The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to Warby Tim Butcher
On a summer morning in Sarajevo almost a hundred years ago, a teenager took a pistol out of his pocket and fired not just the opening rounds of the First World War but the starting gun for modern history. By killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Gavrilo Princip, started a cycle of events that would leave 15 million dead from
On a summer morning in Sarajevo almost a hundred years ago, a teenager took a pistol out of his pocket and fired not just the opening rounds of the First World War but the starting gun for modern history. By killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Gavrilo Princip, started a cycle of events that would leave 15 million dead from fighting between 1914 and 1918 and proved fatal for empires and a way of ruling that had held for centuries.
The Trigger tells the story of a young man who changed the world forever. It focuses on the drama of the incident itself by following Prinip’s journey. By retracing his steps from the feudal frontier village of his birth, through the mountains of the northern Balkans to the great plain city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, Tim Butcher illuminates our understanding of Princip— the person and the place that shaped him—and makes discoveries about him that have eluded historians for a hundred years. Traveling through the Balkans on Princip’s trail, and drawing on his own experiences there as a war reporter during the 1990s, Butcher unravels this complex part of the world and its conflicts, and shows how the events that were sparked that day in June 1914 still have influence today. Published for the centenary of the assassination, The Trigger is a rich and timely work, part travelogue, part reportage, and part history.
“No one has got closer into the mind of one of the key figures of the last century, Gavrilo Princip, than the journalist-turned-investigative-historian Timothy Butcher. Part travelogue, part history of the Balkans, part psychological insight into the motivation of History’s most famous terrorist before Osama bin Laden, this book brings an objective eye and flowing prose style to the story of what happened in Sarajevo on that June day a hundred years ago. He makes complex political and ethnic rivalries easy to comprehend, and gets to the heart of the issues, largely thanks to his personal knowledge of the region. Nor does the sheer poignancy of the tale escape his occasionally coruscating ire. This is first class history and in a year swamped with First World War centenary books, it’s the one you should read first.”
Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War
“Tim Butcher, one of the bravest and kindest foreign journalists who saw the Bosnian war, has written a splendid book, part-memoir, part history, of that country, ingeniously using the assassin of 1914 as an anti-hero. It takes its place among classics of Balkan history.”
Norman Stone, author of World War One: A Short History and The Eastern Front 1914-1917
“A fascinating study of one of those rare individuals whose act of violence changed the history of the world. An incisive, shrewd, wholly compelling investigation of an assassin's life and times.”
William Boyd, author of A Good Man in Africa, The Ice Cream War, and Any Human Heart
“Tim Butcher has re-written history with this evocative and moving journey in the footsteps of the assassin who sparked the First World War. Instead of a naive and misguided Serbian nationalist, he reveals an intelligent and determined South Slav patriot who gave his life for the cause. The Serbian state should not have been held to account. A superb and important book.”
Saul David, author of Military Blunders: The How and Why of Military Failure and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Warfare
“Take a measure of well-researched history, add indelible personal recollections of the Bosnian war, season with piquant vignettes of traversing rural Bosnia on foot and mix with a light touch. The result is consistently appetizing and occasionally controversial. Tim Butcher goes from strength to strength. I enjoyed every paragraph.”
Dervla Murphy, author of Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle and Through the Embers of Chaos: Balkan Journeys
“Rarely, if ever, can such momentous and tragic events have been sparked by such an unlikely and undistinguished a man, Gavrilo Princip. This insightful, useful and delightfully written book shines a unique spotlight on the trigger to the First World War, placing the assassin and his homeland in the wider strategic context. A great bookone to be recommended to professional and amateur historian alike.”
General Sir David Richards, Former Chief of the British Defence Staff
“A compelling and fascinating read. . . . A shadowy assassin brought to life by a writer who gets to grips with a century of Balkan intrigue.”
—Kate Adie, veteran journalist and former Chief News Correspondent for BBC News
“The Trigger is a fascinating book, part history, part travelogue, that skilfully weaves the story of the Balkans in the run up to the First World War with the devastation caused by the fighting in Former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Tim Butcher is an astute and humane guide who writes with an expert eye for the telling detail that brings history alive.”
—Professor Gary Sheffield, University of Wolverhampton
The engrossing story of Gavrilo Princip (1894-1918), the 19-year-old Bosnian Serb nationalist whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on June 28, 1914, sparked World War I.While covering the Bosnian War of the 1990s, former Daily Telegraph correspondent Butcher (Chasing the Devil: A Journey Through Sub-Saharan Africa in the Footsteps of Graham Greene, 2011, etc.) became intrigued by Princip after visiting a littered Sarajevo chapel that commemorated the assassin's name. In 2012, he returned to the Balkans to follow the path of the young peasant's life from his home in the remote hamlet of Obljaj (where Princip left his initials on a rock and declared, "One day people will know my name,") to Sarajevo, where he became a student and "slow-burn revolutionary" determined to overthrow the Austro-Hungarian occupiers of his homeland. Butcher details the assassination (Princip's first shot cut the Archduke's jugular vein; the second killed his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg), the ensuing trial and the assassin's death in prison from tuberculosis. The author's intelligent, near-obsessive, textured account of the assassin's life and times is a fascinating history of a complex region rife with ethnic rivalries and a vivid travelogue of a dangerous journey across a landscape marked by the minefields and devastation of the fighting of the 1990s. More broadly, Butcher makes clear the importance of Princip's act as the spark that detonated an "explosive mix of old-world superiority, diplomatic miscalculation, strategic paranoia and hubristic military overconfidence." Deliberately misrepresenting the assassin's motives (which were to liberate not only Serbia, but all south Slavs), Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, which led to World War I. Butcher notes that under different regimes, Princip has been remembered variously as a hero and a terrorist. The author views him as "an everyman for the anger felt by millions who were downtrodden far beyond the Balkans."A haunting and illuminating book marking the centennial of the assassination.
Butcher's (Daily Telegraph) perspective on the "trigger" of the Great War, a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918), forms a work that is a combination history, psychological profile, and memoir. Inspired by his time covering the Bosnian War in the 1990s, the author follows Princip's path from Herzegovina to Serbia and from student to assassin, to learn of his motivations that ultimately changed the course of world events. What makes this work particularly engaging is the juxtaposition of Butcher's war experience with his current journey. The author's curiosity as to how Princip fits into the region's history is contagious; he carries the reader along on his quest, using primary sources such as archives and oral histories to paint a fuller picture than other recent works such as Sean McMeekin's July 1914. VERDICT Recommended for those interested in the causes of World War I and in the Slavic region.—Maria Bagshaw, Elgin Community Coll. Lib., IL
- Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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Meet the Author
Born in 1967, Tim Butcher was on the staff of the Daily Telegraph from 1990 to 2009 serving as chief war correspondent, Africa bureau chief, and Middle East correspondent. His first book, Blood River, was a number one bestseller in the UK, a Richard & Judy Book Club selection and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. He is currently based in Cape Town with his family.
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As a longtime student of WWI, I heard the Author of this book interviewed on NPR. My interest was piqued, since Gavrilo Princip is a pivotal figure in having brought about The Great War, but is generally skipped over a pretty much a historical footnote. The excellence of this book was, thus, highly unexpected. Well written, concise, and as comprehensive a work as I have ever seen concerning the political/cultural complexities prevalent in the Balkans from well before WWI through the present. An easy and interesting read, by an Author who has great personal knowledge of the area, did his homework, and dug deep into his own soul in order to convey his findings to the reader. Cannot recommend this book highly enough to any serious student of 19th and 20th Century history.