Geoffrey Wawro

A Mad Catastrophe

The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire

Basic Books 2014

New Books in Eastern European StudiesNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network May 27, 2014 Kelly McFall

When I was in graduate school, those of us who studied World War One commented regularly on the degree to which historians concentrated their...

When I was in graduate school, those of us who studied World War One commented regularly on the degree to which historians concentrated their attention on the Western front at the expense of the other aspects of the war. In the years since then (I won’t say how many), historians have worked hard to remedy this neglect.  Nevertheless, we still know much less about the Eastern Front than we do about events in France or even the homefronts of Western and Central Europe.

Geoffrey Wawro‘s new book A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire (Basic Books, 2014), fills in an important part of this gap.  Wawro is most interested in understanding why the Empire chose to go to war despite (or perhaps because of) its many challenges and why it failed so immediately and drastically.  Decisions made by diplomats, soldiers and politicians in Vienna played a critical role in starting the war.  And decisions made by the leaders of the Monarchy’s army’s played just as important a role in leading an admittedly flawed instrument to defeat.

Wawro tells this story with verve and insight.  His characterizations are compelling and his prose stimulating.  It’s a book that reads like a novel yet answers crucial questions about the course of the war.  It helps us understand a collapse that set the stage for decades of death and destruction.  For that reason alone, Wawro’s analysis of that collapse is a great addition to our understanding of the war and of Central Europe in the Twentieth Century.

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