Best in Fall History 2013:
#4 The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan
With the 100th anniversary of the opening salvoes of World War I right around the corner, authors and publishers are falling all over themselves to push books on the subject into print. The payoff for readers gets particularly high this fall with two major releases, one of them being The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan. MacMillan specializes in narrative accounts of major political summits and happenings – note her book Nixon and Mao and especially her wonderful work Paris 1919 – and there is no greater story of this type than the road to 1914. Europe for the first 14 years of the 20th century was a latticework of treaties, misgivings, royal relationships, and seething cultural undercurrents. In some ways it was a time of startling modernity; the world had never been more interconnected and would not be again till the fall of the Soviet Union 80 years later. But it all fell apart, and the story of how it did so has raged as a debate and spilled more ink than perhaps any other controversy from the 20th century.
I took a semester long class in college just on the causes of World War I. MacMillan should take the same approach that she chose so well in Paris 1919 to cover all the main participants such as Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas, etc. Her gifts as a writer promise to make her account readable, though a final judgment on The War That Ended Peace will have to await actual release. The field is so full of books on this subject that any writer tackling it has to work extremely hard to avoid a simple rehash. MacMillan has better chance than most to succeed. Releasing in early November, The War That Ended Peace may well become the definitive popular account of the political debacles that led up to the Great War.