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A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empireby Geoffrey Wawro
Synopses & Reviews
The Austro-Hungarian army that marched east and south to confront the Russians and Serbs in the opening campaigns of World War I had a glorious past but a pitiful present. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and lugging outdated weapons, the Austrian troops were hopelessly unprepared for the industrialized warfare that would shortly consume Europe.
As prizewinning historian Geoffrey Wawro explains in A Mad Catastrophe, the doomed Austrian conscripts were an unfortunate microcosm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself — both equally ripe for destruction. After the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914, Germany goaded the Empire into a war with Russia and Serbia. With the Germans massing their forces in the west to engage the French and the British, everything — the course of the war and the fate of empires and alliances from Constantinople to London — hinged on the Habsburgs' ability to crush Serbia and keep the Russians at bay. However, Austria-Hungary had been rotting from within for years, hollowed out by repression, cynicism, and corruption at the highest levels. Commanded by a dying emperor, Franz Joseph I, and a querulous celebrity general, Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austro-Hungarians managed to bungle everything: their ultimatum to the Serbs, their declarations of war, their mobilization, and the pivotal battles in Galicia and Serbia. By the end of 1914, the Habsburg army lay in ruins and the outcome of the war seemed all but decided.
Drawing on deep archival research, Wawro charts the decline of the Empire before the war and reconstructs the great battles in the east and the Balkans in thrilling and tragic detail. A Mad Catastrophe is a riveting account of a neglected face of World War I, revealing how a once-mighty empire collapsed in the trenches of Serbia and the Eastern Front, changing the course of European history.
"Wawro (The Austro-Prussian War) aims to clarify the confusing nature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's military collapse early in WWI. Describing the trauma of the Austrian defeat in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, he claims it eroded 'the Austrian idea,' the belief that everyone in the Empire was satisfied and unified under Austrian rule. To stem the tide of protests, the reactionary Franz Josef became both the emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, thereby establishing the joint kingdom of Austria-Hungary. Intended as a solution, his reign only served to complicate the problem and let it sit and simmer ominously until 1914. As Wawro grimly notes, 'Hungary... was dragging the Hapsburg Empire over a cliff.' Hungarian attempts to undermine the Austrian monarchy, limit the size of the military, and stymie any major decision-making were largely successful. Other betrayals crippled the state further, including when high-ranking Colonel Alfred Redl was discovered to be selling crucial military secrets to Russia. With the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of WWI, the inexperience of Austro-Hungarian troops and the incompetence of its military leadership were thrown into sharp relief. Wawro's authoritative account is a damning analysis of an empire and a people unready for war. Maps and illus." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Wawro offers a crucial insight into the Eastern Front....On this centennial of the Great Wars beginning, Wawro has composed a thoroughly researched and well-written account, mercilessly debunking any nostalgia for the old monarch and the deeply dysfunctional empire over which he presided.” Kirkus
A Mad Catastrophe is an absorbing and shocking look at a now neglected aspect of the origins of the First World War. The author — a master military historian, whose works are standard accounts of late nineteenth century Austro-Prussian wars — shows just how reckless Viennese policy before and after the outbreak of hostilities was. Wawro's book should be on every reading list and in the hands of every policymaker.” Brendan Simms, author of Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy from 1453 to the Present
The Austro-Hungarian army that marched eastward in the opening campaign of World War I was as disordered a force as the world had ever seen. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and carrying outdated weapons, the troops were hopelessly unprepared for the mechanized warfare that would soon consume the entire continent.
As prizewinning historian Geoffrey Wawro explains, the disorganization of these doomed conscripts perfectly mirrored Austra-Hungary itself. For years, the Dual Monarchy had been rotting from within, hollowed out by complacency and corruption at the highest levels. Germany goaded Austria into a longed-for fight with Russia and her allies before the monarchy collapsed completely, but the severity of the fighting was too much for the weakened Empire. By the time 1914 ended, the Habsburg army lay in ruins, and the course of the war seemed all but decided.
Reconstructing the climax of the Austrian campaign in gripping detail, Wawro offers a riveting account of how Austria-Hungary plunged the West into a tragic and unnecessary war.
About the Author
Geoffrey Wawro studied at Brown and Yale and is Professor of History and Director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas. The author of five books, including Quicksand and The Franco-Prussian War, Wawro lives in Dallas, Texas.
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