From the bestselling and award-winning author of Paris 1919 comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, a fascinating portrait of Europe from 1900 up to the outbreak of World War I. With a sweeping story, vivid characters, and sharp insight, Margaret MacMillan powerfully explores the decisions made and the economic, social, political, and human tensions that determined the outbreak of a war that transformed Europe and the world.
The century since the end of the Napoleonic wars had been the most peaceful era Europe had known since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the first years of the twentieth century, Europe believed it was marching to a golden, happy, and prosperous future. But instead, complex personalities and rivalries, colonialism and ethnic nationalism, Germany’s rise to power, and shifting and secret alliances all exerted influence and helped to bring about the failure of the long peace and the outbreak of war. MacMillan creates indelible portraits of people and identifies critical turning points when options narrowed and conflicts escalated so as to make avoiding war more difficult.
The War That Ended Peace brings vividly to life the military leaders, politicians, diplomats, bankers, and the extended, interrelated family of crowned heads across Europe who failed to stop the descent into war: in Germany, the mercurial Kaiser Wilhelm II and the chief of the German general staff, Von Moltke the Younger, nephew and namesake of the great Prussian officer Von Moltke the Elder; in Austria-Hungary, Emperor Franz Joseph, a man who tried, through sheer hard work, to stave off the coming chaos in his empire; in Russia, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife; in Britain, King Edward VII, Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, and British admiral Jacky Fisher, the fierce advocate of naval reform who entered into the arms race with Germany that pushed the continent toward confrontation on land and sea.
There are the would-be peacemakers as well, among them prophets of the horrors of future wars whose warnings went unheeded: Alfred Nobel, the wealthy dynamite manufacturer who donated his fortune to the cause of international understanding; and Bertha von Suttner, a writer and activist who was the first woman awarded Nobel’s new Peace Prize. Here too we meet Count Harry Kessler, an urbane and cosmopolitan German who, in his wide-ranging diaries, recorded many of the early signs that something was stirring in Europe; the young Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a rising figure in British politics; Madame Caillaux, who shot a man who might have been a force for peace; and more. Among other things, this book shows how the fateful decisions of a few powerful people changed the course of history.
Taut, suspenseful, and impossible to put down, The War That Ended Peace is also a wise cautionary reminder of how wars happen in spite of the near-universal desire to keep the peace. Destined to become a classic in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, The War That Ended Peace enriches our understanding of one of the defining periods and events of the twentieth century.
Advance praise for The War That Ended Peace
“The War That Ended Peace tells the story of how intelligent, well-meaning leaders guided their nations into catastrophe. These epic events, brilliantly described by one our era’s most talented historians, warn of the dangers that arise when we fail to anticipate the consequences of our actions. This is one of the finest books I have ever read on the causes of World War I.”—Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state
About the Author
Margaret MacMillan received her PhD from Oxford University and is now a professor of international history at Oxford, where she is also the warden of St. Antony’s College. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; a senior fellow of Massey College, University of Toronto; and an honorary fellow of Trinity College, University of Toronto, and of St Hilda’s College, Oxford University. She sits on the boards of the Mosaic Institute and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and on the editorial boards of The International History Review and First World War Studies. She also sits on the advisory board of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and is a Trustee of the Rhodes Trust. Her previous books include Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History, Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World, Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives, and Daughters of the British Empire in India, and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize, the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize, and the Duff Cooper Prize and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice.
Praise for The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914…
Advance praise for The War That Ended Peace
“[A] richly textured narrative about World War I . . . addressing the war’s build-up . . . [Margaret] MacMillan tells this familiar story with panache. A major contribution, however, is her presentation of its subtext, as Europe’s claims to be the world’s most advanced civilization ‘were being challenged from without and undermined from within.’ . . . MacMillan eloquently shows that ‘turning out the lights’ was not inevitable, but a consequence of years of decisions and reactions: a slow-motion train wreck few wanted but none could avoid.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The War That Ended Peace tells the story of how intelligent, well-meaning leaders guided their nations into catastrophe. These epic events, brilliantly described by one of our era’s most talented historians, warn of the dangers that arise when we fail to anticipate the consequences of our actions. This is one of the finest books I have ever read on the causes of World War I.”—Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state
“With sure deftness, Margaret MacMillan manages to combine excellent history with elements of the cliff-hanger. You keep hoping that, at the last moment, one of those idiot leaders of 1914 might see the light and blink before it’s too late. No one is better equipped to recount this story than Margaret MacMillan.”—Sir Alistair Horne, author of The Price of Glory
“In this epic tale of human folly, Margaret MacMillan brilliantly explores the minds of the flawed, fascinating men whose misguided decisions led to a conflagration that few wanted or believed would actually happen. The War That Ended Peace is a must-read book for our time.”—Lynne Olson, author of Those Angry Days
“Once again, Margaret MacMillan proves herself not just a masterly historian but a brilliant storyteller. She brings to life the personalities whose decisions, rivalries, ambitions, and fantasies led Europe to ‘lay waste to itself’ and triggered decades of global conflict. Hers is a cautionary tale of follies a century in the past that seem all too familiar today.”—Strobe Talbott, president, Brookings Institution
“The War That Ended Peace is a masterly explanation of the complex forces that brought the Edwardian world crashing down. Utterly riveting, deeply moving, and impeccably researched, Margaret MacMillan’s latest opus will become the definitive account of old Europe’s final years.”—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
Praise for Paris 1919
“The history of the 1919 Paris peace talks following World War I is a blueprint of the political and social upheavals bedeviling the planet now. . . . A wealth of colorful detail and a concentration on the strange characters many of these statesmen were keep [MacMillan’s] narrative lively.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“Beautifully written, full of judgment and wisdom, Paris 1919 is a pleasure to read and vibrates with the passions of the early twentieth century and of ours.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“For anyone interested in knowing how historic mistakes can morph into later historic problems, this brilliant book is a must-read.”—Chicago Tribune