When a Serbian-backed assassin gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June 1914, the world seemed unmoved. Even Ferdinand’s own uncle, Franz Josef I, was notably ambivalent about the death of the Hapsburg heir, saying simply, It is God’s will.” Certainly, there was nothing to suggest that the episode would lead to conflict much less a world war of such massive and horrific proportions that it would fundamentally reshape the course of human events.
As acclaimed historian Sean McMeekin reveals in July 1914, World War I might have been avoided entirely had it not been for a small group of statesmen who, in the month after the assassination, plotted to use Ferdinand’s murder as the trigger for a long-awaited showdown in Europe. The primary culprits, moreover, have long escaped blame. While most accounts of the war’s outbreak place the bulk of responsibility on German and Austro-Hungarian militarism, McMeekin draws on surprising new evidence from archives across Europe to show that the worst offenders were actually to be found in Russia and France, whose belligerence and duplicity ensured that war was inevitable.
Whether they plotted for war or rode the whirlwind nearly blind, each of the men involved from Austrian Foreign Minister Leopold von Berchtold and German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov and French president Raymond Poincaré sought to capitalize on the fallout from Ferdinand’s murder, unwittingly leading Europe toward the greatest cataclysm it had ever seen.
A revolutionary account of the genesis of World War I, July 1914 tells the gripping story of Europe’s countdown to war from the bloody opening act on June 28th to Britain’s final plunge on August 4th, showing how a single month and a handful of men changed the course of the twentieth century.
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Sean McMeekin is an assistant professor of history at Koç University. He is the author of four highly acclaimed books, including The Russian Origins of the First World War, which won the World War One Historical Association’s Tomlinson Prize, and The Berlin to Baghdad Express, which won the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies’ Barbara Jelavich Book Prize. McMeekin lives in Istanbul, Turkey.
[A] gripping and well-researched new book. In prose of admirable clarity, [McMeekin] relates the enormously complex events of that fateful summer.... In his day-by-day and even hour-by-hour account, [McMeekin] brings a sprawling cast of characters to life.”
[McMeekin is] a young, talented historian.... [He] is scrupulously fair and judicious in assigning blame.... McMeekin has written a fascinating and original study of the opening stages of World War I, a book that supersedes, in my view, any previous study of that great topic.”
Harold Evans, New York Times Book Review
The historiography of World War I is immense, more than 25,000 volumes and articles even before next year’s centenary. Still, ... Sean McMeekin, 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.”
Sunday Times (London)
[A] work of meticulous scholarship.... It is McMeekin’s description of the details of life in the European capitals comparatively small events which influenced great decisions which make July 1914 irresistible.... It is that sort of intimacy which makes the story come alive as well as confirming the assiduity with which it has been researched.”
New York Review of Books
Sean McMeekin’s chronicle of these weeks in July 1914: Countdown to War is almost impossible to put down.... [McMeekin] delivers a punchy and riveting narrative of high politics and diplomacy over the five weeks after Sarajevo, more or less day by day, dwelling on small groups of decision-makers in and between the various capitals, and their interactions, by turns measured, perplexed, cordial, artful, angry, even tearful.”
Times Higher Education (UK)
In this detailed account of the events and decisions that marked the road to war, Sean McMeekin demonstrates how, during what seemed a peaceful summer month, something that might have ended (at worst) in just another bloody Balkan battle led instead to the outbreak of the greatest conflict since the Napoleonic Wars.... [A] startling exercise in revisionism.”
Stimulating and enjoyable.... Sean McMeekin’s July 1914 is controversial, arguing that Russia and France were more bent than Germany on war in July 1914.... [A] well-written book.”
In July 1914, Sean McMeekin [...] provides a day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour, account of the crisis that began with the assassination in Sarajevo. By keeping his account close to the shifting contours of the crisis, he is able to capture its human dimensions.”
On Point Radio
McMeekin makes this old story new. His history reads like a novel. Better, it unfolds like a play.... McMeekin adds dollops of fresh savory fact on every page. More importantly, he sees the whole crisis unclouded by bias for or against his characters or their countries.... July 1914 is superb history and compelling reading.”
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.”
The Independent (London)
Lucid, convincing and full of rich detail, the book is a triumph for the narrative method and a vivid demonstration that chronology is the logic of history.”
McMeekin’s account is particularly worth reading for the weight it puts on the French and Russian contribution in taking the continent to war, drawing on his excellent previous book The Russian Origins of the Frist World War.... [A] refreshingly original counterpoint to the traditional focus on Germany above all.”
Sunday Express (London)
Sean McMeekin’s splendid July 1914 unravels all the shenanigans, bluffs and bunglings by which Europe’s leaders and diplomats turned a minor murder in a Balkans backwater into total war.... McMeekin has rendered the complicated events of that fateful month as clearly and vividly as anyone could desire.”
[A] fascinating study of Austrian and German ham-handed diplomacy (bordering on cluelessness) combined with Russian and French duplicity, with a dose of British disengagement added for good measure.”
World War One Historical Association Magazine
[McMeekin’s] recounting of the imbroglio of July 1914 reads like a crime novel with personality sketches of the primary actors such as the belligerent Austrian Chief Of Staff von Hötzendoff and the shifty Serbian Premier Nicola Pasic.”
Journal of Military History
McMeekin convincingly challenges, as others are now doing, the more usual view of Germany as the driving force behind the war.... [His] explication of the successive diplomatic steps to war makes it easy for any reader to see the missed chances for possible negotiation or a slowing of the momentum to war.”
San Antonio Express-News
In an intimate narrative, McMeekin...delves into the five weeks between the assassination and Britain’s declaration of war, shedding new light on the conflict.... From a failed assassination attempt to a world war, McMeekin skillfully dissects the catastrophic events of July 1914.... July 1914 is an eye-opening elucidation on the beginning days of a war that was to end all wars.”
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.”
Dallas Morning News
The conventional wisdom of the last 100 years holds that Germany’s desire for empire and cultural hegemony turned 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.”
MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History
McMeekin is a wonderful storyteller, with a keen eye for the descriptive act, person, or scene.”
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.”
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.”
Alluding to historical controversies, McMeekin ably delivers what readers demand from a WWI-origins history: a taut rendition of the July 1914 crisis.”
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.”
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.”
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 lead 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.”
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