Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Awful Momentum


For many of us history buffs, a favorite general account of the lead-in to World War I is Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. With histories, succeeding generations build on their predecessors, bringing fresh views and sometimes even fresh materials, and we now have have Miranda Carter's George, Nicholas & Wilhelm as a new narrative satisfying as Guns.

A catastrophe of heredity, placement, Fate: Of the three cousins on the thrones of the great European empires, two were way over their heads and the third was fatally bombastic and close to insane. Focusing on the three principles enriches the larger story even as the reader familiar with the awful historical momentum mutters, "No nooo!" Here is the archaic imperial life, the disastrous misapprehensions and total incomprehension of consequences, the whole elegant bloody mess in all its glory. A superb work.

At the other end of the density spectrum, for a serviceable thumbnail history of the whole conflict, World War One by Norman Stone is good for an overview.

Gary Cowan
(Josh also wrote about George, Nicholas & Wilhelm on his own blog. You can check it out here.)

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