Book of the Week #19

The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the Year the Great War Began by Jack Beatty (NY: Walker & Company, 2012)

Everyone who took history in high school knows that WWI was inevitable. A series of events took place that led the nations of Europe into a war that they could not avoid. But what if that isn't actually true? Jack Beatty, a resident of Hanover, NH and news analyst for NPR's On Point  presents a new perspective on the events of 1914 and whether they had to lead where they did.

"In The Lost History of 1914, Jack Beatty offers a highly original view of World War I, testing against fresh evidence the long-dominant assumption that it was inevitable. "Most books set in 1914 map the path leading to war," Beatty writes. "This one maps the multiple paths that led away from it."
Chronicling largely forgotten events faced by each of the belligerent countries in the months before the war started in August, Beatty shows how any one of them—a possible military coup in Germany; an imminent civil war in Britain; the murder trial of the wife of the likely next premier of France, who sought detente with Germany—might have derailed the war or brought it to a different end. In Beatty's hands, these stories open into epiphanies of national character, and offer dramatic portraits of the year's major actors—Kaiser Wilhelm, Tsar Nicholas II , Woodrow Wilson, along with forgotten or overlooked characters such as Pancho Villa, Rasputin, and Herbert Hoover. Europe's ruling classes, Beatty shows, were so haunted by fear of those below that they mistook democratization for revolution, and were tempted to "escape forward" into war to head it off. Beatty's powerful rendering of the combat between August 1914 and January 1915 which killed more than one million men, restores lost history, revealing how trench warfare, long depicted as death's victory, was actually a life-saving strategy.
Beatty's deeply insightful book—as elegantly written as it is thought-provoking and probing—lights a lost world about to blow itself up in what George Kennan called "the seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century." It also arms readers against narratives of historical inevitability in today's world." --Publisher's blurb

I find books to feature here through a variety of channels; this one was brought to my attention by a display at Gibson's early in the year.

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