In 1914, a new kind of war came about, bringing with it a new kind of world. World War One began on horseback, with generals employing bayonet charges to gain ground, and ended with attacks resembling the Nazi blitzkriegs. The scale of devastation was unlike anything the world had seen before: Fourteen million combatants died, a further twenty million were wounded, and four empires were destroyed. Even the victors' empires were fatally damaged. An overwhelming disaster from which the world is still recovering, World War One can seem baffling in its complexity. But now Norman Stone, one of world's greatest military historians, has composed a dazzlingly lucid and succinct history of the conflict. Stone has distilled a lifetime of teaching, arguing, and thinking into this brisk and opinionated account of the fundamental tragedy of the twentieth century.
Stone is as unconventional as he is brilliant, and this provocative interpretation of the Great War combines impressive command of the literature with a telling eye for relevant facts and a sensitive ear for telling epigrams. Stone presents a Europe that in 1914 bestrode the world like the proverbial colossus. Four years later, the continent faced a spectrum of disasters: shattered economies, shattered societies, shattered lives and shattered illusions. Stone demonstrates the contingent nature of the war's outbreak and analyzes the continued failure to achieve decision on the Western Front until 1917. Stone specializes in Great War Russia, does a first-rate job of presenting the consequences of the collapse of four empires: Hapsburg, German, tsarist and Ottoman. He challenges current interpretations of the postwar treaties, presenting them as a list of failures. The attempt to integrate the world economy collapsed. The postwar expansion of colonial empires proved ephemeral. The League of Nations "declined into irrelevance." Stone reserves his harshest criticism for the punitive terms imposed on a Germany convinced neither of its defeat nor the injustice of its cause. That, he asserts convincingly, laid the groundwork for a second, more terrible conflict. Photos, maps. (May)
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April 26, 2009
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