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July 1914: Countdown to War

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Overview


When an assassin gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June 1914, no one could have imagined the shocking bloodshed that would soon follow. Indeed, as award-winning historian Sean McMeekin reveals in July 1914, World War I might indeed have been avoided entirely had it not been for the actions of a small group of statesmen in the month after the assassination. Whether they plotted for war or rode the whirlwind nearly blind, these men sought to capitalize on the fallout from Ferdinand’s murder, unwittingly...
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July 1914: Countdown to War

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Overview


When an assassin gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June 1914, no one could have imagined the shocking bloodshed that would soon follow. Indeed, as award-winning historian Sean McMeekin reveals in July 1914, World War I might indeed have been avoided entirely had it not been for the actions of a small group of statesmen in the month after the assassination. Whether they plotted for war or rode the whirlwind nearly blind, these men sought to capitalize on the fallout from Ferdinand’s murder, unwittingly leading Europe toward the greatest cataclysm it had ever seen. A deeply-researched account of the genesis of World War I, July 1914 tells the gripping story of the month that changed the course of the 20th century.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
McMeekin’s newest (after The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power) is a superbly researched political history of the weeks between the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I. Many historians believe that had Austria acted decisively in that interim, the “War to End All Wars” may have been averted. Instead, the Austrian government vacillated, finally taking decisive action after more than a month of convoluted and awkward diplomatic maneuvering. Relying on extensive research in numerous archives, as well as diaries and correspondence from key national leaders, McMeekin examines the intricacies of Austrian politics and diplomacy to explain the delay, carefully reconstructing the exploits of leading actors—particularly the Austrians and their crucial false assumption that Russia would not mobilize in defense of Serbia. Though the account is full of honest men making difficult decisions under extreme pressure, there are also numerous examples of intentional deceit, even among allies like Austria and Germany, and France and the United Kingdom. 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. 17 b&w images. Agent: Andrew Lownie, Andrew Lownie Literary Agency (U.K.). (Apr.)
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National Review
“[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.”

Philadelphia Inquirer
“[McMeekin is] a young, talented historian.... [He] is scrupulously fair and judicious in assigning blame.... McMeekin has written a fascinating and original study of the opening stages of World War I, a book that supersedes, in my view, any previous study of that great topic.”

Harold Evans, New York Times Book Review
“The historiography of World War I is immense, more than 25,000 volumes and articles even before next year’s centenary. Still, ... Sean McMeekin, in July 1914, [offers a] new perspective.... McMeekin has chosen the zoom lens. He opens with a crisp but vivid reconstruction of the double murder in the sunshine of Sarajevo, then concentrates entirely on unraveling the choreography day by day.”

Sunday Times (London)
“[A] work of meticulous scholarship.... It is McMeekin’s description of the details of life in the European capitals – comparatively small events which influenced great decisions – which make July 1914 irresistible.... It is that sort of intimacy which makes the story come alive – as well as confirming the assiduity with which it has been researched.”

New York Review of Books
“Sean McMeekin’s chronicle of these weeks in July 1914: Countdown to War is almost impossible to put down.... [McMeekin] delivers a punchy and riveting narrative of high politics and diplomacy over the five weeks after Sarajevo, more or less day by day, dwelling on small groups of decision-makers in and between the various capitals, and their interactions, by turns measured, perplexed, cordial, artful, angry, even tearful.”

Times Higher Education (UK)
“In this detailed account of the events and decisions that marked the road to war, Sean McMeekin demonstrates how, during what seemed a peaceful summer month, something that might have ended (at worst) in just another bloody Balkan battle led instead to the outbreak of the greatest conflict since the Napoleonic Wars.... [A] startling exercise in revisionism.”

Washington Times
“Masterful.”

Financial Times
“Stimulating and enjoyable.... Sean McMeekin’s July 1914 is controversial, arguing that Russia and France were more bent than Germany on war in July 1914.... [A] well-written book.”

Commonweal
“In July 1914, Sean McMeekin [...] provides a day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour, account of the crisis that began with the assassination in Sarajevo. By keeping his account close to the shifting contours of the crisis, he is able to capture its human dimensions.”

On Point Radio
“McMeekin makes this old story new. His history reads like a novel. Better, it unfolds like a play.... McMeekin adds dollops of fresh savory fact on every page. More importantly, he sees the whole crisis unclouded by bias for or against his characters or their countries.... July 1914 is superb history and compelling reading.”

Columbus Dispatch
“Blending scholarly research with a breezy and descriptive writing style, McMeekin makes a reader feel like a firsthand witness to the key events of that fateful summer.... McMeekin’s work is also a primer for today’s diplomats on how not to allow a small event to spiral out of control into a major war.”

The Independent (London)
“Lucid, convincing and full of rich detail, the book is a triumph for the narrative method and a vivid demonstration that chronology is the logic of history.”

Prospect (UK)
“McMeekin’s account is particularly worth reading for the weight it puts on the French and Russian contribution in taking the continent to war, drawing on his excellent previous book The Russian Origins of the Frist World War.... [A] refreshingly original counterpoint to the traditional focus on Germany above all.”

Sunday Express (London)
“Sean McMeekin’s splendid July 1914 unravels all the shenanigans, bluffs and bunglings by which Europe’s leaders and diplomats turned a minor murder in a Balkans backwater into total war.... McMeekin has rendered the complicated events of that fateful month as clearly and vividly as anyone could desire.”

Choice
“[A] fascinating study of Austrian and German ham-handed diplomacy (bordering on cluelessness) combined with Russian and French duplicity, with a dose of British disengagement added for good measure.”

World War One Historical Association Magazine
“[McMeekin’s] recounting of the imbroglio of July 1914 reads like a crime novel with personality sketches of the primary actors such as the belligerent Austrian Chief Of Staff von Hötzendoff and the shifty Serbian Premier Nicola Pasic.”

Journal of Military History
“McMeekin convincingly challenges, as others are now doing, the more usual view of Germany as the driving force behind the war.... [His] explication of the successive diplomatic steps to war makes it easy for any reader to see the missed chances for possible negotiation or a slowing of the momentum to war.”

San Antonio Express-News
“In an intimate narrative, McMeekin...delves into the five weeks between the assassination and Britain’s declaration of war, shedding new light on the conflict.... From a failed assassination attempt to a world war, McMeekin skillfully dissects the catastrophic events of July 1914.... July 1914 is an eye-opening elucidation on the beginning days of a war that was to end all wars.”

Daily News
July 1914 is a carefully-researched diplomatic history of the month leading up to World War I. Well-written, it reconstructs the tensions and turmoil as well as the confusion and blundering of the diplomats who guided Europe into its most destructive war. It concludes with an excellent analysis of the responsibilities and failures of the major figures.”

Dallas Morning News
“The conventional wisdom of the last 100 years holds that Germany’s desire for empire and cultural hegemony turned Princip’s deed into an excuse for war. Barbara Tuchman’s famed history, The Guns of August, makes the most of this case. Sean McMeekin...argues that ambitions in Russia and France were at least as responsible and traces the foibles of Europe’s major powers in a month that launched a disaster for them all.... McMeekin praises Tuchman’s 1962 epic for inspiring him to write July 1914. What he’s delivered is a strong challenge to The Guns of August.”

MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History
“McMeekin is a wonderful storyteller, with a keen eye for the descriptive act, person, or scene.”

Publishers Weekly, Starred 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.”

Kirkus Reviews, 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.”

Booklist
“Alluding to historical controversies, McMeekin ably delivers what readers demand from a WWI-origins history: a taut rendition of the July 1914 crisis.”

Norman Stone, author of World War Two: A Short History
“Sean McMeekin is establishing himself as a—or even the—leading young historian of modern Europe. Here he turns his gifts to the outbreak of war in July 1914 and has written another masterpiece.”

Michael Neiberg, author of The Blood of Free Men
“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.”

James Sheehan, author of Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?: The Transformation of Modern Europe
“This is a meticulously researched and vividly written reconstruction of the decisions that lead to war in July 1914. McMeekin captures the human drama of this fateful month and offers a provocative assessment of the different players’ moral responsibility.”

Charles Hill, Diplomat in Residence at Yale University, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and author of Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism
“Winners write the histories, so wars are misunderstood. Sean McMeekin takes a wider stance to get a fresh angle of vision on The Great War, and casts all war-making in a new light.”

Kirkus Reviews
McMeekin (History/Koç Univ.; The Russian Origins of the First World War, 2011, etc.) treads familiar ground but delivers a thoroughly rewarding account that spares no nation regarding the causes of World War I, although Germany receives more than its share of blame. Historians love to argue about who started World War I. Blaming Germany fell out of fashion soon after the Armistice succeeded, replaced by an interpretation that blamed everyone, exemplified by Barbara Tuchman's classic 1962 Guns of August. Within a decade, German scholars led another reversal back to their own nation's responsibility. Russia, huge and backward but rapidly modernizing, was the key. German military leaders led by Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the General Staff, believed Russia would attack Germany as soon as it felt confident of victory and that only a preventive war could save the nation. Austrian Archduke Ferdinand's murder by a Serbian terrorist proved a godsend. Austria yearned to crush Serbia, the pugnacious Balkan nation stirring up the Slav minority in Austria-Hungary's rickety empire. Von Moltke decided it was time to set matters right since Austria's cooperation was guaranteed. Russia's refusal to stop mobilizing in support of Serbia allowed him to warn that it was about to attack and that Germany had to strike first. It did so by invading Belgium on August 4, the act that made war inevitable. Tuchman remains irresistible, and David Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer (2004) is the best modern history, but 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465060740
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/29/2014
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 123,411
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author


Sean McMeekin is an assistant professor of history at Koç University. He is the author of four highly acclaimed books, including The Russian Origins of the First World War, which won the World War One Historical Association’s Tomlinson Prize, and The Berlin -Baghdad Express, which won the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies’ Barbara Jelavich Book Prize.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 27, 2014

    The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his morganatic

    The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his morganatic wife the Duchess Sophia in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 triggered a series of events that are being felt even to this day. While a cursory overview of history - at least to me - seemed to imply that fighting took place very soon after the assassination, the reality was something quite different.

    The fact of the matter was that ethnic tensions, political considerations and good old-fashioned lying and backstabbing led to what was first called the Great War, then sadly to the First World War as Adolf Hitler decided he wanted to re-fight WWI all over again. The backstory of this war has a lot of moving parts and Sean McMeekin has done a masterful job of relaying this as history should be told - as a story. There are a lot of characters in play here (and thank goodness for the Dramatis Personae that helps keep you straight).

    McMeekin tells the story from various points of view - whether Russian, German, Austrian, French or English. He also makes sure to mention influences resulting from the two Balkan Wars of the late 1900s - early 1910s. He pulls no punches and takes no sides; he brings up the evidence and calls it like he sees it. 

    Ultimately, what McMeekin shows to us is the frailty and weakness of humanity. The evidence shows that this was far from mankind's finest hour. The reader will see leaders not working with each other, working towards war, deliberate obtuseness, blind naivete, or - in the case of England - so much navel gazing. The results, sadly, were measured in the deaths of millions of people in both world wars.

    BOTTOM LINE: This is the perfect book for an introduction into the history of World War I.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2013

    Reads like a novel

    Overall an easily readable, very informative book. Well-organized in that the Prologue concerning the assassination in Sarajevo on June 28th sets the stage, then the events of July are covered step-by-step and country-by-country, followed by an excellent summarizing Epilogue: Who Bears Responsibility. Occasionally the details can be overwhelming but there are helpful reference pages about the chronology and cast of characters. Given the fact that the consequences of World War I still affect today's world, this less well known history of the war's prelude in July 1914 is worth a read. However, if you want the shortest of summaries, I would say the bottom line is that the leaders of all the involved countries wanted war more than peace.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2013

    great book!

    great book!

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2013

    Slipkit

    He sat down.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2014

    recommend

    Very detailed analysis of the events after 6/28 through the first part of August. Certainly focused more on the responsibility of Russia in the "cause" of the war than what I had seen in the past. There are so many people involved in the drama it was hard to keep them straight at times thus a cheat sheet of who is who in front of the reader while reading might help.

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  • Posted July 6, 2014

    Contains much helpful information on the effects of Franz Ferdin

    Contains much helpful information on the effects of Franz Ferdinand & Sophie's assassination. Written in a very easily readable style. I recommend this book as a "must read" to anyone interested in the history of World War I.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2013

    too slow

    It gives too much info that is not needed

    0 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    H

    Its very scary and poopy....

    0 out of 37 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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