Sunday, August 24, 2014

July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin

In early August, I finished reading July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin. I started reading this book after my brother-in-law Tom posted on Facebook that he was reading it. As I mentioned before, while I think that I have a pretty good understanding of World War II after reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, I have always been very unclear about World War I.

July 1914 looks at the events from June 28, 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo through Germany declaring war on Russia and France in early August of 1914. The book examines the political and diplomatic interactions between Russia, France, Germany, Austria, Serbia as Europe grinds towards World War I. I didn't really appreciate the role that Balkans played in starting the dominos falling.

More than 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died as a result of the war. Interestingly, while Austria and Germany are historically viewed as the aggressor, there is a lot of blame to go around. In particular, the book paints Russia as anxious to launch hostilities partly to maintain a warm water port in the Mediterranean.

While communications were tremendously better in 1914 than 100 years earlier, it seems to me that the events might have unfolded a lot differently in a modern age of satellite surveillance, social media and an aggressive press. Interestingly, I don't remember any mention of the United States in any context in the book as the events were unfolding.

I give the book a "B" grade. My biggest struggle was keeping track of the names of all the players. Other than a young Winston Churchill and the monarchs, none of the key players were names I had ever heard of before! I still need to find a book that traces the course of the war.

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