Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy

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9780465081851: Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy

David Stevenson's widely acclaimed history of World War I changes forever our understanding of that pivotal conflict. Countering the commonplace assumption that politicians lost control of events, and that the war, once it began, quickly became an unstoppable machine, Stevenson contends that politicians deliberately took risks that led to war in July 1914. Far from being overwhelmed by the unprecedented scale and brutality of the bloodshed, political leaders on both sides remained very much in control of events throughout. According to Stevenson, the disturbing reality is that the course of the war was the result of conscious choices—including the continued acceptance of astronomical casualties. In fluid prose, Stevenson has written a definitive history of the man-made catastrophe that left lasting scars on the twentieth century. Cataclysm is a truly international history, incorporating new research on previously undisclosed records from governments in Europe and across the world. From the complex network of secret treaties and alliances that eventually drew all of Europe into the war, through the bloodbaths of Gallipoli and the Somme, to the arrival of American forces, and the massive political, economic, and cultural shifts the conflict left in its wake, Cataclysm is a major revision of World War I history.

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About the Author:

David Stevenson is Professor of International History at the London School of Economics. He is the author of numerous publications on this subject, including The First World War and International Politics and The Outbreak of the First World War: 1914 in Perspective. He lives in London.

From Publishers Weekly:

Although more treatise than narrative, and not for skimmers, this book should be on the shelf with the best of the many books about WWI. A professor of international history at the London School of Economics and author of two earlier books on that war, Stevenson analyzes the bankruptcy of reason that precipitated the war and kept it going. According to Stevenson, some regimes saw, in the unifying effects of a popular war, cures for menacing internal turbulence, but, as he shows, the war turned unpredictably on its makers in most nations. Stevenson's close analysis of the political, economic and cultural dimensions of the conflict unravels the reasons why Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Italy, Russia, France and even Britain saw much to gain from a war that each hoped to win in short order, with the help of allies. But the irony of unanticipated outcomes derailed strategies, loyalties, ideals and even governments—which lost control of events. "Nothing ever seen before," Stevenson writes, "compared with such massive concentrations of firepower and of human suffering... and with such meagre results." The imposed postwar settlement contained "time bombs" of political instability (such as Yugoslavia) that keep exploding even today. Stevenson is particularly critical of American involvement, which, he says, pushed Germany toward surrender, but was also belated, inefficient, badly led and (with respect to President Wilson) diplomatically unsophisticated in coping with European cynicism. Despite some inconsistencies and contradictions, and its lack of a human dimension to the horror, Cataclysm is a major re-examination of the shaping tragedy of the 20th century. 37 b&w photos.
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