The Pity of War
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The Pity of War

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The First World War killed around eight million men and bled Europe dry. In this provocative book Niall Ferguson asks: was the sacrifice worth it? Was it all really an inevitable cataclysm and were the Germans a genuine threat? Was the war, as is often asserted, greeted with popular enthusiasm? Why did men keep on fighting when conditions were so wretched? Was there in fact a death wish abroad, driving soldiers to their own destruction? The war, he argues, was a disaster - but not for the reasons we think. Far worse than a tragedy, it was the greatest error of modern history. "The most challenging and provocative analysis of the First World War to date." (Ian Kershaw). "Must take a permanent place at the top of the War's historiography. It is one of the very few books whose own scale matches that of the events it describes." (Alan Clark, Daily Telegraph). "Possibly the most important book to appear in years both on the origins of the First World War...Ferguson can confidently claim to have inherited A. J. P. Taylor's mantle." (Paul Kennedy, New York Review of Books). "At one massive stroke, Niall Ferguson has transformed the intellectual landscape." (Economist).

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Product details

  • Paperback | 672 pages
  • 130 x 196 x 34mm | 521.63g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • portraits
  • 0140275231
  • 9780140275230
  • 36,742

Review quote

The most challenging and provocative analysis of the First World War to date -- Ian Kershaw Must take a permanent place at the top of the War's historiography. It is one of the very few books whose own scale matches that of the events it describes -- Alan Clark Daily Telegraph Brilliant and stimulating ... radical, readable and convincing The Times Possibly the most important book to appear in years both on the origins of the First World War ... Ferguson can confidently claim to have inherited A. J. P. Taylor's mantle -- Paul Kennedy New York Review of Books At one massive stroke, Niall Ferguson has transformed the intellectual landscape Economist

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Review Text

As the 20th century draws to a close, Ferguson (Modern History/Oxford Univ.; The House of Rothschild, 1998) renders a brilliant reassessment of one of the century's most far-reaching and tragic wars, the First World War. Ferguson unpacks the terror and tragedy of the war while demolishing widely held beliefs about it. One of these was that the war was an inevitable result of regnant imperialism and militarism: Ferguson argues trenchantly that the trend in Europe in 1914 was away from militarism and that German feedings of growing military weakness started the war. Ferguson also contends that equivocal British policies in Europe and failure to maintain a credible army to back up its continental commitments, among other factors, led Britain needlessly to transform a continental conflict into a world war. Ferguson also establishes that until the collapse of the German leadership's morale in late 1918, Germany was actually winning the war by any important measure - though vastly economically inferior to Britain, Germany had defeated three of the Entente powers and came close to defeating France, Britain, and Italy. Moreover, Ferguson contends, because of the tactical excellence of its armies, Germany was far more efficient then the Entente powers at inflicting casualties on its enemies until the very end of its failed 1918 offensive. The author also attacks the common view that the masses greeted the war enthusiastically in 1914. He scrutinizes in depth the propaganda war, the often draconian suppression of dissent in the belligerent countries, the soldiers' diverse and often banal motives for fighting, and shifting combatant attitudes toward surrender, which, he asserts, was a risky act, since both sides routinely killed surrendering men. Changing attitudes toward surrender may have contributed to the final collapse of German form. In the end, Ferguson concludes, WWI was not unavoidable, but "the greatest error of modern history." Moving, penetrating, eye-opening, and lucidly reasoned. An important work of historical analysis. (Kirkus Reviews)

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About Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Senior Research Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He is the author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money, High Financier, Civilization and The Great Degeneration. His Kissinger, a feature-length film based on his interviews with Henry Kissinger, won the 2011 New York Film Festival prize for best documentary. His many other prizes and 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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