May 24, 12
Read in February, 2012
This is another outstanding book by Barbara Tuchman. It paints a vivid and fascinating picture of the world in the period before World War 1. I think she manages to avoid the obvious danger of seeing everything through the lens created by our modern perspective, knowing, as we do now, that the War was coming and that it would change everything about the world forever. The descriptions of society in Britain, the US, and in particular France (I found the in-depth explanation of the Dreyfus affair to be particularly fascinating) are all incredibly illuminating. There is also a chapter devoted to the issue of Anarchism and its importance in Europe (and the US). We tend to forget just how many political leaders were assassinated during that period, and the important effect these actions had on society.
My only real complaint is that she focuses almost exclusively on Europe and the US. Obviously, there is much more to the World than this, and more about Russia, the Far East, Africa and the Middle East would be nice (along with South America). However, given where WW1 would take place and the actors involved, it's not surprising that she focuses where she does.
All in all this is a fascinating book and one that should ideally be read by anyone planning on opining about the period or its cultural and historical heritage.