace: the Road to 1914, by Margaret MacMillan ****

the war that ended peaceMacMillan’s hefty, well-researched tome has been nominated for prestigious awards and received rave reviews from the New York Times Book Review and the Christian Science Monitor. It is the most scholarly and thorough a treatment of the period from 1900 to 1914 of any I have seen. Thank you to the first reads program at Goodreads and to the publisher for a chance to read it and review it free of cost.
If I were planning to teach a college seminar on the causes of the first world war, I would absolutely include this book in my assigned reading. It is made more interesting and approachable with occasional photographs—primary documents—as well as political cartoons to abbreviate the text. (I believe this time period is also the starting gun for the use of political cartoons in journalism.) I suspect that in the future it will be regarded as the go-to source for this topic and time period. MacMillan’s organization and documentation are spot-on.
That said, I was a little disappointed to see this subject addressed so singularly and steadfastly from the top down. Of course, while discussing tension among the ruling classes of the most powerful imperial nations, along with those who are up-and-coming, like Japan and the USA, one must discuss the interests of those who hold the most wealth and power, since it is they who will call on the workers and peasants of the world to go fight in their interests. That said, it would have been interesting to see more of these popular sentiments included also. After all, wars have been won and also lost by how badly the working classes did or didn’t want victory. Every soldier has the opportunity to lag behind or forge ahead at some point.
That being said, MacMillan does a fine job explaining the configuration of the nation states that existed before the war, and the numerous tensions that were near the breaking point before the assassination of the archduke. For those who have scratched their heads and wondered at exactly why such a monstrous conflagration should arise over the murder of Ferdinand, MacMillan sets context and perspective expertly.
If you are researching a subject that overlaps or includes this time period, this is a great source, and the index will help you find the information you need without attempting to tackle the whole volume. And though other reviewers have referred to a novel-like narrative, I did not find it that absorbing; my sense is that this is better used as a research source.
A job well done.

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