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The Pity of War: Explaining World War I Paperback – Mar 2 2000
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"There is much to admire in The Pity of War...Niall Ferguson can confidently claim to have inherited [A.J.P.] Taylor's mantle."―New York Review of Books
"An illuminating synthesis of current knowledge on the war. The reader will find plenty of fresh information and challenging ideas on the conflict's most important aspects."―New York Times Book Review
"The Pity of War is one of the most controversial histories to come along in decades. Niall Ferguson...offers a bold, revisionist account of the Great War." Washington Post―Washington Post
"Niall Ferguson, the enfant terrible of the Oxford history establishment...shatter[s] the display cases of the museum of World War I. Persuasive...affecting."―Boston Globe
"A rich and provocative book, evocative and heartbreaking. Ferguson is a talented writer and a versatile scholar."―Atlantic
"Brings for the first time the carnage of 1914-18 into sharp, unmystified focus. This is analytical history at its mordant best. With all its other merits, The Pity of War is also a work of grace and feeling."―Economist
About the Author
Niall Ferguson is one of the world's most renowned historians. He is the author of books including:The House of Rothschild, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money, High Financier, Civilization, The Great Degeneration, Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, and The Square and the Tower. He is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. His many awards include the Benjamin Franklin Prize for Public Service (2010), the Hayek Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2012) and the Ludwig Erhard Prize for Economic Journalism (2013).
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The only weak spot is that not enoufg explanations are given why the central powers collapsed starting August 1918. Anyway a must have for anybody interested in WW1.
In the Summer 2001 issue of National Interest, Michael Howard, the doyen of war studies, was decidedly cool to the conclusions in The Pity of War, although not hostile to Ferguson' alternative approach, which he called "a refreshing variant on an otherwise sterile debate." In a separate 2001 interview Michael Howard claimed that the biggest breakthrough in the field of military history in his lifetime had been the "study of 'total history'; history studied in real depth and width."
It seems to me this is precisely what Ferguson's work provides and why it should be recommended. This is a book on war filled with charts and graphs showing the movement of bond prices, not battle maps showing the movement of divisions. If this book were written by a lesser talent, it would have been an embarrassing failure. But Ferguson writes extremely well and (perhaps more importantly given the recondite subject matter) his chapters are neatly laid out and his main points are clearly elucidated. Clearly elucidated -- and outlandish.
The book reads as if it were ghost-written by Alfred von Wegerer, the head of Germany's Center for the Study of the Causes of the War, a quasi-think tank offshoot of the War Guilt Section of the German Foreign Ministry in the 1920s and 30s whose sole mission was to spin the history of World War I in Germany's favor. First, he blames his native Britain for just about everything: diplomatic blundering that led to the start of the war; entry into the war that made it a global conflict; and a contribution to the war that made it stretch on for four long, miserable years. Second, he claims that a German victory would have just led to a benign, EU-like arrangment on the continent. Again, I say: It is the heterodox approach and perspective of this book that makes it well worth reading, not its iconoclastic message.
In closing, if you are looking for one book to read on the First World War, this is not the one to get. If, however, you are familiar with the subject and are looking for a book that will challenge your assumptions and perhaps make you rethink your understanding the seminal conflict of the twentieth century, The Pity of the War may be well-worth your time.
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