Title: "Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?"
Author: David Fromkin
Publisher: Vintage Books
Synopsis: "Europe's Last Summer" describes the events, personalities, and ethos of the origins of World War I. Based on new scholarship, this work posits a very different view. WWI was not an accidental war, but rather a planned and anticipated one. Among the many forces were racial hostilities between Germanic and Slavic peoples, the largest arms race the world had seen to the point, the quest for colonies on the part of the "Great Powers," rapid industrialization, and the rise of socialism. The years prior to 1914 were not peaceful, but violent and crisis-ridden.
While both Kaiser Wilhelm and Archduke Franz Ferdinand were de-escalating crises in favor of peace, the militaries and groups such as the Black Hand were more interested in using war to resolve these same crises. Yet, the German military leadership was convinced that a pre-emptive strike against Russia was necessary. While these many disparate forces were pushing their agendas, the personal relationships that mediated crises were fragmenting and crumbling. Gathering all of these forces, Fromkin develops his thesis chronologically, carefully and compellingly. It is a fascinating study of a complex time.
Author's strengths: Fromkin's strength is his command of the research and ability to synthesize it into a readable whole. He is meticulous and careful to provide not only the facts and events, but also the cultural context.
Author's weaknesses: The necessary detail can be overwhelming. While there is a list of characters and their positions, it can be difficult to understand all of the relationships. More maps would have been helpful.
Who would this book appeal to? The Great War was the seminal event of the 20th century. We are living its legacy. This book should appeal to anyone interested in the question of "how did we get here?"
Andrea Woodruff is the supervising librarian at the Lodi Public Library. Each week, a member of the library staff reviews a recent book release for Lodi Living. Reviews are archived at http://www.lodi.gov/library">http://www.lodi.gov/library.