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July 1914: Countdown to Warby Sean McMeekin
Synopses & Reviews
When a Serbian-backed assassin gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on June 28, 1914, there was no indication that world war would be the result. Even Ferdinand's own uncle, Franz Josef I, was notably ambivalent about the death of the Hapsburg heir; when told about the murder in Sarajevo, the Austro-Hungarian emperor responded coolly, It is God's will.” While the assassination was quickly linked to a high-reaching Serbian conspiracy, the implications of this, too, were limited. Problems with Serbia had been simmering since Austria-Hungary had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina — and absorbed a large number of ethnic Serbs — in 1908, but Russia had refused to go to war over her client state, and there was nothing to suggest that this new episode would end any differently.
As historian and scholar of international relations Sean McMeekin shows in July 1914, 1914 might very well have turned out just as 1908 did, had it not been for the machinations of a handful of decision-makers in Europe in the weeks following the assassination. Drawing on surprising new evidence uncovered in archives in Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Vienna, and London, McMeekin reveals that — contrary to prevailing wisdom — the worst of these offenders were to be found not in Germany or Austria-Hungary but rather in Russia and France, whose belligerence matches the Central Powers ineptitude as one of the primary reasons for the outbreak of World War I.
The Austro-Hungarian response to the Sarajevo assassination, McMeekin shows, was as slow as it was indecisive. Although Franz Josef's Chief of Staff urged an immediate retaliatory attack against Serbia, the Emperor dragged his feet. And as European support for punishing Serbia ebbed, Russia plotted to use Austria's tragedy to its own advantage. Russia, McMeekin shows, had almost certainly known about Serbian plans to assassinate Ferdinand, and the Tsar's emissaries didn't show much diplomatic sympathy to Austria-Hungary in the wake of the murder; indeed, two days afterward, Russia sent a major arms shipment to Serbia. The reason for this aggressiveness was the Ottoman Straits, a shipping channel crucial to Russia's economy, and one that was at risk of falling under the control of Austria-Hungary's allies, Germany and the Ottoman Empire. Russia was itching for an excuse to go to war with these Central Powers, and when Austria-Hungary finally issued a draconian ultimatum to Serbia, Russia pushed for a preemptive mobilization against Austria-Hungary and her allies — spooking them into stepping up their own war preparations.
While a number of French officials knew about their ally's early mobilization, they made no effort to stop it; in fact, French diplomats worked with the Russians to keep Britain, a hoped-for partner, in the dark until they could guarantee that England would enter the war on their side. Britain's lack of foreknowledge led to its break with Germany over a perceived unwillingness to try for peace, landing England in the Entente camp under what were essentially false pretenses. And while Russia's ever-more-public mobilization was raising hackles throughout the Central Powers, Russian support for Serbia gave that nation the confidence it needed to resist the most stringent of Austria's demands, thereby pitching the world toward total war.
Although the course and conclusion of this global cataclysm are well known, the story of its origins has never been properly understood until now. In this gripping new account of the countdown to war — from the bloody opening act on June 28th to Britain's final plunge on August 4th — McMeekin draws on a trove of archival evidence to revolutionize our understanding of the origins of World War I.
Sean McMeekin has given us a riveting and fast-paced account of some of the most important diplomatic and military decisions of the 20th century. He depicts with chilling clarity the confusion, the incompetence, and the recklessness with which Europe's leaders went to war in that fateful summer. Any understanding of the world we inhabit today must begin with an examination of the events of July 1914. McMeekin provides his readers with a balanced and detailed analysis of the events that gave birth to the modern age.” Michael Neiberg, author of The Blood of Free Men
[A] gripping and well-researched new book. In prose of admirable clarity, [McMeekin] relates the enormously complex events of that fateful summer....In his day-by-day and even hour-by-hour account, [McMeekin] brings a sprawling cast of characters to life.” National Review
[A] superbly researched political history of the weeks between the assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I....McMeekin's work is a fine diplomatic history of the period, a must-read for serious students of WWI, and a fascinating story for anyone interested in modern history.” Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
[A] thoroughly rewarding account that spares no nation regarding the causes of World War I....McMeekin delivers a gripping, almost day-by-day chronicle of the increasingly frantic maneuvers of European civilian leaders who mostly didn't want war and military leaders who had less objection.” Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
Alluding to historical controversies, McMeekin ably delivers what readers demand from a WWI-origins history: a taut rendition of the July 1914 crisis.” Booklist
About the Author
Sean McMeekin is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University. He holds a PhD in History from UC Berkeley, where he has also previously taught, along with NYU and Yale. The author of four books and numerous articles in both scholarly and popular publications, he is the winner of the World War One Historical Associations Tomlinson Prize for The Russian Origins of the First World War (which has also been nominated for the Lionel Gelber Book Prize, co-sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine), as well as the Barbara Jelavich Book Prize from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies for The Berlin to Baghdad Express, and an Ed A. Hewett Book Prize Honorable Mention for Historys Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks. McMeekin lives in Istanbul, Turkey.
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