Oxford historian Margaret MacMillan subtly rephrases the usual question about the Great War’s origins, investigating why the long European peace—in place since 1815—failed to hold in the summer of 1914. She suggests that the conflict was not inevitable, assessing Europe on the eve of war as no more rife with tensions and rivalries than it had been for decades. The War That Ended Peace (Random House, $35) erupted on a continent whose 19th-century battles had been mostly brief or at a distance while closer to home, tourism and improved transportation united rather than divided people, as did faith in a bright technological future. But if the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition pointed to itself as “a symbol of harmony and peace,” the catalog also mentioned that war was “natural to humanity.” MacMillan, whose Paris 1919 so vividly chronicled the war’s aftermath, masterfully charts the two opposing currents in the years leading up to 1914. Her profiles of Europe’s leaders alone make the book worth reading.

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 Cover Image
ISBN: 9781400068555
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Random House - October 29th, 2013

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 Cover Image
$22.00
ISBN: 9780812980660
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Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - July 29th, 2014

Some events leave you at a loss for words. Luckily, images can step in. Some of the most eloquent these days come from the pen and ink of Joe Sacco. After graphically documenting the tensions and fraught conditions of Palestine and Safe Area Gorzade, he’s turned to the Battle of the Somme. Long fascinated by a conflict so extreme that it could be considered the last of its kind—“the war to end all wars”—Sacco chose July 1, 1916 for his subject, “because that is the point where the common man could have no more illusions about the nature of modern warfare.” While Sacco’s editors suggested Matteo Pericoli’s graceful Manhattan Unfurled as a model, Sacco himself looked to the Bayeux Tapestry (which chronicled events leading to the 1066 Battle of Hastings) and adapted medieval art’s nonrealistic proportion and perspective to give his twentieth-century battle scenes a fittingly timeless and surreal tone. But the details of each scene are historically accurate, and Sacco has included six pages of annotations identifying equipment, landmarks, and activities. The Great War (W.W. Norton, $35) is a slip-cased package pairing Sacco’s stunning sixteen-page, twenty-four-foot long stream of battle with an essay by Adam Hochschild, drawn from his award-winning history, To End All Wars.

The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9780393088809
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Published: W. W. Norton & Company - November 4th, 2013

With the centennial of the start of World War I nearly upon us, historian Max Hastings offers a lively and opinionated answer to the haunting question of how the conflict began, then provides a richly detailed description of the first months of war, covering all fronts, from the fields of France to the mountains of Serbia to the plains of Russia. In Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (Knopf, $35), Hastings disputes the idea that a series of mistakes caused the conflict, instead planting the blame squarely on Germany. He recounts how, from the beginning, all the powers suffered from a mismatch of ambition and fighting capability. And in depicting the results, he broadens the focus beyond generals and statesmen to include grunts, ambulance drivers, and the wives left behind.

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307597052
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Knopf - September 24th, 2013

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War Cover Image
$18.95
ISBN: 9780307743831
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Published: Vintage - May 13th, 2014