July 1914: Countdown to War
The outbreak of the First World War was, as Winston Churchill said, “a drama never surpassed.” At the distance of a century, the characters still seem larger than life: Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the brooding heir to the Habsburg throne; a bevy of fanatical Bosnian Serb assassins who plot to murder him while he visits Sarajevo; Conrad and Berchtold, the Austrians who seek to exploit the outrage; Kaiser Wilhelm II and Bethmann Hollweg, who recklessly urge on the Austrians; Sergei Sazonov, Tsarist Russian Foreign Minister, trying to live down a reputation for cowardice; Poincaré and Paléologue, two French statesmen who urge on the Russians and help Sazonov overcome his fears; and not least Churchill himself, who, alone among Cabinet officials in London, perceives the seriousness of the situation in time to take action.
July 1914 tells the story of Europe’s countdown to war through the eyes of these men, between the bloody opening act on 28 June 1914 and Britain’s final plunge on 4 August, which turned a European conflict into a world war. Some of them mastered events quickly; others fought from behind or rode the whirlwind nearly blind.
While there was an element of tragedy in the outcome, it is not really true that, as many popular historians have told us, “no one wanted the war.” The outbreak of war in 1914 was no accident of fate. Individual statesmen, pursuing real objectives, conjured up the conflict – in some cases by conscious intention. While some sought honorably to defuse tensions, others all but oozed with malice as they rigged the decks for war. Showing the fearless judgment for which he is known, Sean McMeekin names names in July 1914, making clear as never before who was responsible for the catastrophe.
Sean McMeekin was born in Idaho, raised in Rochester NY, and educated at Stanford and UC Berkeley. He has been fascinated by modern history ever since playing Winston Churchill in a school reenactment of the Yalta Conference at age 15, and Joseph McCarthy in an even more outlandish reenactment of the Army-McCarthy hearings at age 17, which involved camcorders and double agents in the Russian Club. He pursued this interest into several dozen European and American archives, as far east as Moscow, before settling down to teach at Koç University in Turkey, where the weather is bet...
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Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"[A] thoroughly rewarding account that spares no nation regarding the causes of World War I.... McMeekin delivers a gripping, almost day-by-day chronicle of the increasingly frantic maneuvers of European civilian leaders who mostly didn’t want war and military leaders who had less objection."
Publishers Weekly starred review
"(A) superbly researched political history of the weeks between the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I.... McMeekin’s work is a fine diplomatic history of the period, a must-read for serious students of WWI, and a fascinating story for anyone interested in modern history."
Norman Stone, author of World War Two: A Short History
"Sean McMeekin is establishing himself as a—or even the—leading young historian of modern Europe. Here he turns his gifts to the outbreak of war in July 1914 and has written another masterpiece."
James Sheehan, author of Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?: The Transformation of Modern Europe
"This is a meticulously researched and vividly written reconstruction of the decisions that led to war in July 1914. McMeekin captures the human drama of this fateful month and offers a provocative assessment of the different players’ moral responsibility"
Charles Hill, Diplomat in Residence at Yale University, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and author of Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism
"Winners write the histories, so wars are misunderstood. Sean McMeekin takes a wider stance to get a fresh angle of vision on The Great War, and casts all war-making in a new light."
Michael Neiberg, author of The Blood of Free Men
"Sean McMeekin has given us a riveting and fast-paced account of some of the most important diplomatic and military decisions of the 20th century. He depicts with chilling clarity the confusion, the incompetence, and the recklessness with which Europe’s leaders went to war in that fateful summer. Any understanding of the world we inhabit today must begin with an examination of the events of July 1914. McMeekin provides his readers with a balanced and detailed analysis of the events that gave birth to the modern age."
"Alluding to historical controversies, McMeekin ably delivers what readers demand from a WWI-origins history: a taut rendition of the July 1914 crisis."
" [A] gripping and well-researched new book. In prose of admirable clarity, [McMeekin] relates the enormously complex events of that fateful summer.... [I]n his day-by-day and even hour-by-hour account, [McMeekin] brings a sprawling cast of characters to life."
Dallas Morning News
" The conventional wisdom of the last 100 years holds that Germany’s desire for empire and cultural hegemony turned [Gavrilo] Princip’s deed into an excuse for war. Barbara Tuchman’s famed history, The Guns of August, makes the most of this case. Sean McMeekin...argues that ambitions in Russia and France were at least as responsible and traces the foibles of Europe’s major powers in a month that launched a disaster for them all.... McMeekin praises Tuchman’s 1962 epic for inspiring him to write July 1914. What he’s delivered is a strong challenge to The Guns of August."
New York Times
"The historiography of World War I is immense, more than 25,000 volumes and articles even before next year’s centenary. Still, SeanMcMeekin, in July 1914, [offers a] new perspective.... McMeekin has chosen the zoom lens. He opens with a crisp but vivid reconstruction of the double murder in the sunshine of Sarajevo,then concentrates entirely on unraveling the choreography day by day."
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History
"McMeekin is a wonderful storyteller, with a keen eye for the descriptive act, person, or scene."
" Blending scholarly research with a breezy and descriptive writing style, McMeekin makes a reader feel like a firsthand witness to the key events of that fateful summer.... McMeekin’s work is also a primer for today’s diplomats on how not to allow a small event to spiral out of control into a major war. "
"July 1914 is a carefully-researched diplomatic history of the month leading up to World War I. Well-written, it reconstructs the tensions and turmoil as well as the confusion and blundering of the diplomats who guided Europe into its most destructive war. It concludes with an excellent analysis of the responsibilities and failures of the major figures."