Cover image for The pity of war : [explaining World War I]
The pity of war : [explaining World War I]
Ferguson, Niall.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Basic Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xliii, 563 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
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Subtitle from jacket.
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D511 .F475 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
D511 .F475 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In The Pity of War , Niall Ferguson makes a simple and provocative argument: that the human atrocity known as the Great War was entirely England's fault. Britain, according to Ferguson, entered into war based on naïve assumptions of German aims--and England's entry into the war transformed a Continental conflict into a world war, which they then badly mishandled, necessitating American involvement. The war was not inevitable, Ferguson argues, but rather the result of the mistaken decisions of individuals who would later claim to have been in the grip of huge impersonal forces.That the war was wicked, horrific, inhuman,is memorialized in part by the poetry of men like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but also by cold statistics. More British soldiers were killed in the first day of the Battle of the Somme than Americans in the Vietnam War; indeed, the total British fatalities in that single battle--some 420,000--exceeds the entire American fatalities for both World Wars. And yet, as Ferguson writes, while the war itself was a disastrous folly, the great majority of men who fought it did so with enthusiasm. Ferguson vividly brings back to life this terrifying period, not through dry citation of chronological chapter and verse but through a series of brilliant chapters focusing on key ways in which we now view the First World War.For anyone wanting to understand why wars are fought, why men are willing to fight them, and why the world is as it is today, there is no sharper nor more stimulating guide than Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War .

Author Notes

Niall Ferguson was born April 18, 1964, in Glasgow. He is a Scottish historian. He specializes in financial and economic history as well as the history of empire. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

His books include Paper and Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation 1897-1927 (1993), Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (1997), The Pity of War: Explaining World War One (1998), The World's Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild (1998), The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000 (2001), Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (2003), Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (2004), The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006) and The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (2008), Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011) , The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, and The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Many readers will disagree with Oxford historian Ferguson's (Paper and Iron) daring revisionist account of the Great War as presented in this superbly illustrated book, but none will be bored by his elegant marshaling of facts to support his case. Ferguson argues that Germany had a justifiable fear of Russian and French militarism and was merely making a preemptive strike in August 1914. He suggests that Britain forced the escalation of what could have been a limited continental war by entering on the side of the Allies and then increased the body count on both sides through sheer ineptitude. An economic historian, Ferguson explains that Germany was efficient at inflicting "maximum slaughter at minimum expense," paying just $5133 to kill each Allied serviceman. The bungling but economically advantaged Allies, on the other hand, paid $16,754 for each German head. For all the book's strengths, however, Ferguson comes up short in his flawed, briefly sketched analyses of the ebb and flow of diplomatic and battlefield events. Grand strategy goes unstudied. Ferguson's war is, in the end, simply an economic problem. Scarcity equals loss, and whoever has the most supplies will prevail. Ultimately, it is hard to feel satisfied with Ferguson's narrow analysis of what is surely a far more complex equation. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Ferguson (Jesus Coll., Oxford) challenges much of the dominant historiography of World War I by redirecting questions from the traditional approach, such as whether the Schlieffen plan could have worked, to more complex issues, such as why German military superiority failed to achieve victory on the Western Front. His analysis and his multinational approach make for gripping reading; he is not afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom about the war, considering, for instance, whether Britain might have acted to avoid a worldwide conflict. His analysis of war literature and propaganda raises important issues regarding why men continue to fight despite having to endure horrifying conditions. While scholars focusing on a single nation might disagree with some of his specific conclusions, Ferguson has made an important contribution to our understanding of the long-term impact of the Great War. His book will also spark serious discussion about the nature of war in the modern world. Recommended for all libraries.ÄFrederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Every decade or so, historians have produced important works that challenge the understanding of one of the century's most important events, the Great War. Ferguson (Oxford) offers a major reassessment of many of this great conflict's crucial issues. He addresses eight of the war's more significant questions: Was it inevitable? Why did the Germans take such a gamble in 1914? Why did Britain intervene? Was there really an outbreak of popular enthusiasm for the war? How did the powers' military and economic efficiency influence the war's outcome? Why did the men keep fighting? Why did the war end? Who won the peace? He then provides answers that are provocative and important. Ferguson's dissection of British foreign minister Sir Edward Grey and his comparative analysis of the German and Allied war economies will produce real debate in the historical community. His assertion of Germany's ability to pay the postwar indemnity levied by the Allies is a welcome rejoinder to the old mantra of a "Carthaginian peace." Suitable for every level of interest, The Pity of War is indispensable for all modern European history collections. G. P. Cox; Gordon College

Table of Contents

Figuresp. vi
Tablesp. vii
Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgementsp. x
Note on the illustrationsp. xii
Introductionp. xix
1. The Myths of Militarismp. 1
2. Empires, Ententes and Edwardian Appeasementp. 31
3. Britain's War of Illusionsp. 56
4. Arms and Menp. 82
5. Public Finance and National Securityp. 105
6. The Last Days of Mankind: 28 June-4 August 1914p. 143
7. The August Days: The Myth of War Enthusiasmp. 174
8. The Press Gangp. 212
9. Economic Capability: The Advantage Squanderedp. 248
10. Strategy, Tactics and the Net Body Countp. 282
11. 'Maximum Slaughter at Minimum Expense': War Financep. 318
12. The Death Instinct: Why Men Foughtp. 339
13. The Captor's Dilemmap. 367
14. How (not) to Pay for the Warp. 395
Conclusion: Alternatives to Armageddonp. 433
Notesp. 463
Bibliographyp. 517
Indexp. 542