Review of “1913: The World Before The Great War” by Charles Emmerson

Most books about the run-up to WWI focus on the power brokers in Europe, and in so doing, make the war sound anything but avoidable. Emmerson, on the other hand, keeps his ear to the ground trod by commoners in his survey of the state of mind in over twenty cities across the globe, drawing upon accounts in newspapers and magazines, travel memoirs and diaries. At this level, war seemed very remote indeed. European monarchs were all related, after all; vacations were taken abroad at all levels of society; food preferences were becoming global; and some cities were beginning to look interchangeable, in spite of their putative exoticism. John Maynard Keynes pronounced globalization “normal, certain, and permanent.…”

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For those with little background in the history of the beginning of the twentieth century, this book provides a very good, if short, summary of what had been going on not only in Washington, London, Berlin, and Vienna, but also in such “far-flung” places as Winnipeg, Algiers, Tehran, Shanghai and other areas commonly ignored in books about the background of WWI.

We found not much new in this book, but we have read a lot of history, and it was still entertaining enough not to abandon in spite of covering familiar territory. For those who want a guide to the world before taking on The Great War, this is an excellent place to start.

Rating: 4/5

Published in paperback by Vintage Books, 2014

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