Keith's Reviews > The Pity of War: Explaining World War I

The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson
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's review
Jun 03, 2007

really liked it
Read in May, 2007

This was a fascinating read, covering a subject, WW I, I really never delved into much before.

I'm a big fan of Ferguson's, and I make it a point to watch him whenever he appears on television. He's a first-rate historian, and, refreshingly, he's a successful academic who is not a leftist. I'm also impressed by the fact he's so prodigious. I swear this guy can write 500 quality pages an hour.

Where Ferguson excels most is putting popular, and often unexamined, explanations for the causes of significant historical events under the microscope. And nowhere is his skill in this regard on better display than in "The Pity of War." The book is framed around 10 questions that, in the end, help the reader come away with a much better understanding of what led Old Europe, at the height of its glory, to engage in collective suicide.

The first question gives a good idea of what Ferguson is attempting in this book: "Was the war inevitable, whether because of militarism, imperialism, secret diplomacy or the arms race?"

Ferguson also asks whether WW I was a popular (turns out it wasn't, certainly when compared to the way people in the West supported action in WW II) and why did Britain's leaders get involved in a continental conflict (the answer has at least as much to do with political maneuvering in Parliament as it does with concerns about the Kaiser becoming another Napoleon).

Especially enjoyable is the breadth of economic analysis that fill the pages of this book. Ferguson even comes up with figures like that show the Central Powers, despite being at a disadvantage in terms of available resources, were more efficient killing machines than the Allies, and offers some interesting reasons why. I liked Ferguson's approach so much that I've decided it'll soon be time to tackle what I imagine is an economics-heavy history of the Rothschilds.


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