Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War

by Max Hastings


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From the acclaimed military historian, a history of the outbreak of World War I: the dramatic stretch from the breakdown of diplomacy to the battles—the Marne, Ypres, Tannenberg—that marked the frenzied first year before the war bogged down in the trenches.

In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings gives us a conflict different from the familiar one of barbed wire, mud and futility. He traces the path to war, making clear why Germany and Austria-Hungary were primarily to blame, and describes the gripping first clashes in the West, where the French army marched into action in uniforms of red and blue with flags flying and bands playing. In August, four days after the French suffered 27,000 men dead in a single day, the British fought an extraordinary holding action against oncoming Germans, one of the last of its kind in history. In October, at terrible cost the British held the allied line against massive German assaults in the first battle of Ypres. Hastings also re-creates the lesser-known battles on the Eastern Front, brutal struggles in Serbia, East Prussia and Galicia, where the Germans, Austrians, Russians and Serbs inflicted three million casualties upon one another by Christmas. 

As he has done in his celebrated, award-winning works on World War II, Hastings gives us frank assessments of generals and political leaders and masterly analyses of the political currents that led the continent to war. He argues passionately against the contention that the war was not worth the cost, maintaining that Germany’s defeat was vital to the freedom of Europe. Throughout we encounter statesmen, generals, peasants, housewives and private soldiers of seven nations in Hastings’s accustomed blend of top-down and bottom-up accounts: generals dismounting to lead troops in bayonet charges over 1,500 feet of open ground; farmers who at first decried the requisition of their horses; infantry men engaged in a haggard retreat, sleeping four hours a night in their haste. This is a vivid new portrait of how a continent became embroiled in war and what befell millions of men and women in a conflict that would change everything.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307743831
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/13/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 704
Sales rank: 437,390
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Max Hastings is the author of more than twenty books, including Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, Inferno: The World at War, 1939–1945, and Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945. He spent his early career as a foreign correspondent for BBC TV and various newspapers, then as editor of Britain’s Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph. He has received numerous awards for both his books and his journalism. He lives in the English countryside west of London.

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Excerpted from "Catastrophe 1914"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Max Hastings.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

List of Maps xiii

Introduction xvii

1914 Chronology xxiii

The Organisation of Armies in 1914 xxv

Prologue: Sarajevo xxvii

1 'A Feeling That Events Are in the Air' 1

1 Change and Decay 1

2 Battle Plans 25

2 The Descent to War 41

1 The Austrians Threaten 41

2 The Russians React 54

3 The Germans March 75

4 The British Decide 85

3 'The Superb Spectacle of the World Bursting into Flames' 103

1 Migrations 103

2 Passions 110

3 Departures 126

4 Disaster on the Drina 138

5 Death with Flags and Trumpets 159

1 The Execution of Plan XVII 159

2 'German Beastliness' 187

3 Lanrezac Encounters Schlieffen 194

6 The British Fight 200

1 Mons 200

2 Le Cateau: 'Where the Fun Comes in, I Don't Know' 219

7 The Retreat 239

8 Tannenberg: 'Alas, How Many Thousands Lie There Bleeding!' 259

9 The Hour of Joffre 286

1 Paris at Bay 286

2 Sir John Despairs 290

3 Seeds of Hope 298

10 The Nemesis of Moltke 313

1 The Marne 313

2 'Stalemate in Our Favour 342

11 'Poor Devils, They Fought Their Ships Like Men' 356

12 Three Armies in Poland 386

13 'Did You Ever Dance with Him?' 411

1 Home Fronts 411

2 News and Abuse 434

14 Open Country, Open Sky 442

1 Churchill's Adventure 442

2 'Inventions of the Devil' 455

15 Ypres: 'Something That Was Completely Hopeless' 463

16 'War Becomes the Scourge of Mankind' 497

1 Poland 497

2 The Serbs' Last Triumph 509

17 Mudlife 515

18 Silent Night, Holy Night 541

Acknowledgements 565

Notes and References 567

Bibliography 595

Index 605

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Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book - well written and informative and gives a new slant on history. And will people stop spouting out about the cost of ebooks? That is not a review and it is idiotic. No one ever claimed ebooks were going to very cheap - some are, some aren't. If you are concerned about costs there is a building in your neighborhood called a library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Received history has had it that Europe sort of "blundered into" WWI, the whole thing being a tragic accident. Hastings takes a rather different view. He theorizes there was nothing accidental about it, and nobody "blundered" anywhere. Austria was quite deliberate about slapping down Servia (Serbia, nowadays) and in search of an excuse. They knew they had a strong ally in Germany to guard their backs. They knew how everybody else could be expected to react, and when everybody did so there was no surprise. (The nearest thing to a surprise was America - for some reason - getting into it.) Hastings is a great writer and excellent historian, and this book does not disappoint on either count. He takes a cold-eyed, but precise look at the causes of the tragedy, and comes away with a less romantic, but probably more accurate view of causality than we usually get.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Outside of specific anecdotes of individual actions leading to and during the first months of the First World War, there is not much actual "history" here.   Hastings writes an extremely Anglocentric account, despite purporting to give a cat's eye view into the events leading up to the war and the events taking place in the four months thereafter.  He spends much time discussing England, Churchill , civil unrest in Northern Ireland and labor issues in the UK; so much so, that one would think this was a history of Great Britain in 1914. While constantly giving his inadequately-supported opinion that Germany was to blame for the war and would have deprived Western Europe of "freedom, justice and democracy" if it had won.  While Germany certainly imposed a harsh (and highly opportunistic) settlement on Russia, this was in response to the Bolshevik take over of Russian, and a long held German feeling of "superiority" over its eastern neighbors.  Most evidence points to a German war aim of  economic dominance over Western Europe through a trade system favorable to Germany.  There is no credible evidence that Germany would have imposed regime change or territorial cession upon England and France, as indeed those countries imposed upon Germany, along with war guilt, economy-crippling reparations, and a long occupation of the  Saar by France, during which they siphoned off its economic benefits for themselves while trying to machinate a plebiscite to gain the mineral-rich territory for themselves.   While the draconian Versailles treaty directly led to the rise of the Nazis and to WWII, Hastings summarily dismisses the treaty, its later effects and the doom it inflicted upon the vanquished as "a clumsy peace settlement."  Finally, Hastings even goes so far as to conclude that the United States' entry into the war was militarily insignificant, while continually over-emphasizing Britain's importance, especially in the first months of the war.  A fair read for WWI trivia, but not so much for "history."
troutrivers More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed the coverage of the opening of hostilities in the east - in particular the thrashing, short lived as it was, the Serbs gave the Austrians. Anglocentric? maybe, but a brutally honest Englishman
Tarquin549z More than 1 year ago
It has been 100 years since WWI, the war to end all wars. Has humanity learned anything since? Hopefully it may have learned not to repeat the mistakes of the past. However, we must understand the past and its lessons first and foremost, and this book is the best book on WWI since Tuchman's "The guns of August". It reads like a first-hand narrative of the actual battles told from the perspective of all the participants. I never knew the role that Serbia and Austria played in starting the great war, or the reluctance of the English to fully support the French forces during August and September of that year. This is a book not only for those interested in history, but for those who enjoy an intimate look at war and its deadly consequences. It is as relevant today as any book I know to demonstrate how little wars can lead to world wars.
EKC More than 1 year ago
If you're interested in history, this is a great book. Very readable for what might seem to some as a dry subject. While there are many books on WWII, this is the first readable and comprehensive book I've seen on WWI. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've enjoyed all Max Hastings books that I have read and this is no exception. This is fairly comprehensive, but does center its attention on the UK.
Brodk More than 1 year ago
A wealth of anecdotes and a scarcity of narrative This is a well-written and well-researched book, with a multitude of "we-were-there" quotes from observers and participants in the events described. The author writes well, and his two books (Retribution and Annihilation) about the end of the Second World War are true gems. Unfortunately, the trees overwhelm the forest in "Catastrophe 1914". After reading the book I still am unsure why the war started, other than to say that each country's allies supported each other. True, but insufficient. Why then didn't war break out during the first and second Balkan Wars? Why not over Morocco in 1911? This was never explained. Also, the use of quotes was used too much, as it interfered with the flow of the narrative in places. I agree that in many places the quotes did illuminate what happened, but I also think that in other places the quotes obfuscated rather than clarifying events. Conclusion - a very good book for quotes but less successful as a history.
Runner510 More than 1 year ago
I found this book on World War I in its first 5 months engrossing at many times, though my appreciation was tempered in some respects. The first 100 pages or so provide a relatively concise introduction to the the state of Europe before war broke out--the alliances between nations, its political and military leaders, as well as the rapid pace of scientific and technological advances that could be considered either promising a brighter future or threatening established order. What is commonly cited as the spark that set off the war, the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in June of that year is described as playing “the same might a wasp sting on a chronically ailing man who is maddened into abandoning a sickbed to devote his waning days to destroying the nest,” but not a real cause of the war, which was a result of tensions that had been building up through prior years. The narrative then dives into the conflict on the western and eastern fronts. Key campaigns--Austria’s shocking setback after attacking Serbia, “the miracle on the Marne” that prevented the German from occupying Paris, the German victory over Russia at Tannenberg, the drawn-out and inconclusive standoff in the area around Ypres, and more--are described in some detail. Along with these accounts, Hastings points to the many shortcomings of the various military leaders. He is brutally critical of the initial commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force, John French, whom he accuses of defeatism, “moral collapse,” and at one point “his shamelessly base attempt to desert France.” Towards the end of the book, after imprinting on the reader’s mind the image of armies sunk into muddy trenches, hungry, exhausted, surrounded by corpses of men and the many horses also killed, and maddeningly stalemated, Hastings offers his wider view of the conflict and some provocative comments. On the enduring question of which nation was most to blame, he answers forcefully: Germany, since “Even if it did not conspire to bring war about, it declined to exercise its power to prevent the outbreak by restraining Austria.” And on whether the millions who died were fighting to no purpose he says, “[I]t would be entirely mistaken to suppose, as do so many people in the twenty-first century, that it did not matter which side won. The allies imposed a clumsy peace settlement at Versailles in 1919, but if the Germans had instead been dictating the terms as victors, European freedom, justice, and democracy would have paid a dreadful forfeit.” On the other hand, at times the book seems a grab-bag of information, some paragraphs skipping from one subject to another in a somewhat helter-skelter fashion. And though the copious quotations from combatants’ letters and journals illustrate much of the experience of war (sights, sounds, smell, all generally ghastly), the sheer number of them eventually seemed repetitious, an unrestrained catalog of misery (which, admittedly, may have been exactly what Hastings intended). Meanwhile, because the book is concerned primarily with the year 1914 alone, one naturally will have to look elsewhere for the rest of the war’s story, and I had to wonder why only these first few months were treated. Eventually, though, I came around to the view that the limited scope was to show how grand plans for quick victory failed horribly, leading to a deadlock that took over 4 years to break.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you're interested in WWI history, this is a really good book. If you'e buying ebooks, it's reasonable to expect that the cost should be somewhat lower than the print version. The books are obviously cheaper to produce and  distribute. On top of that, you're buying somewhat less than a print version. You can't give it away, for example.  Lending is restricted, if available at all. And, as far as I know, you can't re-sell it. I love ebooks, especially the fact that I don't have to worry about storing my collection, but I do find these and other restrictions bothersome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did not and will not read this book. During his Book TV speech, Hastings referenced a particular theory pronounced by another writer, NF. Instead of criticizing the theory, which is perferctly acceptable, Hastings made the comments that "serious historians" do not accept this theory, thereby implying that NF is not a serious historian. It is unprofessional and arrogant for Hastings to refer to a competitor as something other than a serious historian, even if Hastings disagrees with the competitor's theory. We all disagree with various theories of histories. That is one of the things which makes history interesting. However, a snotty personal attack on another writer with whom Hastings competes for book sales is a disgusting example of British arrogance. Hastings is, as another reviewer commented, a "blowhard." He will not be getting my American dollars.
ARISTO More than 1 year ago
dull blowhard
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why does it cost so much?