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The War of the World [Paperback]

Niall Ferguson
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 30 2007
Astonishing in its scope and erudition, this is the magnum opus that Niall Ferguson's numerous acclaimed works have been leading up to. In it, he grapples with perhaps the most challenging questions of modern history: Why was the twentieth century history's bloodiest by far? Why did unprecedented material progress go hand in hand with total war and genocide? His quest for new answers takes him from the walls of Nanjing to the bloody beaches of Normandy, from the economics of ethnic cleansing to the politics of imperial decline and fall. The result, as brilliantly written as it is vital, is a great historian's masterwork.

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From Publishers Weekly

Why, if life was improving so rapidly for so many people at the dawn of the 20th century, were the next hundred years full of brutal conflict? Ferguson (Colossus) has a relatively simple answer: ethnic unrest is prone to break out during periods of economic volatility—booms as well as busts. When they take place in or near areas of imperial decline or transition, the unrest is more likely to escalate into full-scale conflict. This compelling theory is applicable to the Armenian genocide in Turkey, the slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda or the "ethnic cleansing" perpetrated against Bosnians, but the overwhelming majority of Ferguson's analysis is devoted to the two world wars and the fate of the Jews in Germany and eastern Europe. His richly informed analysis overturns many basic assumptions. For example, he argues that England's appeasement of Hitler in 1938 didn't lead to WWII, but was a misinformed response to a war that had started as early as 1935. But with Ferguson's claims about "the descent of the West" and the smaller wars in the latter half of the century tucked away into a comparatively brief epilogue, his thoughtful study falls short of its epic promise. (Sept. 25)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Ferguson's broadest work to date, this sprawling book folds the author's previous theories of empire and economics into an international history of twentieth-century violence. What went wrong with modernity, he asks, such that the Fifty Years War from 1904 to 1953 could be the bloodiest in history, and why did so much violence happen at particular times (such as the early 1940s) and particular places (such as eastern Europe)? To the common answers of ethnic conflict and economic volatility, Ferguson adds, perhaps unsurprisingly, the decline of empires. Consistent with Empire and Colossus, the problem was frequently that the empires of the twentieth century were too strong not to fight, but that they were too weak, as illustrated by an analysis of Britain's reluctance to intervene in Germany before 1939. Coupled with ubiquitous and persistent notions of racial superiority and the ill-fitting contours of nation-states, the borderlands of empires--Manchuria, Poland, the Balkans--became the killing fields of the twentieth century. In chronicling what he labels the "descent of the West," Ferguson challenges many scholars on many fronts, and deploys a broad spectrum of sources--from war novels to population data to his perennial attention to the bond markets. His ultimate conclusion--that the War of the World was the suicide of the West--is tinged with regret about what might have been, and perhaps even a Gibbon-esque anxiety about the coming Asian century. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Off Topic - but.... Jan. 19 2009
I finally ploughed my way through this one. I agree with my other esteemed reviewer, Niall went way off topic. I kept thinking Ferguson is never going to his initial thesis, but what an interesting book nonetheless. There are many sections where you cannot put the book down. It is like listening to a brilliant old sage, rambling on about world history and events. If you wanted an answer to how the western downfall occurred, you will be disappointed, but if you want to learn or refresh some very interesting facts about war history, this is a good book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than Expected Jan. 9 2012
By Volpone
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ferguson makes clear, very clear, that the inauguration of the 20th century was an unnecessary, baseless and monumentally destructive World War that could have been avoided. From there, he traces its consequences to the end of his book. You will have to judge for yourself how far he wanders away from his main thesis, or even if he does. The narrative leading up to the next World War is clarifying as well as edifying, to say the least.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Summary of a Century of Conflict April 10 2010
This is an excellent account of the military and cultural struggles of the early-to-mid 20th century, presented as a single narrative. Focused much more on the social and cultural canvas upon which these struggles were presented, it's telling that this "War" book doesn't mention combat in its first 300 pages. I would strongly advocate the use of this book to support to any undergraduate 20th century history class and would suggest it to anyone who is looking to touch up on their early 20th century history. If you have recently read a World War (I or II) book, and are worried that this will merely cover well-trodden ground, fear not; with you in mind, Mr. Ferguson seems to give only a hurried summary of the traditional Western war canon.

After having read several of Niall Ferguson's works as he has established himself as a generalist popular historian, I think this one will be remembered as his most relevant thus far.
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