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Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  300 ratings  ·  27 reviews
David Stevenson's widely acclaimed history of World War I changes forever our understanding of that pivotal conflict. Countering the commonplace assumption that politicians lost control of events, and that the war, once it began, quickly became an unstoppable machine, Stevenson contends that politicians deliberately took risks that led to war in July 1914. Far from being o ...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published May 11th 2005 by Basic Books (first published 2004)
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4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  300 ratings  ·  27 reviews

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Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-i
“The First World War was the greatest event of its time, not only for what happened during it but also for its subsequent impact. Its global repercussions extended down to 1945, and arguably to the collapse of Soviet Communism and the end of the Cold War, not to say beyond. It has become to see it as the opening of an age of catastrophe, or as the beginning of a ‘short twentieth century’ that lasted until 1989, after which (and especially after 11 September 2001) the world entered a different er ...more
Dec 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
To date, "Cataclysm" is probably the best single-volume history of World War I available. David Stevenson avoids being bogged down by minutiae presented in chronological order. He opts for painting the big picture in great detail, using succint prose as his brush.

The demands of military history require Stevenson to present the war as it happened in the opening moves of 1914 But he skips past the stasis of the middle period to resume the thread of events in spring, 1917. Other authors succumb to
Mar 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Political analysis of the First World War, and how the political elites had willingly acted in favor of war, and made the bloody mess continue. I defer to Margaret MacMillan's review here.
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books you will ever read on World War One. Stevenson points out some very important facts about the war; how the war was lengthened by both sides' intransigence believing always that they could win, how all sides suspended the gold standard, why America went to war when Britain was on the edge of bankruptcy, and about the little talked about Allied invasion of Russia to try to prevent the Bolsheviks from taking control and so much more. Its all woven into a masterfully to ...more
Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
-Sobre el marco general de la Gran Guerra, perspectivas socioeconómicas y sociopolíticas de la misma.-

Género. Historia.

Lo que nos cuenta. Aproximación a la Primera Guerra Mundial que trata de explicar las razones de su comienzo, las del aumento de las hostilidades y su recrudecimiento, las de su final y las consecuencias de la misma, haciendo hincapié en que no fue un conflicto de naturaleza “menor” que se fue escapando de las manos y sí un enfrentamiento de voluntades respaldado por razones con
Feb 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in World War I
David Stevenson's Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy may be the best coverage of the First World War ever written. This terse, detail filled tome covers, in incredible detail, the political, financial, logistical, and strategic decisions and challenges faced by all of the belligerents.

When I was in middle school, our coverage of World War I started with a class exercise. We broke into groups, were given a written description of our groups’ thoughts (basically- ‘You have an agre
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-war
A chronicle of the choices and circumstances, as well as the resultant events, that enabled and then perpetuated the First World War. It avoids simplistic blame and lacks the revisionist tendencies of so many modern historians. Its focus on the political choices (influenced by economic and social situations on the homefront) is perhaps less exciting a read than the traditional battlefield strategic accounts, but it offers a very important sort of spiderweb of causality in its place.
Bob H
This is a high-level history of WWI, its focus on national strategy, though military strategy and tactical discussions come into the narrative. Its best at explaining, clearly, the top-level decisions by the combatant powers, their politicians and general staffs, and shows the course of the war in understandable terms. A good overview of a complicated war, and written in clear and succinct prose. Highly recommend.
Heather C
Dec 05, 2014 rated it liked it
It is easy to understand why Cataclysm is used as the primary textbook for many classes on the First World War. In its one volume, it is absolutely jam packed with an immense amount of information covering all the angles that someone would want to look at the war from. There are viewpoints for each of the countries involved, what led up to the war, and how the war played out (year by year), and the resulting repercussions. It can certainly be used throughout an entire semester (I know from exper ...more
Jorge Efraín Dardon

Es un análisis interesante de las condiciones que llevaron a la guerra y que permitieron su prolongación. La conclusión es que un sistema político autoritario que en aquel momento era insostenible llevo a Alemania a «suicidarse por temor a morir» y a arriesgarse en convertir una guerra localizada en los Balcanes en una catástrofe mundial. La estupidez, la cobardía y la cortedad de miras de Clases y amargura, fue una dominantes agotadas y sin imaginación, terminaron de llevar a la masacre.
Patrick Hurley
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent work describing a very complex set of conditions that lead up to World War I. On top of that, the author is thorough in his description of the decisions which allowed the belligerents at war with each other. As you read this book, you get the feeling the war could have been stopped at almost any point along the way, but no one choose to do so. The most tragic part is end conditions, which Stevenson speaks about lead up to a more traumatic conflict just 20 years later. Overall, the book ...more
Oct 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An excellent one-volume history of WW1. Stevenson, of course, covers the major battles but his focus is more on the big picture and the political/social events occurring across Europe. He does a nice job of moving beyond just the Western Front with good coverage of the Eastern Front and of the fallout/battles outside of Europe. I'd say this book may be a bit dense for those who don't enjoy non-fiction and there were a number of places that I would have liked more detail. But I'll find that in ot ...more
Apr 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
An excellent, in-depth look at the causes, events, and consequences of the first world war. Loaded with details and insights, covering the political, economic and cultural consequences of the conflict. For a single volume, there is a tremendous amount of information in this book, although at times it can feel more like an overview from 30,000 feet rather than an on-the-ground exploration of individual events or episodes, but for a comprehensive understanding of WWI, this book is a great place to ...more
Sean Chick
My feelings on this one are mixed. Stevenson is to be lauded for discussing politics at length and in particular for avoiding the trap of writing a book that is western front obsessed. However, his style is dull. His conclusions are sometimes downright goofy, such as painting the Marne as a German defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. He is often confused and unwilling to draw conclusions, as shown whenever he discusses Italian army operations or Germany's aggressive foreign policy. So there ...more
Howard Anders
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was used as a text in a course I'm taking on the Great War. It seemed daunting at first because of the subject and length, but it proved to be so well written, that I found myself reading ahead of class assignments. Mr. Stevenson leaves no stone unturned: military, diplomatic, political, social, economic. The sheer weight of facts is astounding, but what makes the book so interesting and readable is Mr. Stevenson's analysis of how those facts fit together. Exceptional history.
Gerry Shoshensky
Learned How 20th Century Formed by This Conflict

There are probably other one-volume WWI histories that describe the military aspects of the war better than this. My aim in selecting this one were the economic and diplomatic explanations Stevenson presented, as well as a reconsideration of long-established tropes from other historians as well as poets and writers borne of the aftermath. Indeed, people knew what fire they were playing with and still went forth.
Michael Norwitz
Mar 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Admirably extensive history of the First World War in a single volume, although its obsession with completeness means that finer details of many events get left out, leaving the reader with a blur of names and places and dates. Valuable reference material (particularly the more explicitly political sections, and the end pieces which show how the stage was set for the Second World War) but not light reading.
Sergio Nebot
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Muy interesante, pero se me hizo un poco largo, tal vez porque llevaba otros libros en paralelo.
Refleja con profusión muchos de los sucesos ocurridos durante la Gran Guerra, aunque yo esperaba algo más respecto a los entresijos de las negociaciones y comunicaciones realizadas entre los contendientes.
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
A very comprehensive look at WWI. There are better books on the causes of the war, the strategy and tactics employed during the war, actions in specific theaters, the Peace Treaty, etc., but Stevenson does an excellent job of pulling all of the pieces together in one volume. There are a lot of interesting perceptions advanced and a good bit to disagree with.
Oct 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
I struggled with this book. I'll be honest, you have to be really into it to finish this book. I've read a lot about WWI. Most of this wasn't new it was just a new perspective. The author is serious about it being a political history. Everyone else has rated this book highly so it might just be me but I found this really slow and couldn't finish it.
Kristin Strong
May 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
I feel like I've summitted Everest after finishing this. It is as readable as an exhaustive, meticulously researched, extensively detailed account of one of history's great events can possibly be. I'm going to go on to something lighter now.
Christopher Carbone
Apr 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who are really interested in WWI
A very compelling look at the decision making process that lead to WWI and how that process continued to lead to ruin for Old Europe. I recommend this book to people who really want a good overlook at the period, but you have to be really into the period.
Nov 21, 2009 added it
Shelves: history
History of World War I that focuses on the economic and political aspects of that war. Set aside a month for this one.
Mark Singer
Jul 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, world-war-i
An excellent one-volume history of the Great War. The strength of this books is Stevenson's analysis of the causes and politics before, during, and after the war.
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
The subject is interesting enough, of course, and the author is obviously knowledgeable, but the prose is turgid and flat. A great reference book, no doubt, but I could barely slog through.
Sandra Garavito
rated it liked it
Jun 10, 2015
Abdelmalik Meradi
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Feb 15, 2019
Michael Mcquillan
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Omegle Forster
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Oct 29, 2014
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