Europe’s Last Summer: Why the World Went to War in 1914 by David Fromkin

A concise and readable study of the last few weeks of peace in 1914. Early on, I felt the author was rushing the story and glossing over some key points; I quickly realised that that was the only way to keep a general reader interested and to sort through the complex events of July 1914. Fromkin does concentrate on the who and the when, and whilst he describes many of the underlying features of international politics in the decade before the outbreak of war, this is not his main hypothesis. But he does set these issues into their proper place in the general context; and he does point out that it only takes one country to start a war.

He places the blame mostly on the shoulders of von Moltke, who advocated war between Germany and Russia before Russia became too powerful, and who manouvered Kaiser Wilhelm into offering Austria a “blank cheque” for its long-planned war against Serbia, knowing that this would draw Russia into conflict and giving Germany the pretext of waging war on Russia. He also dismisses the long-held opinion that the war was the result of the interlocking political landscape of international alliances; I feel that this is an over-simplification. To me, the alliances and treaties were what turned an Eastern European war into a world war.

Still: the reasons for Germany’s and Austria’s actions are properly examined and if you are looking for a good single source on the origins of World War I, this is the one I would recommend.

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