Getty Images / Buyenlarge French lancers prepare to follow a German retreat, France, 1914.

The War That Didn't End All Wars

What Started in 1914 -- and Why It Lasted So Long

In This Review

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
By Christopher Clark
Harper, 2013
736 pp. $29.99
Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War
By Max Hastings
Knopf, 2013
672 pp. $35.00
The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914
By Margaret MacMillan
Random House, 2013
784 pp. $35.00
July 1914: Countdown to War
By Sean McMeekin
Basic Books, 2013
480 pp. $29.99
The Great War for Peace
By William Mulligan
Yale University Press, 2014
456 pp. $35.00
July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914
By Thomas Otte
Cambridge University Press, 2014
555 pp. $29.99
The Cambridge History of the First World War (Volume 1)
Cambridge University Press, 2014
771 pp. $150.00

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. BY CHRISTOPHER CLARK. Harper, 2013, 736 pp. $29.99 (paper, $18.99).

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. BY MAX HASTINGS. Knopf, 2013, 672 pp. $35.00 (paper, $17.95).

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. BY MARGARET MACMILLAN. Random House, 2013, 784 pp. $35.00 (paper, $20.00).

July 1914: Countdown to War. BY SEAN MCMEEKIN. Basic Books, 2013, 461 pp. $29.99.

The Great War for Peace. BY WILLIAM MULLIGAN. Yale University Press, 2014, 456 pp. $35.00.

July Crisis: The World’s Descent Into War, Summer 1914. BY THOMAS OTTE. Cambridge University Press, 2014, 555 pp. $29.99.

The Cambridge History of the First World War. Vol. 1, Global War. EDITED BY JAY WINTER. Cambridge University Press, 2014, 771 pp. $150.00.

The diplomat George Kennan described World War I as “the great seminal catastrophe” of the twentieth century, because it led to so many further catastrophes. The flap of the butterfly’s wings that set off the subsequent hurricanes came on June 28, 1914, when the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne. One hundred years later, historians still wonder how such a cataclysmic war came almost out of nowhere, deplore the failure of foolish governments to understand where their actions could lead, and mourn the loss of an imagined world of progress and harmony.

One response to this catastrophe was the systematic study of international affairs. Scholars in the 1920s and 1930s hoped that by analyzing the causes of war, they could help find a cure for it. This effort failed, in that a second world war followed the first, and so students of international relations veered away from idealistic schemes of global cooperation toward a tough-minded realism. World War II taught that a demonic dictator should not be appeased, a lesson now invoked every time some regional autocrat attempts a land grab or even when officials propose negotiations with a disagreeable regime. Meanwhile, there is still no firm consensus on the origins of World War I or on whether any useful lessons can be drawn for the present day.

That remains the case even after the publication

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