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Catastrophe Europe Goes to War 1914 by Sir Max Hastings

Catastrophe Europe Goes to War 1914

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Sue Baker's view...

The end papers of the book testify to the Catastrophe of the title, we start with an idyllic late Victorian boating scene and end with a scene of carnage at the Battle of the Marne. The tragedy of the war is caught brilliantly by Max Hastings who records not just the military and political views and actions but the experiences of the ordinary man and woman whose records brings an added vividness to the narrative. We see political grandstanding, armies coming to terms with the horrors of the new mechanical war and devastating loss of human life. I would also add praise for two things; Max Hastings’ decision to include the battlefronts of Serbia and Galicia thus extending our knowledge of the war and for his ability to separate the fact from the fiction, the amount of fakery and destroyed and corrupt material historians contend with is quite astounding. A remarkable record of a terrible year.

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Catastrophe Europe Goes to War 1914 by Sir Max Hastings

A magisterial chronicle of the calamity that crippled Europe in 1914. In 1914, Europe plunged into the 20th century's first terrible act of self-immolation - what was then called The Great War. On the eve of its centenary, Max Hastings seeks to explain both how the conflict came about and what befell millions of men and women during the first months of strife. He finds the evidence overwhelming, that Austria and Germany must accept principal blame for the outbreak. While what followed was a vast tragedy, he argues passionately against the 'poets' view', that the war was not worth winning. It was vital to the freedom of Europe, he says, that the Kaiser's Germany should be defeated. His narrative of the early battles will astonish those whose images of the war are simply of mud, wire, trenches and steel helmets. Hastings describes how the French Army marched into action amid virgin rural landscapes, in uniforms of red and blue, led by mounted officers, with flags flying and bands playing. The bloodiest day of the entire Western war fell on 22 August 1914, when the French lost 27,000 dead. Four days later, at Le Cateau the British fought an extraordinary action against the oncoming Germans, one of the last of its kind in history. In October, at terrible cost they held the allied line against massive German assaults in the first battle of Ypres.The author also describes the brutal struggles in Serbia, East Prussia and Galicia, where by Christmas the Germans, Austrians, Russians and Serbs had inflicted on each other three million casualties. This book offers answers to the huge and fascinating question 'what happened to Europe in 1914?', through Max Hastings's accustomed blend of top-down and bottom-up accounts from a multitude of statesmen and generals, peasants, housewives and private soldiers of seven nations. His narrative pricks myths and offers some striking and controversial judgements. For a host of readers gripped by the author's last international best-seller 'All Hell Let Loose', this will seem a worthy successor.



'Like one of Field Marshal Haig's family whiskies, Max Hastings is a dram that steadily improves with age ... His position as Britain's leading military historian is now unassailable ... In this enormously impressive new book, Hastings effortlessly masters the complex lead-up to and opening weeks of the First World War ... [He] is as magisterial as we would expect ... This is a magnificent and deeply moving book, and with Max Hastings as our guide we are in the hands of a master
Nigel Jones, Telegraph

'Max Hastings easily saw off his rivals in the battle for the first world war centenary market ... Catastrophe was old-fashioned military history, shamefully readable'

'Magnificent ... Hastings writes with an enviable grasp of pace and balance, as well as an acute eye for human detail. Even for readers who care nothing for the difference between a battalion and a division, his book is at once moving, provocative and utterly engrossing'
Sunday Times

'Masterly ... Hastings is a brilliant guide to that strange, febrile twilight before Europe plunged into darkness. Writing in pungent prose suffused with irony and underpinned by a strong sense of moral outrage ... this is history-writing at its best, scholarly and fluent ... for anyone wanting to understand how that ghastly, much-misunderstood conflict came about, there could be no better place to start than this fine book'
The Times

'One could scarcely ask for a better guide to these horrors than Max Hastings ... he is a superb writer with a rare gift for evoking the rhythm, mood and raw physical terror of battle ... If you are looking for a humane and compelling interpretive chronicle of the formative months of this horrific conflict, you will find none better'
Mail on Sunday

'Very readable. Character, pace, sense of landscape, battlefield detail - all are superbly done ... it's a splendid read'

About the Author

Sir Max Hastings

Sir Max Hastings is the author of twenty-five books, many of them about war. He was educated at Charterhouse and University College, Oxford, which he quit after a year to become a journalist. Thereafter he reported for newspapers and BBC TV from sixty-four countries and eleven conflicts, notably the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Vietnam and the 1982 Battle for the Falklands. Between 1986 and 2002 he was editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph, then editor of the Evening Standard. He has won many prizes both for journalism and for his books, most recently the 2012 Chicago Pritzker Library’s $100,000 literary award for his contribution to military history, and the RUSI’s Westminster Medal for his international best-seller All Hell Let Loose. He has two grown-up children, Charlotte and Harry, and lives with his wife Penny in West Berkshire, where they garden enthusiastically.

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Book Info

Publication date

8th May 2014


Sir Max Hastings

More books by Sir Max Hastings
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Author's Website


William Collins an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


672 pages


Biography / Autobiography
World War One Literature
eBook Favourites

First World War
European history
20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000



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