Best in Fall History 2013:
#3 Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings
Yet another World War I book makes the list with Max Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. Both this book and my #4 pick – MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace – ought to be wonderful reads, but Hastings has reached a point in his career where he is quite literally churning out narrative excellence every two years. Several of his books – notably Retribution and Inferno – have been among the best ever written on World War II. Now his considerable talents have been turned toward The Great War, and early reviews indicate the streak will definitely continue. Perhaps the most telling comment I have seen comes from Scott Anderson, author of Lawrence in Arabia, in his review featured on Amazon. Anderson notes that Hastings is able to “create a mosaic of the carnage visited upon Europe in the opening days of the war.” This is a perfect image of the Max Hastings style. Hastings can create a wonderfully flowing mosaic of narrative featuring the views of all the participants and his own seasoned historical judgments. The result is a (nearly) seamless story that keeps a reader hooked throughout. Readers will also likely be surprised at his focus.
In his World War II monographs Hastings is well known for focusing on lesser known but highly important events; think of the weight he gives the Soviet Eastern Front or his focus for a chapter on the Bengali famine in India during the war years. In Catastrophe 1914 Hastings again follows that style, giving new weight to often overlooked events like the invasions of Serbia or the battle of Lemberg. Another frequent comment from reviewers is that Catastrophe 1914 could well be “the” book that equals or even replaces Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. That is high praise, and possibly setting overly lofty expectations, though Tuchman’s classic is a bit dated by this point. Regardless, as far as my votes go this is the #1 pick among a crowded field of very nice World War I books this year. Cross your fingers that Hastings goes on to do a full scale World War I trilogy.