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1913: The World Before the Great War

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  921 ratings  ·  139 reviews
Forever in the shadow of the war which followed, 1913 is usually seen as little more than the antechamber to apocalypse. Our perspectives narrowed by hindsight, the world of that year is reduced to its most frivolous features - last summers in grand aristocratic residences, a flurry of extravagant social engagements - or its most destructive ones: the unresolved rivalries ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published February 6th 2014 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2013)
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Oct 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-i
The world of 1913 is absolutely fascinating to me. It was an era of marked contradictions. Peace and prosperity walked hand-in-glove with international tension and preparations for catastrophic war. Technological innovations such as airplanes and automobiles gave this world a modern feel. Yet for the majority of people, life continued as it had in the 19th century. There were democratic movements, emerging market economies, and globalization. But there was also colonialism, autocracy, and centur ...more
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
2014 is the hundred year anniversary of the outbreak of the first world war. As a result, history buffs will be treated to a windfall of new books on the wars, many of which appear to be quite good. This is a natural prelude to those books, focusing on the year prior to the outbreak of war.

I enjoyed the book, but it was a bit odd. The plan is for Barbara Tuchman (The Proud Tower) to meet the Baedeker guides for the major cities of the world in 1913. The usual suspects are covered - Londen, Paris
Jul 31, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by Charles Emmerson, an Australian-born scholar connected to London's Chatham House, "1913" is an engaging and fresh take on world affairs on the eve of the First World War. Instead of interpreting or re-interpreting the period through a modern lens informed by what happened during and after the First World War, Emmerson attempts to describe the world as it might have appeared to the people alive at the time--people blissfully unaware of the "Great War" and its destructive consequences. ...more
Kirsty Darbyshire
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: paperback
It took me four months to get from end of this book to the other and I feel I could quite easily reread it straight away and get even more out of it. It filled in some gaping holes in my knowledge. Taking a different approach to many histories it stays at the same point in time, on the eve of the First World War, and goes round the world looking at the situation in many different cities. It starts off in London, goes for a jaunt across the various old cities of Europe, on to the New World cities ...more
Nicholas Whyte
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The author worked alongside me in the International Crisis Group back in the early years of this century, and went on to greater thinktanky things; in this book, he looks at 1913, the last year before the first world war, from the perspective of twenty-three great cities, starting and ending with London, but visiting the Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia and the rest of Europe en route. It's a masterly synthesis of what was going on in global politics,
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
The book is a clever idea. It takes a tour of the worlds major cities in 1913 on the eve of a world shattering war however I found this book somewhat unsatisfying. There seemed to be no coherent story line.I know history is often a story we impose on a jumble of past events which are more confused than what we remember but when reading a history it is always more appealing to have a coherent narrative rather than a cacophony of clashing pictures. Maybe it really was confusing back then and to pu ...more
Milton Soong
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A good overview about the vanished world on the eve of the great war. This is similar in scope to Tuchman's Proud Tower and a much more accessible work. It also covers the entire world. There are interesting tidbit about Mexican revolution, the Young Turks, and the end of the Chin Dynasty in China. There are of course the standard coverage of the European and American powers.
Nothing deep or original, but if you are looking for a none-depressing historical survey of the 20th century (all the depr
Logan Crossley
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I always hated Sundays as a kid because I knew something was ending despite my efforts to prolong it. My dad's asleep on the couch with golf on the TV, and I'm staring up at a ceiling fan trying to absorb the last gasp of the weekend. I kinda shudder to reinhabit the quiet malaise that accompanied that sense of vaguely perceptible loss. It's associated with images and feelings: the crawl of the afternoon sun, a cool sweat inside my house, and a disappearing window for finishing homework too long ...more
Adam Balshan
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
2.5 stars [History]
Writing: 3; Use: 3; Truth: 2.5.

Emmerson writes a decent and unusual work, which presents a blimp's view of 22 international cities in the year before the first World War. The writing was above average. A few of the truths were notable (3.5 stars), but enough material made its way into the book to counterbalance to a 2.5. These include what seems like an outsider's view of economics, particularly in the realms of capitalist theory and the practice of monopoly. Class and race co
Connor Veitch
The book "1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War" is a good attempt at trying to make a book of facts more interesting. It takes time to describe certain historical events in great detail and it does a good job at that, but some parts of the book tend to drag, and ends up becoming a pain to read through. The parts of the book that have good pacing are very good and there are many good facts presented.
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating tour of the world before WWI, covering Western and non-Western urban centres. The chapter on Peking was particularly well-written and I gained a greater understanding of what was happening in Asia, Africa, India, and South America which is often overlooked.
David Bisset
Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating study of life in capital cities on the verge of the Great War.
Feb 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: suspended

I wanted to love this, get deep into the world on the precipice of war and "modernity." Unfortunately, I got bored. Maybe more about me than the book. I was looking for something that would knit politics and culture together. The author starts with segmentation by major city. I dropped out.
Barbara Stoner
"A European could survey the world in 1913 as the Greek gods might have surveyed it from the snowy heights of Mount Olympus: themselves above, the teeming earth below. To be a European, from this perspective, was to inhabit the highest stage of human development."

So begins Charles Emmerson’s 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War .

1913 attempts to paint a picture of each of 20 world capitals in the year before the great war. How did they view the world? What were their expectations fo
Neither here nor there, I'm afraid. I was intrigued by the conceit of examining a dozen or so major world cities in 1913, particularly the fairly broad global selection, but unfortunately the book tends to stray too wide to be really interesting, at least for my tastes. There are snapshots of each city, and those are great, but they're far too brief. Mostly it becomes just a jumping off point for short, tip-of-the-iceberg, ho-hum political histories. So the Tokyo chapter spends a lot of time on ...more
Ray Minjares
The book attempts to characterize the goings on in 2013 of various cities around the world. London is the capitol if finance. France is the capitol of pleasure. Berlin is the Capitol of industry. Tokyo is a westernized Asia. Shanghai is a westerner's island in an Eastern world. And we get snapshots of Constantinople, Bombay, and several cities in the United States.

The choice of cities is not particularly well explained. The focus on cities is not quite adhered to. We get mostly a survey of nati
This is my first foray into a yearlong project, to read about the runup to the Great War, its execution, and its aftermath, in observance of the centenary of that great conflict.

The year 1913 is an interesting year, coming as it did just before things went to hell in 1914. The intent here was to take a picture of the world before WWI ushered in mechanized warfare, the rise of dictatorship, and persistent economic unrest. Despite its many flaws and weaknesses, 1913 was a time of relative peace, p
David Shane
Aug 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book - and I think I can say that the author accomplished his purpose, which was to look at the year 1913 *on its own terms*. Most histories, knowing that WWI was about to begin, would see the events of the year as a natural lead-up to that great war - but one of the major points the author is trying to drive home here is that most of the world in 1913 had no idea what was just around the corner. Indeed many of them were celebrating inevitable progress and peace and the unity of ma ...more
Nate Briggs
Publishing this book in 2013 gives the author a tidy, 100-year yardstick between today and 1913: which might be considered the last "innocent" year. The last year before most people knew how effective modern technology would be at killing people.

The typical task for the historian is to build a skein of meaning from a list of events. But this is less History than just Inventory: a snapshot of life in many different cities during the year in question.

Essentially just long newspaper dispatches fro
Matthew Griffiths
This is quite an unusual one really. A brief summary of what the book aims to do is paint a snap shot of several major cities, some up and coming and others well established, before the eruption of the First World War. In this the book definitely succeeded in painting some very interesting scenes. However the thing that confused me slightly is that I feel a better title would have been "In search of the world before the wars". While many of the cities discussed within the book are those that wer ...more
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting book. Most history focuses on war, this book looked at an age that preceded the abyss that was WWI. It did this from the perspective of the major cities throughout the world.

Of particular interest for me was the background on the activities in Persia at this time; the assassination of Nassar al-Din Shah in 1896. The activities of his son Muzaffar, who died in 1907 and finally, the mismanagement of Ahmad Shah Qatar (the sweet eater) who caused so much trouble for Persia/I
Norman Metzger
Jan 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The key to the book's intentions are in the vary last sentence: "At the stroke of midnight 1913 died. The year was 1914." That the world of 1913 did not in the least prepare us for the disaster that come is sharply and wonderfully drawn through sketches of events in 1913 in cities around the world: London, Paris, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Shanghai, Washington.... It was a remarkable task the author set for himself, driven by his obvious determination not to be superficial but to offer exacting and we ...more
Jan 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
As most books describing the immediate time before the Great War do, the parallels between then and now are intriguing. The waining of one empire and the ascension of a new one, internal conflicts of another and increasing nationalism - not to mention a globalised world in the knowledge that international confrontations can have devastating consequences for all.
To choose to portray cities instead of single politicians of the time might seem strange at a first glance, but knowing that in most cas
Lauren Albert
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-european
Emmerson attempts to draw a picture of a year with the idea of showing that the war was not felt looming by most people-that it was not predestined or unavoidable. The limitations, of course, are due to his focusing solely on cities though he does cast a broad net there and look at cities around the world.
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thrilling and insightful tour of the world in the year before the Kaiser's War.
May 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the concept of this book. It takes a look at what the world was like before World War 1. WWI changed so much of our world. What we have as our modern world is owed largely in part to WWI (both the good and bad), and I think that makes it so much harder to think about and imagine the pre-WWI world. We think it was only 100 years ago so it must have been fairly similar, but WWI caused a seismic shift.
Now, the problem I have with the book is that it often seems be an anecdotal account of the
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
When I asked myself, why did Mr Emmerson write this book, my eventual answer was that he might have been speculating and in a wonder about the years prior to the Great War. He had to put it in print.
By thinking this way, the book started to open up to me and it was then, that I could make sense of the narratives.

" Around the world, throughout history, great powers had risen from obscurity to conquer huge tracts of the world or to weld magnificent empires from disparate territories-- Some of the
The Book Worm
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
There's a world of information in this book. It's an amazing report of the life, the politics, the good and the bad of people and countries at the beginning of the twentieth century. Even though I had a general knowledge about that era, I still learned a lot while reading the book. It is amazing to see how the world was so different just a little over a hundred years ago, how much we have evolved since then - and yet, at the same time, how some of the social and political problems at that time a ...more
May 28, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book caught my eye because both of my paternal grandparents were born in 1913. I was curious as to what the world was like in the year that they were born. This book definitely gave me detailed insight into the cultural and political climate of that year. Each chapter describes the events of 1913 in a different city of the world. I gave the book 2 stars because even though the city-by-city format is interesting, I eventually grew frustrated having to start the year over again every time I s ...more
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Very good book ... and in part because it doesn't limit itself to Europe, plus maybe the US and a peek at the Empire, like most books like this do.

I learned a few things about Winnipeg, Mexico City at the time of the Revolution, and Buenos Aires, including that Argentina, whom some historians hold up for a strong economy and a "what if" issue vs the US 100 years ago, actually defaulted on its debt in the 1890s, which undercuts the "what if"-ers.

There was nothing "majestic" here, but for those wh
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Author and senior research fellow at Chatham House.

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