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Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914

Length: 28 hrs and 58 mins
Categories: History, First World War
4.5 out of 5 stars (314 ratings)

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Summary

The Amazon History Book of the Year 2013 is a magisterial chronicle of the calamity that befell Europe in 1914 as the continent shifted from the glamour of the Edwardian era to the tragedy of total war.

Nineteen fourteen was a year of unparalleled change. The year that diplomacy failed, imperial Europe was thrown into its first modernised warfare and white-gloved soldiers rode in their masses across pastoral landscapes into the blaze of machine guns. What followed were the costliest days of the entire war. But how had it happened?

In Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914, Max Hastings, best-selling author of the acclaimed All Hell Let Loose, answers at last how World War I could ever have begun.

Ranging across Europe, from Paris to St. Petersberg, from Kings to corporals, Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 traces how tensions across the continent kindled into a blaze of battles - not the stalemates of later trench-warfare but battles of movement and dash where Napoleonic tactics met with weapons from a newly industrialised age. A searing analysis of the power brokering, vanity and bluff in the diplomatic maelstrom reveals who was responsible for the birth of this catastrophic world in arms. Mingling the experiences of humbler folk with the statesmen on whom their lives depended, Hastings asks: whose actions were justified? From the outbreak of war through to its terrible making and the bloody gambles in Sarajevo and Mons, Le Cateau, Marne and Tannenberg, this is the international story of World War I in its most severe and influential period.

Published to coincide with its 100th Anniversary, Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 explains how and why this war, which shattered and changed the Western world for ever, was fought.

©2015 Max Hastings (P)2015 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"Magnificent...Hastings writes with an enviable grasp of pace and balance, as well as an acute eye for human detail. Even for readers who care nothing for the difference between a battalion and a division, his book is at once moving, provocative and utterly engrossing." ( Sunday Times)
"Masterly...Hastings is a brilliant guide to that strange, febrile twilight before Europe plunged into darkness. Writing in pungent prose suffused with irony and underpinned by a strong sense of moral outrage, Catastrophe is a frontal assault on what Hastings calls the "poets' view"...This is history-writing at its best, scholarly and fluent...for anyone wanting to understand how that ghastly, much-misunderstood conflict came about, there could be no better place to start than this fine book." ( The Times)
"One could scarcely ask for a better guide to these horrors than Max Hastings...he is a superb writer with a rare gift for evoking the rhythm, mood and raw physical terror of battle...If you are looking for a humane and compelling interpretive chronicle of the formative months of this horrific conflict, you will find none better." ( Mail on Sunday)
"Very readable. Character, pace, sense of landscape, battlefield detail - all are superbly done...it's a splendid read." ( Observer) "'No part of the Great War compares in interest with its opening', wrote Churchill, and Hastings does full justice to its appalling drama... Catastrophe is rich in unexplored sources from every side of the conflict and every theatre of the war." (David Crane, Spectator)
"Vigorous and readable, making good use of the worm's eye-view...Engaging, well paced and, despite the grim subject matter, often entertaining." ( New Statesman)
"Vivid and compelling...superbly detailed and nuanced...Hastings is a master of the pen portrait and the quirky fact...yet his greatness as a historian - never shown to better effect than in this excellent book - lies in his willingness to challenge entrenched opinion." (Saul David, Evening Standard)
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Highly recommended

An excellent history of the outbreak and progress up to the end of 1914 of World War I by the eminent Max Hastings.

Although much of the subject matter is grim, it's a relatively easy listen - a tribute to the craftsmanship of both author and narrator.

Highly recommended.

9 people found this helpful

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For all History Nerds

An excellent account of the build up to the war and its first 12 months. A good balance between detail and strategic level coverage. A useful addition to the wealth of narration on the subject providing useful perspective. Good narration.

5 people found this helpful

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Detailed analysis of the start of World War One

This book was a fascinating listen. There were a lot of details I had no idea about. I was very ignorant about the start of WWI but I feel like I have a good grasp of it now.
I did not feel Max Hastings was biased towards his British routes. In fact he is not afraid to shine a light on the failures of the British government and it’s army.
The main focus is on Britain, France, Germany and Austria. I would have welcomed more about the eastern front but there is plenty to get stuck into.
Plenty about the home front and the British forays into the North Sea.
The reading of Nigel Harrington is excellent and kept me entertained through the lengthy listen.
I will recommend to anyone interested in the time period.

3 people found this helpful

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A comprehensive review

If you could sum up Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 in three words, what would they be?

authoritive, comprehensive & readible

Any additional comments?

A really in-depth look at the build up to War and the consequences thereafter. Refreshing to read this even handed review from all perspectives.
The best book I've read on the subject of the break-out of The Great War.

2 people found this helpful

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well read, comprehensive account

well read, comprehensive account, great mix of fact and anecdotes, would recommend, narration really brought the horror into account

2 people found this helpful

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Depressing, harrowing but gripping history

I recently listened to the author’s magisterial history of the Second World War, All Hell Let Loose, and had high hopes that the present book about the First WW would be similarly illuminating. It is, though more concentrated in time covering just the five months of war in 1914. The author gives a detailed account of how so many countries got involved in the war, and their varying reasons, but overall it appears it was without much thought other than the hubris of rulers and/or hopes of grabbing more land, with the assassination of Austrian Archduke merely acting as the trigger.

It’s astonishing how confident both the leaders and general public were that the conflict would be over in weeks or months. The naivety of the early volunteers, over how the war would be waged, is heart-breaking and the horrors they had to endure beyond anything they could have dreamed possible. Many of the armies were ill-prepared for war, which added to the soldiers suffering and the casual way that, often incompetent, generals pushed men to their deaths as literally cannon fodder is appalling. ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ is a phrase used about the leadership of the First WW, but it’s an insult to donkeys!

Though not a happy listen it’s a chastening reminder of how terrible war can be, especially when several parties are involved and how ‘modern’ warfare ravages towns and cities, involves civilians and decimates the large tracks of land.

A moving and gripping story told by excellent narrators.

5 people found this helpful

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Brilliant!

I’ve read or listened to several of Max Hastings’ books over the last few years and now consider him the “go to” author for enlightenment over the two world wars and their principal actors. I don’t think anybody could accuse Mr Hastings of being a “dangerous leftie”, but he doesn’t stray over to a rightist or revisionist camp either. Instead what you get are “warts and all” portrayals of facts and personalities crafted from meticulous research and analysis. He resists the temptation to lionise characters on whom posterity usually bestows mythical status, while also refusing to pillory completely those characters whom history commonly holds up as bogeymen. There is no nationalism or fawning populism or hero worship in these refreshingly honest books!
Turning to “Catastrophe” specifically, this is the first book I’ve come across on WW1 that has left me with a good grasp of how the pre-war Alliances functioned (or malfunctioned) and whose “fault” the outbreak of a global conflict was. Other books or documentaries on the subject, it seems to me, dole out arguments along the lines of “on the one hand this” but “on the other hand such-and-such”, always sidestepping the issue of actual blame. No Empire is spared Max Hastings’ scorn and criticism, but he does, in the end, point the finger at Germany for taking matters that one irrevocable step further than was needed, turning a frightening possibility into a catastrophic inevitability. But not without, previously, having doled out some very harsh criticism of the Russians and Austro-Hungarians for their hysterics and posturing while lacking the military might and expertise, or logistical back-up, to bring any kind of military conflict to a quick conclusion.
The author is also very adept at showing the internal hierarchies within these vast European “Empires”, where in most cases a rather stupid figurehead propped up by an equally sclerotic and hidebound coterie of aristocrats and generals, would make decisions affecting millions of people in the way small boys would play at soldiers. Mr Hastings’ portraits of these people are done deftly and sparingly, so you don’t get mired in a mud bath of unpronounceable names and titles; rather, a spotlight is shone on the lamentable and ego-stroking decision-making that can happen when there’s no democracy or checks and balances in supposedly modern nations.
The book ends just a few months into WW1 - but far enough along the line to show the obsolescence of 19th century war making and strategising. We finish this book seeing the inevitability of mechanised 20th century warfare and the horrors to come. The new weapons have almost taken on a life of their own and the top brass of all the belligerents are left clueless as to how to catch up, cerebrally or logistically.
This book is highly recommended to anyone who continues to scratch their head over the causes of WW1 (as I had since O Level history some 55 years ago!) for its clarity, succinctness and fairness, all wrapped up in some superbly paced writing. I shall definitely be listening to this one again, probably before the year’s out!

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Fantastic

Great book one of the best in its class. I loved it from start to finish and it answered lots of questions about one of the worlds most violent periods. Get it you'll love it.

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The Road to WW1

Max Hastings style is to mix high-level politics and events with personal stories. This book is a powerful overview of the lead up to WW1 and then the events of the war until the end of 1914. The way it is written captures the jingoistic lunacy and blind overconfidence that tipped the European powers into what was probably an avoidable war. Its title says it all. You then get to see how this resulted in the intractable stalemate that took 4 years to break.

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Another Max Hastings classic

I bought this book because I’ve always enjoyed his other works and this delivered once again. Good book excellent narration, something as important as the content for me.

Well done all involved, I’ll carry on buying this author.