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Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  4,005 ratings  ·  426 reviews
From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I: the dramatic stretch from the breakdown of diplomacy to the battles - the Marne, Ypres, Tannenberg - that marked the frenzied first year before the war bogged down in the trenches.

In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings gives us a conflict different from the familiar one of barbed wire, mud and
Hardcover, 628 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by Knopf (first published September 12th 2013)
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James (JD) Dittes It depends on which sites you're planning to visit. Focused as it is on the first year of the war, it's primary set pieces are in Serbia, eastern…moreIt depends on which sites you're planning to visit. Focused as it is on the first year of the war, it's primary set pieces are in Serbia, eastern Poland (Battle of Tannenberg) and around Mons, Belgium. A lot of the book is behind-the-scenes blundering by kings and potentates.

If you're visiting a specific place like Belgium, Paris or The Somme, I'm sure there would be better WW1-related books.(less)

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Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-i
Max Hastings is one of the better World War II writer-historians working today. In books like Armageddon, Retribution, and Inferno, he manages to be both accessible and sophisticated. A general reader can enjoy his work, while a buff can learn something new. If you want a finely chiseled, conventional-wisdom-defying nugget to toss in your friend’s face while getting drunk with him at a bar, Hastings is the man to read.

His presentation is terse, stripped-down, and shorn of bluster and encomiums.
Mar 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
With this latest book, Mr. Hastings confirms my opinion that he is one of the two or three best military historians writing today. This is an excellent look the last half of 1914 as Europe spiraled into abattoir that became known as the Great War. He blends both high and low level views of the war to make a very readable volume.

Mr. Hastings looks at the causes of the war- the strategic position of Germany and her desire to dominate Continental Europe, the weakness of Austria, Russia’s desire to
Jun 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece of impeccable scholarship. Exhaustive, very detailed and informative, beautifully researched, well written, riveting, an absolute pleasure to read and highly recommended to anybody interested in a serious, comprehensive treatment of the events leading to the start of WWI, and also of the major events of the first 5 months of the war, up to Christmas 1914.

It is simply one of the best books that I ever read about WWI; pity that it stops at the end of the year 1914. I really wish the
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: great-war
Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War is an outstanding achievement by noted historian Max Hastings. Hastings revisits the course of events from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand through Christmas 1914 and in doing so revises the conventional wisdom on German and Austrian war guilt for the Great War. As Hew Strachan wrote in the NY Times: “(Hastings’) fans will recognize the trademarks: trenchant and Olympian judgments that eschew quirkiness in their pursuit of common sense and that ...more
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: european-history
In 1910 British General Henry Wilson told military students that a European war was likely. One student responded that such a war would take “inconceivable stupidity on the part of statesmen.” The general replied “inconceivable stupidity is just what you are going to get.” The responsibility for WWI is endlessly argued. Catching almost everyone by surprise, the war began precipitously as events quickly spun out of control. On June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo in Bosnia, recently annexed by ...more
Sep 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
I hate to do it but I can only give Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War 4 Stars, definitely a step down from my normal man-crush on everything Max Hastings scribbles down. I had to take away a star for the buildup to August 1914. It may be unfair but I read Tuchman’s The Guns of August a short time ago and was riveted at her account of the road to war. Sir Max’s account was simply not as good. At times, I practically had to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks. Tuchman had me on the edge of my ...more
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Like many British people, I have a family link to the Great War. My paternal grandfather, born in 1898, served on the Western Front with 2nd Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders. He would have joined the conflict during the period of static trench warfare that prevailed from Oct/Nov 1914 to the spring of 1918, very much the image of WWI that most West Europeans possess. Max Hastings' book covers the very start of that period, focusing on the lead-up to the War and the War itself from August to ...more
Dec 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, war
Catastrophe deserves more than 3 stars. Probably 4 or even 5, but I have to say this is one of longest reads I've had in some time. I think I've been reading this, on and off, for two months. It isn't the writing, since if anything Hastings has grown as a writer. His critical voice, his eye for the suffering soldiers and civilians, the calling out of stupid generals and politicians, is as good as it gets. And on top of that, "Catastrophe" brings some much needed attention to events in the East ...more
Tim Mercer
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars. Well worth a read by one of the more readable authors on the topic.

The book starts in the traditional place for WWI books, the Balkans. It outlines the overall recent history of the area and links that history into the current network of alliances between the Balkan countries with the major European powers.

From here he narrates the following 6 months and stops his book at the end of 1914. In this he describes the participants activities from the senior leadership down to the lowest
Joseph Spuckler
Apr 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war, military
Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War is nearly twenty-six hours of audio book covering the last six months of 1914. Last year being the 100th anniversary of The Great War has seen many WWI histories published. I look to each of the many I have read for something new or different. Granted writing a book takes a great deal of effort, but if it does not produce new knowledge, what is the point? Most of the new histories do take up one or two pieces of new information, like the value of railroads in ...more
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have spent the past three years reading everything I can get my hands on about world war one. Now that we are on the brink of the one hundredth anniversary of the Great War many new books are coming to market. “Catastrophe 1914” is one of them. In 1930 Sir Winston Churchill wrote “No part of the Great War compares in interest with its opening”. Max Hastings’s book addresses only the last six months of 1914. The book is well researched and Hastings draws on a wide range of documents and ...more
Mar 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exhaustive but readable account of the events of 1914. Hastings begins with the assassination of Ferdinand to the diplomatic machinations of the July crisis, to the outbreak of war in August. Hastings covers all the military actions of 1914 with the right amount of detail, including those events that have been largely forgotten, such as the Austrian invasion of Serbia that actually marked the beginning of the war’s military actions. His treatment of the British Expeditionary Force is very ...more
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-1
Is there anything really new under the sun to say about the outbreak of the First World War and the campaigns of its first 5 months? Well, no, not really, but that doesn't stop one of my favorite military historians from giving it a good go, and your reading this book will not go unrewarded. Taking into account the best of the last 20 years or so's historical research, Hastings has concluded that Germany and Austria bear the primary responsibility for the disaster that was WWI, and that ...more
Walter Mendoza
May 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Catastrophe 1914, is an cronicle about the WWI. The author examining the beginnings of the WWI, the Sarajevo assassinations, and follows the battlefield fighting; the hellish conditions of the trenches during the 1914.

The book covers whom and what started the conflict, the describes in vivid detail, the terrible tragedy of war. Well researched, with internal doccuments of the Triple Entente nations and the Triple Alliance. The major events from politics and military strategy, to the experiences
Cold War Conversations Podcast
A good wide ranging solid account of the first year of World War 1 covering both the strategic view and the view of the men and women in the front lines. Also some myth busting of the early performance of the BEF.

It was good to see attention to the often over looked eastern front.

I found some of the language Hastings uses a bit too smart for my liking. For example he keeps mentioning the German host when talking about the German armies. Maybe it's just me, but I found this quite irritating.

L Fleisig
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"O piteous spectacle! O bloody times!
Whiles lions war and battle for their dens,
Poor harmless lambs abide their enmity."
Wm. Shakespeare. King Henry VI, Part 3.

Max Hasting's "Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War" is a masterfully crafted account of Europe's descent into the apocalypse known as the Great War. It is a study that focuses on Europe's sabre-rattling lions who led millions headlong into the valley of the shadow of death. It also provides a compelling parallel narrative of the lambs,
Charles Inglin
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An excellent account of how Europe went to war in 1914 and the first months of the war. Max Hastings presents, I think, a fairly balanced accounting of the arrogance, pig-headedness, chauvinism and just plain stupidity that propelled Europe into a total war which would destroy three monarchies. I would perhaps quibble with his laying a greater amount of blame on Germany and somewhat less on France. While Kaiser Wilhelm could, had he been a more sagacious and stronger man, have stopped the march ...more
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is classic Max Hastings - history writing at its finest. Best known for his books on World War II, the author turns his sights to the outbreak of World War I and the initial campaigns in both the West and the East between August and December 1914. The result is an extremely well-written narrative that brings not only the political and military personalities to life but also conveys the horrors of the war as experienced by front-line officers, soldiers, and non-combatants. One of the ...more
Gumble's Yard
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Book which concentrates on 1914 and of which more than 80% covers the first year of the war - a period in which the protagonists came to terms with modern warfare (albeit Hastings claims that the US Civil War should have meant they had greater understanding than they did) although still sought for an elusive (and in Hastings view close to impossible) early victory.

The book covers the first few months of war in huge detail - the retelling given much greater interest (albeit probably reduced
James Murphy
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent, comprehensive account of Europe's stumble into war during the 2d half of 1914, beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, explaining the diplomatic moves by all the parties involved which led to open warfare, the opening months of the war characterized by maneuver, and, with the inability of either side to force a decision, the beginnings of static warfare in the trenches by Christmas.

Hastings spends considerable time describing the great social upheaval
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Hastings continues to impress -- at this point, I'd read anything he writes. A nice, in-depth history of the run-up to the war, and then a very detailed analysis of the first few months of the conflict. Both fronts are covered in great detail, as are the home fronts. For the armchair student of military history, this is the most interesting period of the war, with maneuver on a massive scale and competing militaries struggling, often unsuccessfully, to develop doctrine to cope with changes in ...more
Brendan Hodge
Nov 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-great-war
Max Hasting's first book on World War One stands at an interesting point between existing books. It doesn't fall neatly into the existing genres of books focused entirely on the causes of the Great War, nor histories of the whole war, nor histories focused on a single battle.

Even at the three quarters point reading it, I wasn't sure how this was working out. It is good on the start of the war (it was the Germans' fault) and on the initial battles of the Frontiers and Marne, but I've read other
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cheshire, hookah
, Max Hastings is a consummate craftsman, at the sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, and full manuscript level. further he has written four five star books. He answered a fan mail I wrote on his website. He's an accomplished journalist, and was knighted for services of same in 2002.

with this kind of record, the standards one sets for each work becomes high indeed. yet we must, alas, be compelled to shave off one star for this work, where it becomes "alphanumeric soup", a simple result of the WWI
Dec 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
American readers: Take this British book with a grain of salt.

Why? Because while Max Hastings is very good on military tactical issues, and solid on strategic ones in the first shifting of his pen from World War II to World War I, he's close to being all wet on geopolitical issues related to the start of the war.

First, the good.

Hastings gives more detailed coverage to the Eastern Front at the start of the war than do many WWI intros, which often talk about the battles of Tannenberg and Masurian
Sep 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: military, history
In “Catastrophe 1914” Max Hastings—-a master historian of WWII—-ventures back in time to WWI. It begins with details of the buildup of tensions in Europe between the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia) and the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy): increasing militarism, especially in a Germany that was effectively run by the Army under a Kaiser enamored of military pomp; creation of alliances tying countries together in military pacts; widespread labor unrest, ...more
Edgar Raines
Mar 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Hastings is a wonderful writer and has mastered a substantial literature in French and German as well as English. I think he presents balanced arguments about the major questions regarding the coming and conduct of the war. He is not a supporter of "the sleepwalker" thesis. European statesmen were "deniers" who refused to recognize the dangers of the policies that they were pursuing. He further believes that a British failure to intervene would have allowed the Germans to defeat the French and ...more
Oct 09, 2014 rated it did not like it
I have nothing against Mr. Hastings, and I commend and admire the effort and meticulous research he invested in creating this.

But I have never read a duller book. I lost count of the times I fell asleep trying to read it; one such event cost me $60 in cab fare after I missed my Metra stop. Even before that, however, I had commented on the abstruse method which which Hastings creates his sentences, with parenthetical and comma'd editorial, comparisons with other historians' views, and
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
It seems with the Centennial of 1914 this year a lot of books are coming out on the first world war. This one covers the July crisis and the diplomatic meltdown that lead to the opening catastrophe of the twentieth century. It then covers the mobilization and fighting in August the trench digging and stalemate after the battle of the Marne. The war up to the end of the year. It describes how Europe went from peace to a war that killed 10 million people and paved the way for an even worse ...more
Judith Bienvenu
Feb 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
It was pretty good. The author's objective was to have a lot of personal stories woven into the historical account, and that really didn't add a lot for me. Plus, he ends the book after the fronts stop moving (late 1914), and pays pretty much no attention to the later (albeit, more boring) trench warfare periods. I would have liked a more complete treatment.
Chris F
Very good book dealing with the lead up to the beginning and first few months of WWI. It is well researched and written, and steers clear of the pitfalls that many books one WWI fall into. No one will agree with everything an historian has to say one this topic, as the evidence is open to different interpretations, but this book goes into a lot of depth and is better than many.
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History for Enjoy...: Entirety -- Spoilers Possible 4 11 Oct 10, 2013 08:05PM  
History for Enjoy...: Through Chapter One (Spoilers discouraged) 1 7 Sep 28, 2013 07:51AM  

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Sir Max Hugh Macdonald Hastings, FRSL, FRHistS is a British journalist, editor, historian and author. His parents were Macdonald Hastings, a journalist and war correspondent, and Anne Scott-James, sometime editor of Harper's Bazaar.

Hastings was educated at Charterhouse School and University College, Oxford, which he left after a year.After leaving Oxford University, Max Hastings became a foreign
“As George Orwell wisely observed a generation later, the only way swiftly to end a war is to lose it.” 12 likes
“The quirky little melodrama that unfolded in Bosnia on 28 June 1914 played the same role in the history of the world as might a wasp sting on a chronically ailing man who is maddened into abandoning a sickbed to devote his waning days to destroying the nest” 5 likes
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