Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I: from the breakdown of diplomacy to the dramatic battles that occurred before the war bogged down in the trenches.
World War I immediately evokes images of the trenches: grinding, halting battles that sacrificed millions of lives for no territory or visible gain. Yet the first months of the war, from the German invasion of Belgium to the Marne to Ypres, were utterly different, full of advances and retreats, tactical maneuvering, and significant gains and losses. In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings re-creates this dramatic year, from the diplomatic crisis to the fighting in Belgium and France on the western front, and Serbia and Galicia to the east. He gives vivid accounts of the battles and frank assessments of generals and political leaders, and shows why it was inevitable that this first war among modern industrial nations could not produce a decisive victory, resulting in a war of attrition. Throughout we encounter high officials and average soldiers, as well as civilians on the home front, giving us a vivid portrait of how a continent became embroiled in a war that would change everything.
"Hastings's latest invites consideration as the best in his distinguished career, combining a perceptive analysis of the Great War's beginnings with a vivid account of the period from August to September of the titular year. Those were the months when illusions died alongside hundreds of thousands of people. Hastings (Inferno) considers Germany principally responsible for starting the war, asserting that German victory would have meant that 'freedom, justice and democracy would have paid a dreadful forfeit.' Hastings notes, 'Every society experienced successive waves of jubilation and dejection,' a condition shared by the generals and the politicians who found war easier to initiate than to resolve. He is particularly successful at reconstructing war-zone fiascoes from the perspectives of those who bore their brunt the soldiers on the frontlines. On the front lines, 'foolish excess of personal bravery' was juxtaposed with questions like, 'Won't the murdering soon stop?' While 'rape, pillage, and arson' were commonplace, 'new technologies created many opportunities and difficulties' but far more of the latter. The fighting around Ypres, Belgium, in October and November epitomized both the combatants' determination and their 'unbounded power to inflict loss and grief upon each other.' 'There was never a credible shortcut' to the suicide of a civilization. Agent: Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Sept. 25)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I: the dramatic stretch from the breakdown of diplomacy to the battles the Marne, Ypres, Tannenberg that marked the frenzied first year before the war bogged down in the trenches.
In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings gives us a conflict different from the familiar one of barbed wire, mud and futility. He traces the path to war, making clear why Germany and Austria-Hungary were primarily to blame, and describes the gripping first clashes in the West, where the French army marched into action in uniforms of red and blue with flags flying and bands playing. In August, four days after the French suffered 27,000 men dead in a single day, the British fought an extraordinary holding action against oncoming Germans, one of the last of its kind in history. In October, at terrible cost the British held the allied line against massive German assaults in the first battle of Ypres. Hastings also re-creates the lesser-known battles on the Eastern Front, brutal struggles in Serbia, East Prussia and Galicia, where the Germans, Austrians, Russians and Serbs inflicted three million casualties upon one another by Christmas.
As he has done in his celebrated, award-winning works on World War II, Hastings gives us frank assessments of generals and political leaders and masterly analyses of the political currents that led the continent to war. He argues passionately against the contention that the war was not worth the cost, maintaining that Germany s defeat was vital to the freedom of Europe. Throughout we encounter statesmen, generals, peasants, housewives and private soldiers of seven nations in Hastings s accustomed blend of top-down and bottom-up accounts: generals dismounting to lead troops in bayonet charges over 1,500 feet of open ground; farmers who at first decried the requisition of their horses; infantry men engaged in a haggard retreat, sleeping four hours a night in their haste. This is a vivid new portrait of how a continent became embroiled in war and what befell millions of men and women in a conflict that would change everything.
About the Author
MAX HASTINGS is the author of more than twenty books, most recently Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945. He has served as a foreign correspondent and as the editor of Britain's Evening Standard and The Daily Telegraph. He has received numerous British Press Awards, including journalist of the year in 1982 and editor of the year in 1988. He lives outside London.