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The world of nihilistic terrorist conspiracy, paranoid empires and diplomatic opportunism that Fromkin (In the Time of the Americans) describes in this terrific account of WWI's underpinnings will seem eerily familiar to 21st-century denizens. Fromkin allies a direct, compulsively readable style with a daunting command of sources old and new, unrolling a complex skein of events with assurance and wit and dispatching numerous conventional wisdoms. The view (most influentially stated in Barbara Tuchman's Vietnam-era Guns of August), that the war, unwanted by all, was the result of an unfortunate series of accidents, is neutralized by the clearly presented evidence of careful premeditation and planning on the part of Germany and Austro-Hungary, as is the more recent assertion of Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War that if only the rest of Europe had acceded to Germany's imperial ambitions, the whole business might have been avoided. The enormity of the horrors unleashed in that fateful summer—and the culpability of all sides in exacerbating them—has made laying blame for the war squarely at the foot of the German and Austrian leadership unfashionable, but the evidence assembled by Fromkin is strong. His pictures of a Germany feeling itself (without real cause) surrounded, convinced of an imminent national demise from which only war could save it and of the Kafkaesque Austro-Hungarian empire lurching toward Armageddon are pitiless and sharp. Readers who ate up Margaret MacMillan's account of the war's aftermath, in Paris 1919, shouldn't miss this equally accomplished chronicle of its beginning.
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ISBN-10:  0375411569
ISBN-13:  978-0375411564
Author:  David Fromkin
Publisher:  Knopf
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review by . September 16, 2008
Finally, a clear explanation of how the Great War started and who did it. Late 20th century history as relayed in public education survey courses relied on vague statements of wonderment about how millions could fight and die in a world-wide struggle triggered by the assassination of an inconsequential Archduke of some type in some country in Eastern Europe.    In fact, the murder of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife was a pretext to trigger the war that Austria-Hungary wanted …
review by . August 07, 2004
The answer to the question: "Who started the Great War in 1914?" is very easy to answer at one level and impossible to answer at another. The easy answer is that it was Gavrilo Princip, when he fired the bullets that killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. However, nations do not send millions of their children to kill each other over one assassination, so the real answer must be elsewhere. The circumstances that caused what was first perceived to be a minor event …
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