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Astonishing in its scope and erudition, this is the magnum opus that Niall Ferguson's numerous acclaimed works have been leading up to. In it, he grapples with perhaps the most challenging questions of modern history: Why was the twentieth century history's bloodiest by far? Why did unprecedented material progress go hand in hand with total war and genocide? His quest for Astonishing in its scope and erudition, this is the magnum opus that Niall Ferguson's numerous acclaimed works have been leading up to. In it, he grapples with perhaps the most challenging questions of modern history: Why was the twentieth century history's bloodiest by far? Why did unprecedented material progress go hand in hand with total war and genocide? His quest for new answers takes him from the walls of Nanjing to the bloody beaches of Normandy, from the economics of ethnic cleansing to the politics of imperial decline and fall. The result, as brilliantly written as it is vital, is a great historian's masterwork.


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Astonishing in its scope and erudition, this is the magnum opus that Niall Ferguson's numerous acclaimed works have been leading up to. In it, he grapples with perhaps the most challenging questions of modern history: Why was the twentieth century history's bloodiest by far? Why did unprecedented material progress go hand in hand with total war and genocide? His quest for Astonishing in its scope and erudition, this is the magnum opus that Niall Ferguson's numerous acclaimed works have been leading up to. In it, he grapples with perhaps the most challenging questions of modern history: Why was the twentieth century history's bloodiest by far? Why did unprecedented material progress go hand in hand with total war and genocide? His quest for new answers takes him from the walls of Nanjing to the bloody beaches of Normandy, from the economics of ethnic cleansing to the politics of imperial decline and fall. The result, as brilliantly written as it is vital, is a great historian's masterwork.

30 review for The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    "No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's...that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied...With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter." -- H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds Niall Ferguson, the young Oxford fellow who gratingly insist "No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's...that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied...With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter." -- H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds Niall Ferguson, the young Oxford fellow who gratingly insists upon himself, takes Wells as his cue in The War of the World (singular, not plural). Like Wells, Ferguson starts his book at the close of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Specifically, he starts with September 11, 1901, in an obvious allusion to the more famous September 11, 2001. The connection is never explained; but then again, there are a lot of connections that are not made in this book. Ferguson begins The War of the World by showing how a modestly educated white man born on this date would actually have a pretty good life. Technology was changing the world, making it easier for those of lesser-means to live easier lives. What had once been a far-flung globe was being stitched together by safer, faster travel, and by the web of finance. Soon there would be flying contraptions, electric gizmos, and a big ocean liner named Titanic. Things were off to a smashing start! Within thirteen years, much of the world would be entangled in a disastrous war that started with an assassination in the Balkans, of all places. This touched off what Ferguson calls "the bloodiest century in history" (in both relative and absolute figures). The big promise of The War of the World is that Ferguson is going to stand conventional wisdom on its head; make up down and down up; and irreparably alter the way we think of the twentieth century. To which I reply, in my best arcane contract law parlance: Ferguson's claim tis "mere puffery." Ferguson's non-ground-breaking thesis is that the bloodshed of the twentieth century resulted from the trifecta of economic boom-and-bust, decaying empires, and race. That's like me saying that a baseball game is won by good pitching, good defense, and scoring more runs than the other team. Furthermore, Ferguson doesn't cover the whole of the twentieth century; instead, he focuses on the years 1914-1945. That's right. In other words, this is a book about World War One and World War Two (except that it's written by the brash, dashing, insufferable, Indiana Jones-wannabe Nial Ferguson, so it's in your face!). After an agonizingly prolonged introduction, chock-full of needless charts and graphs, you get to the book's first section, which deals with World War One. Here, the focus is on decaying empires. In Ferguson's telling, World War One came about as Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Ottomans struggled to hold onto their fast-fracturing empires. Well, duh. This isn't really novel or unique. It seems pretty obvious that the entangling alliances that set off the war like a series of dominoes were entered into in the hopes of protecting imperial assets. (The Germans were allied with Austria Hungary; Austria Hungary was allied with Serbia; then the Germans and the Austrians allied with Italy against Russia; in response Russia allied with France and France allied with Great Britain and Great Britain promised to uphold Belgium's neutrality. See? Simple.) This is not to say that I totally disliked this section. I did not. It just promised too much. Ferguson is easy to read, inserts telling anecdotes, and doesn't neglect sources such as plays, poems, and novels, that tell a great deal about a time period but are often ignored. Moreover, as he did with The Pity of War, Ferguson places a lot of the blame of the war on England. This is actually provocative, and frankly, has a lot of truth to it. Much of the history of World War One is told through the prism of World War Two. Thus, the Germans are always the baby-eating villains, and the British are always the stalwart heroes (and the Americans are always the ones to come in and save England's ass, which then gives us the right to be rude to Europeans while claiming - despite being born in the 70s or 80s - that "we saved your ass in World War Two!) I call this view of World War One Retroactive Hitler Syndrome. The subtler reality is that Germany was doing what every other European power was doing: protecting itself. To a large extent, it was England's decision to enter the war that took it from a continental conflict (of which Europe has had hundreds) to a global war. In the mid-war years (1919-1937), Ferguson discusses economic volatility and race. Again, his economic arguments feel rehashed. I mean, is there anyone anywhere who doesn't understand that the crushing debt of Versailles and the Great Depression created a fertile environment for Adolf Hitler? The race discussion is a little more interesting. In Ferguson's view, the war didn't cause racial genocide; rather, race caused the war. There is a fascinating bit about how the victorious Allies planted the seeds for war by dismembering the German Empire, thereby removing ethnic Germans from their homeland. The focal point of the race discussion, though, is on the Jews. A lot of time is spent on pogroms, anti-Semitic tracts, race laws, marriage rights, property rights, and finally, the Holocaust. This is in contrast to a much shorter, though more enlightening discussion of race in Asia, where the Japanese were subjugating the Chinese and Koreans. Simply put, I've read about the Holocaust before. From where I'm sitting at my desktop computer, I can look to one of my bookcases and see any number of titles covering this topic: Nazi Germany and the Jews by Saul Friedlander; Auschwitz: A New History, by Laurence Rees; The Holocaust, by Martin Gilbert; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer; Hitler's Willing Executioners, by Daniel Goldhagen; and Masters of Death by Richard Rhodes (I call this my "frowny face" shelf). The point I'm trying to make, not succinctly, I might add, is that this "groundbreaking" work is actually taking up space in a well-furrowed field (to uncomfortably use a farming metaphor). To extend this thought a bit further, it's tough to know how much original digging Ferguson did, as opposed to slightly re-framing the work of others. It doesn't help that Ferguson doesn't use endnotes (he explains in a note at the end of the book that the 2,000 endnotes would not possibly fit in the book, and are available online. I tried to find them at his website, www.niallferguson.org, but after an admittedly half-assed attempt, gave up). Most of the sources in his bibliography are secondary, previously published works. And in certain parts of the book, I could tell. For instance, during the section on the "rape of Nanking," Ferguson uses a newspaper story about Japanese soldiers in a beheading contest. This same story was used by Iris Chang in Rape of Nanking. The second half of the book is dominated by World War Two, which Ferguson rightly describes as starting in 1937, with the Japanese invasion of China. What can I say about this section? The words diffuse, scattered, and random come to mind. There is no narrative; there is no arc; there is no thesis. There's just a lot of dots, without any connecting. Ferguson seems to be jumping around willy-nilly, to use a phrase I would otherwise never utter. One moment he is excerpting a graphic description of Jews being executed; the next moment he is arguing that the Axis powers never had a chance to win. Again, this is not to say I wasn't entertained. To an extent, I was. Ferguson is like a really smart guy who gets really, really drunk at one of my parties, and then starts talking about history. Like a drunk, he'll get going on a topic and continue down that road for awhile before suddenly veering to another topic. However, if Ferguson's point was to show that World War One and Two were actually one long war, I don't see how these random factoids fit in. The diffuseness was at times exasperating, but it tilted into irritation at times due to Ferguson's blunt style. He is given - as a brash, young historian - to making bald pronouncements on controversial subjects, as though anyone who felt otherwise was a nitwit (that is, was not Niall Ferguson). For instance, Ferguson dismisses Lindbergh as a "crypto-fascist" and concludes that Japan never would have surrendered without being bombed to smithereens (ignoring, of course, Ultra decrypts to the contrary). In the last fifty pages, Ferguson decides to extend his un-proven thesis forward, into the rest of the century (Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.) This epilogue was rushed, and like the rest of the book, ungainly. There's definitely a lot of ideas here, and keen insight, but this is a book badly in need of some Ritalin.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    The explanations that we learn in high school for history's most horrible events tend to remain with us unchanged, unless we really look deep. Ferguson challenges many of the assumptions about the causes of the 20th Century's dreadful violence and is convincing. Living in Jerusalem, I've often seen how conventional wisdom about the persistent violence of the Middle East seems to miss the mark. That only makes me more convinced that Ferguson is right in refusing to accept the reasons advanced by The explanations that we learn in high school for history's most horrible events tend to remain with us unchanged, unless we really look deep. Ferguson challenges many of the assumptions about the causes of the 20th Century's dreadful violence and is convincing. Living in Jerusalem, I've often seen how conventional wisdom about the persistent violence of the Middle East seems to miss the mark. That only makes me more convinced that Ferguson is right in refusing to accept the reasons advanced by historians 50 years ago for, say, the Nazi's campaign against the Jews. Our ideas ought to be constantly developing and responding to new research, and Ferguson's book is the best way to get a very broad sweep of these new perspectives.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Carlo Ba

    Typical Book written by and made for Establishment. 2 out of 5 Stars. Ferguson didn't add any thing new to the historical view of "World War" but only reinforced the same old song and dance. As a Hedge Fund Investment Banker during the height of the Financial Crisis, I found "his" research a bit disingenuous that he didn't write a thing about how banks FUND most of the wars around the Globe especially when the title of this book is "The War of the World". He admits in the credits that he had at lea Typical Book written by and made for Establishment. 2 out of 5 Stars. Ferguson didn't add any thing new to the historical view of "World War" but only reinforced the same old song and dance. As a Hedge Fund Investment Banker during the height of the Financial Crisis, I found "his" research a bit disingenuous that he didn't write a thing about how banks FUND most of the wars around the Globe especially when the title of this book is "The War of the World". He admits in the credits that he had at least 11 students compile most of the detailed research but comes up with his own conclusions. He points at the same conflict zones beneficial for Western Propaganda, Pearl Harbour and the Nazis invasion of Europe. If this research was truly a "The War of the WORLD" he should have included the rest of the WORLD: 1.US Military Coups and Occupation of South America and the Caribbean and the continued "Economic Occupation" of those countries. ie. Haiti 2. The French Occupation of Polynesia/Indochina/Vietnam and its continued "Economic Occupation" of its People. 3. US Occupation of Hawaii and its continued "Economic Occupation" of its People. 4. US Occupation of Philippines(1898 to 1946) and its continued "Economic Occupation" of its People. also includes: -Guam -Laos -Micronesia -Palau 5. The British Occupation of China/Middle East and its continued "Economic Occupation" of its People. (Trade with a known Violator of Human Rights is Illegal Under 4th Geneva Conventions and Most Domestics Laws in 1st World Countries. One last note, Ferguson does not attack the "Bad Guys" from the perspective of Extreme Nationalism, ie. the Nazis. He should include Nationalism as a factor to war. He arrives at it from the point of Race. Ferguson comes from a nationalistic Nation of "Great" Britain. He fails or refuses to acknowledge that States & Nationhood create physical and ethnic boundaries which in turn stress "Them" and "Us". That is the greatest flaw of Nationalism, it separates and segregates entire regions from each other. Nationalists think it's inclusive but Nationalism can also be used to Exclude. Einstein stated it best, "I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever." * Albert Einstein, in a letter to Alfred Kneser (7 June 1918); Doc. 560 in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol. 8

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This is the first book by Ferguson that I've read. I was pleased with this effort--it was well-researched, and although it covers material amply familiar to any 20th century history buff, it was engaging not only because of Ferguson's fluid style but also because of his unconventional take on the causes and dynamics of human conflict and cruelty. You may or may not agree with some of his interpretations but he makes convincing arguments which make one want to research the topic in greater depth. This is the first book by Ferguson that I've read. I was pleased with this effort--it was well-researched, and although it covers material amply familiar to any 20th century history buff, it was engaging not only because of Ferguson's fluid style but also because of his unconventional take on the causes and dynamics of human conflict and cruelty. You may or may not agree with some of his interpretations but he makes convincing arguments which make one want to research the topic in greater depth. A couple of caveats: Ferguson assumes his readers have a basic familiarity with political economy and macroeconomic concepts, in addition to the traditional history-book versions of WW1/WW2. If you're new to these topics, it's still a good and informative read, but you may find yourself skipping over parts of Ferguson's analysis. Second--Ferguson does not spare the reader one jot the horrors of man's inhumanity to man--some of his descriptions of the pogroms, rapes, massacres, and genocides of the 20th century are stomach churning and filled me alternately with revulsion, incredulity, sorrow and despair--if any single lesson is to be drawn from this book it is that it is all too easy for historical, political, social, and economic forces quite beyond our control to transmogrify the supposedly civilized into murderous beasts and sadists. One more minor point: the maps in my edition (a penguin softcover) were fairly useless--I wish an editor had taken the time to create maps which contain the majority of places or geography mentioned in the book! I had to use my own atlas to visualize a lot of what Ferguson was discussing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    There is something about this guy’s work that is a little annoying. Like his The Ascent of Money, it was almost there, but not quite. I needed something on World War Two recently and saw this and bought it, but it has a much broader interest than just that conflict. The idea behind this is fascinating – pretty much that we like to think most of the conflicts of the last century were ideological, when in fact they were mostly ethnic. There is some fascinating stuff on the formation of Turkey and t There is something about this guy’s work that is a little annoying. Like his The Ascent of Money, it was almost there, but not quite. I needed something on World War Two recently and saw this and bought it, but it has a much broader interest than just that conflict. The idea behind this is fascinating – pretty much that we like to think most of the conflicts of the last century were ideological, when in fact they were mostly ethnic. There is some fascinating stuff on the formation of Turkey and the expulsion of the Greeks to facilitate that and some disturbing bit and pieces about Stalin and Soviet (or rather Russian) exceptionalism, but as always the most disturbing information here is on the Nazi. The information here about the invasion of Poland and the consequences of it due to both the Soviet Union and Germany is horrific. I used some of this when teaching WW2 recently – particularly his explaining that the Germans literally killed girl guides as part of their policy of removing all possibility of there being ‘leaders’ who might form a resistance. But although there is a remarkable amount of fascinating material in this book it doesn’t really work. I’m not sure how much ethic divisions really define the last century or if they are enough to explain everything. Power is much more interesting than just skin colour or how many fingers you use to cross yourself with. Economic power would seem a much more interesting way to explain the world. However, I’ve been selective in my reading of this book and will eventually need to go over the bits I skipped. Which was, truth be told, most of the book. There is a television series to this one too, but I still haven’t watched the money one, so getting around to watching this one might be a bit of a problem as well.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stephen McQuiggan

    From Nanking to Visegrad, from Manchuria to Auschwitz, the hatred in this breeze-block of a tome is shocking; and we talk of the 'darkness' of serial killers instead of governments. The Second World War takes up the bulk - there is surprisingly little on 911 or the Arab Spring which renders his argument that global warfare is over a little specious at times. Ferguson posits that the 20th century saw the decline of the West and the beginning of the dominance of Asia; it's hard to argue with after From Nanking to Visegrad, from Manchuria to Auschwitz, the hatred in this breeze-block of a tome is shocking; and we talk of the 'darkness' of serial killers instead of governments. The Second World War takes up the bulk - there is surprisingly little on 911 or the Arab Spring which renders his argument that global warfare is over a little specious at times. Ferguson posits that the 20th century saw the decline of the West and the beginning of the dominance of Asia; it's hard to argue with after reading this thought provoking, uncomfortable book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ken Hammond

    The War of the World by Niall Ferguson just astounding, almost every page has some obscure detail of some event in some war that the west was ever involved with from 1900 to 1999, so huge an undertaking surely you would need a team of researchers buckets of coffee and mountains of cupcakes. No western nation is left out Americans British French Germans Russians are all well covered but far more indepth examinations of the Germans and Russians with whole sections outlined. Other smaller western n The War of the World by Niall Ferguson just astounding, almost every page has some obscure detail of some event in some war that the west was ever involved with from 1900 to 1999, so huge an undertaking surely you would need a team of researchers buckets of coffee and mountains of cupcakes. No western nation is left out Americans British French Germans Russians are all well covered but far more indepth examinations of the Germans and Russians with whole sections outlined. Other smaller western nations are briefly mentioned. Clearly facts told then all these nations are all guilty of some horrendous war atrocity just curiously numbers killed escalates the further east you travel. The connections and relationships between these events and underlying inhumanity bound them all together in what all participants believe is right and justified killings when you put on fish bowl glasses this absolutely ridiculous and mental really. Humans can fall into hatred and murderous warfare so quickly we are a menace to ourselves without a doubt. Is there any hope in the 21st century with nuclear annihilation but greater seriousness is nations nuclear proliferation 24 nations and counting this hanging like a noose around our necks let's go with hope but hopelessness is a hair width behind. We really don't need mountains of wealth just mountains of purpose look after each other start in your house then spread out. Anyway after these statements I need to find sand so I can bury my head in it. Tidbits When did the War of the World end? Perhaps the best answer is July 27, 1953, when the armistice was signed that ended the Korean War. Why did that conflict peter out, rather than escalate into a global conflict between the superpowers? One tempting explanation is that the exponential increase in destructive power that began with the first atomic test raised the stakes too high to permit a full-scale conflict. Tidbits How can you make a revolution without firing squads?’ Lenin asked. ‘If we can’t shoot a White Guard saboteur, what sort of great revolution is it? Nothing but talk and a bowl of mush. Tidbit No one can know the future, least of all, a historian, whose business is the past.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Curtis

    OK today I have the time to follow up on this book. This is a bit off the cuff but for those undergraduates of you who didn't read it until the day before you were assigned to speak in front of the class it will give you some nuggets to work with. Firstly the author Mr. Furguson has a penchant for writing what one might almost call big history that is looking beyond the titles we find convenient when analyzing say the 20s or the 30s or even World Wars One and Two. This author may delve into some OK today I have the time to follow up on this book. This is a bit off the cuff but for those undergraduates of you who didn't read it until the day before you were assigned to speak in front of the class it will give you some nuggets to work with. Firstly the author Mr. Furguson has a penchant for writing what one might almost call big history that is looking beyond the titles we find convenient when analyzing say the 20s or the 30s or even World Wars One and Two. This author may delve into some of that and use some of the same vernacular but his historiography lies somewhere entirely. Here he reexamines the history of the late nineteenth through about the mid 20th century and offers up some very insightful notions that are at once obvious and also terrible in their ramifications. The title of the book is no coincidence and points directly to H.G. Wells invasion thriller and argues persuasively I think that it has already come to pass. No extraterrestrials mind you. Just one human lower others to sub-human status for war making and political purposes. The author examines the ethnic upheavals taking place particularly in eastern Europe in the first half of the century noting that the tendency towards ethnic cleansing was not unique to one group or another. The phenomena was much more widespread and the reason this was noted earlier is part being too close to the subject and part the enormity of the Holocaust. Throughout time there have been attempts by one group to rub out another group. What changed in the last century was the rise of industrials and mass destruction. Communication became instant and means by which virulent thought could be disseminated to the masses. Add to this long standing European feuds and pograms and you see the rise of the settings needed for a new term to be invented. Genocide. The author makes the case that the real underlying issues in the wars of the last century can more or less be traced to racial and tribal origins and goes about describing what was happening on the ground that causes him to reach this conclusion. This is s topic of much debate to this day particularly in places like Poland where no national reconciliation has ever taken place. The Germans were meticulous record keepers and the fact is they even comment that the Poles where more ferocious anti-semites than them. What we so often think of as a German thing was in fact widespread among other groups as well. The German may have been leader of the kabal, he may have even been it's worst perpetrator, but he was far from the only one killing Jews and other people in cold blood. The author goes to note how the rules of war seemed to change radically somewhat in the First World War and then radically in The Second World War where by the end of the war all sides were essentially trying to destroy the other without reference to civilian bystander or military participant. If one looks at Rwanda... Where did such an awful thing spring forth from? Surely every idea has it's nexus it's source? What about Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge? What he's getting at is the lines that traditionally have been used to define warfare have fundamentally changed and that Total War, genocide, and mass attrition have in an odd way become the de facto standard today. He argues the period starting around 1900 and running at least until the end of World War Two or Korea represent not a series of separate wars but rather a modern fifty year world war. Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. How many times have we heard these words? We have had generations since the closure of the period author specifies and they have all seen it in the methodology handed down to use from ancient times. In a sense the author has proposed a new overarching schema to help better understand the underlying causes of war and what really causes it. He argues it's not economic in nature though economics can play a role. I think he says it's really boiled down to the not entirely tamed beast within the heart of man and it's expression through nationalism. Nationalism became the new tribalism armed now with the machine gun, tank, bomber, even nuclear bomb. It only needs a machete to show expression as in Rwanda. I recommend the book. You can get your mind around it and then look at how the racial tensions express themselves within the United States in political and social warfare among other things. I was more critical of some earlier works of his but I think he's on to something here.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Libyrinths

    Ferguson attempts to address the question of what made the 20th C so bloody with a surprising hypothesis. He says that racism and ethnic hostilities were the culprit, triggered by economic volatility and declining empires. He then, beginning with WWI and ending in current times but focusing mostly on WWII, describes the ethnic and racist aspects of major wars, minor wars, wars within wars, internal wars of totalitarian regimes, etc. He calls his premise a hypothesis, and he makes a good start at Ferguson attempts to address the question of what made the 20th C so bloody with a surprising hypothesis. He says that racism and ethnic hostilities were the culprit, triggered by economic volatility and declining empires. He then, beginning with WWI and ending in current times but focusing mostly on WWII, describes the ethnic and racist aspects of major wars, minor wars, wars within wars, internal wars of totalitarian regimes, etc. He calls his premise a hypothesis, and he makes a good start at demonstrating it, but I feel he has a way to go to prove it. I think his triggers may be necessary but not sufficient to set off ethnic violence. He neglects to explore the very real role played by ideology, created myths, and propaganda in creating the ground for the violence. He settles for human nature as being sufficient. Again, necessary, but not sufficient. He points out that an aspect of the lethality is the 20th C ability of people to dehumanize their enemies, seeing them as sub-human, vermin, insects, allowing killing with impunity, barbarity and atrocities without conscience. This is something, along with ideology and the cultural groundwork prior to his triggers, which if explored more thoroughly would have bolstered his thesis. Not all his cited examples are convincing. It's difficult to see ethnic tensions as a primary aspect of Mao's murderous various revolutions, or even much of a contributor to the millions killed. One needs to look at each example given and analyze it in context to see if the violence was primarily ethnically or racially motivated. Giving evidence that ethnicity was one aspect, or suspected aspect, doesn't mean that it contributed that much. In some cases, of course, it's pretty clear. In others one needs to analyze further. At the same time, he almost contradicts himself when showing how "ethnic" violence occurs between people who are not really of different ethnicities. Again, it calls for looking at deeper reasons as I've suggested. Ferguson is readable, interesting, usually a clear thinker. He documents his work well with charts and graphs, copious endnotes and an equally abundant bibliography. I gained insights into things I'd not found elsewhere, and appreciated some of the subtleties he presented. I think his thesis is well worth considering and exploring further. But in my mind he hasn't yet displaced ideology and advancing technology as the primary causes of the bloodiness of the 20th C. Still, a worthwhile book to read, and a hypothesis worth considering, even if it needs further work and analysis.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Pretty poor. Tries to be "controversial" and "iconoclastic" etc, but is actually a pretty standard history of WW2 with few if any new insights. What's worse, it has little logic (he often contradicts himself: at one time WW1 is shown by analysis of the financial markets to be completely unexpected and a few pages later it's the outcome of a long period of rising tension), and shows little historical sense (quite reasonably slagging off Bernard Shaw for falling for Stalin's regime, he never asks Pretty poor. Tries to be "controversial" and "iconoclastic" etc, but is actually a pretty standard history of WW2 with few if any new insights. What's worse, it has little logic (he often contradicts himself: at one time WW1 is shown by analysis of the financial markets to be completely unexpected and a few pages later it's the outcome of a long period of rising tension), and shows little historical sense (quite reasonably slagging off Bernard Shaw for falling for Stalin's regime, he never asks *why* British leftists failed to see the truth, as though he doesn't expect Shaw and the Fabians to be subject to historical forces). His weirdest oversight is to claim to have a thesis that extends WW2 back in time into the 1930s, but never to consider what the Spanish Civil War meant to the European players and how it helped determine their actions in 1938-39. The final section, which you assume from the preface to be about showing the continuities from WW2 into the postwar period, is simply a rather sketchy essay of not very original thoughts mainly about the Cold War. Overall, the few good bits in this book are lost in a rather mean, rather dim, and rather incoherent whole.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sam Reaves

    The twentieth century was (among other things) an appalling exercise in mass murder, with two world wars and a fifty-year succession of proxy wars that was termed a cold war, resulting in hundreds of millions of deaths. In this fat volume (published in 2006) British historian Niall Ferguson tackles the question of what went wrong. It covers much of the same ground as Paul Johnson's massive Modern Times, another excellent survey of the disastrous century, but with a particular focus on the role pl The twentieth century was (among other things) an appalling exercise in mass murder, with two world wars and a fifty-year succession of proxy wars that was termed a cold war, resulting in hundreds of millions of deaths. In this fat volume (published in 2006) British historian Niall Ferguson tackles the question of what went wrong. It covers much of the same ground as Paul Johnson's massive Modern Times, another excellent survey of the disastrous century, but with a particular focus on the role played by collapsing empires. Ferguson highlights the way in which the need for natural resources drove the industrialized nations to colonize less developed regions in the course of the nineteenth century; those powers that came up short in the scramble for empire (Germany, Japan) felt they had to play catch-up. The other crucial element in the catastrophe was racism, and Ferguson devotes a good deal of attention to the way in which ethnic differences were exploited, often with pseudo-scientific nonsense, to dehumanize targeted peoples. His accounts of atrocities are detailed and disturbing; the cruelty and the scale of the crimes are almost beyond belief. He does not excuse the ones committed by the victors (like the British and American bombing campaigns that deliberately targeted German and Japanese civilians). He gives this summation of his thesis: "To repeat: economic volatility very often provides the trigger for the politicization of ethnic difference. Proximity to a strategic borderland, usually an imperial border, determines the extent to which the violence will metastasize." There you have it. The rest of the six-hundred-plus pages is detail and documentation. It's not a pretty picture. But it is excellent history, for the general reader who wants to understand why the last century was so ghastly.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Elliott Bignell

    The fall of Empires, says Ferguson in this impressively solid masterpiece, is generally more bloody than their rise. Even without his thorough account of a century of conflict and the extinction of the European Empires and recent rise of Asia, the conclusion would be hard to deny, as the industrial age culminated in a series of crimes so vast as to eclipse the public conscience of earlier wars. Not for nothing is the Godwin the ultimate signal that an internet thread has descended into anarchy. J The fall of Empires, says Ferguson in this impressively solid masterpiece, is generally more bloody than their rise. Even without his thorough account of a century of conflict and the extinction of the European Empires and recent rise of Asia, the conclusion would be hard to deny, as the industrial age culminated in a series of crimes so vast as to eclipse the public conscience of earlier wars. Not for nothing is the Godwin the ultimate signal that an internet thread has descended into anarchy. Just what made the wars of the 20th Century both so murderous and so universal is a theme which occupies much of the book. The culmination of the trend in the suicidal spasm of violence from 1937 to 1945 is examined in painstaking detail in terms of the economic disparities between the antagonists, their populations and productivity, the distribution of atrocities by both sides and the grievances and greeds which led to these wars. Ferguson also indulges in a myth-shattering analysis of appeasement, today a term of abuse but at the time an understandable and rational attempt to save the situation. Britain went to war a year too late, Ferguson establishes based on hardware production trends, so the policy was mistaken but not irrational. The account of the Shoah is harrowing, but there are some surprises for those not familiar with the detail. The sickening horror of soap production beggars many minds already, but the indifference of Italy and Japan to Nazi German anti-Semitism will be unknown to some, and the record of both countries is shockingly superior to that of some of the Allies and occupied. Japan and Italy even played some small part in extricating Jews from occupied Europe, and a small number of survivors resulted from their ambivalence. Staggeringly, in 1946 a spontaneous pogrom broke out in Poland against returning concentration camp inmates. Again, I am struck by the feeling that one cannot read this and remain sane. Atrocities and hate existed on all sides, but only one side's murderers systematically faced justice. Is this wrong? Ferguson says no - the crimes of the aggressor are of a different order to the indiscipline of the defenders. I agree, to a point - one way to avert such crimes in the future might be to ensure that our criminals face a court regardless. Stalin receives short shrift. The greatest irony of the century may be that this paranoid and psychopathic individual only ever trusted one man, and that negligence led to perhaps 20 or 40 million Soviet deaths over and above those that led from his own attempts to engineer a society. The Japanese come off better, and were it not for their vile behaviour towards the populations of occupied territories one suspects that Ferguson would come out in sympathy. The stated desire to expel the Europeans and provoke an Asian Renaissance was not dishonourable, and ironically has come to pass. Their confrontation with the USA was all but forced upon them, and also far from certain in outcome. Faced with the seizure of their assets and an oil embargo, the Japanese would have been forced to their knees in 18 months. On the face of it at least, their casus belli seems to stand. It is most striking that once all these foes were defeated, a "cold" war ensued at perhaps an even higher level of violent intensity worldwide. The era of conflict that spanned the century did not merely fizzle out, and arguably yet another pretext has now been found in the War "on" Terror. It strikes me, though, that the determinants today are suddenly no longer tied to industrial productivity. Faced with the British Empire, and later the Soviets, Hitler could not have won after the first reversal of the Battle of Britain and the huge miscalculation of Barbarossa. Production is destiny. Today, by contrast, irregular guerilla forces are facing down empires with some success. The War of the World has seen the eclipse of Europe as an imperial force in its own right. The War on Terror, I'll warrant, will see the eclipse by exhaustion of the US Empire and the historic renaissance of Asia, the culmination of the century-long spasm which Ferguson masterfully documents in this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    One of Niall Ferguson's last worthwhile books, The War of the World reexamines the Twentieth Century's cataclysms through a revisionist lens. It's a combination of well-trod events and scholarship (most of Ferguson's citations are familiar secondary sources by Richard Evans, John Toland, etc.) with a provocative approach: Ferguson places great stress on the ethnic and racial fault lines, particularly in Eastern and Central Europe, that drove some societies to violent expansion (Germany, Italy, S One of Niall Ferguson's last worthwhile books, The War of the World reexamines the Twentieth Century's cataclysms through a revisionist lens. It's a combination of well-trod events and scholarship (most of Ferguson's citations are familiar secondary sources by Richard Evans, John Toland, etc.) with a provocative approach: Ferguson places great stress on the ethnic and racial fault lines, particularly in Eastern and Central Europe, that drove some societies to violent expansion (Germany, Italy, Soviet Russia, Japan) and others to decay and dissolution (Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey, even Britain). Thus he treats the two world wars, and indeed the Cold War, not as separate events but the same conflict on a longstanding continuum of race hatred, empire building and market expansion. Ferguson's arguments are solid and quite convincing in some respects; as an economic historian he unsurprisingly fairs best showing how globalization impacted the world in imperial twilight, allowing the economically liberal United States to triumph over fascist and communist dictatorships. While there's nothing particularly fresh in his analysis of World War II, it's nice to see Ferguson demolishing the revisionist case for Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler and Japan's supposed grievances against the West while also showing that the conflict was morally grey and, at best, a qualified Allied victory. On other occasions, he dips into more facile analyses (reviving the canard that Communism and fascism are identical), cartoonish provocations (detailingg the speech of a provocative demagogue in 1933 which he - shockingly! - reveals to be not Hitler but Franklin Roosevelt) and, in later chapters, dire warnings about the Death of the West, especially Ferguson's post-9/11 hobbyhorse of "Eurabia" and the Muslim Menace. Ferguson's idiosyncratic analyses are often dubious, even objectionable; unlike his reactionary later works, however, they're minor flaws in a muscular, engaging work of historical synthesis.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nick Black

    This is not "a revolutionary look at humanity's most murderous century" so much as a scattershot economic and military history of Eurasia, 1940-1945. There's several places where Ferguson attacks other authors' claims, but targets rather dubious, second-rate literature--there's no great corrections to Shirer, or Trevor-Roper, or Beevor, or Tuchman, or any of the other accepted canon. These challenges furthermore regard "controversies" like to what depth Stalin had planed a preemptive invasion of This is not "a revolutionary look at humanity's most murderous century" so much as a scattershot economic and military history of Eurasia, 1940-1945. There's several places where Ferguson attacks other authors' claims, but targets rather dubious, second-rate literature--there's no great corrections to Shirer, or Trevor-Roper, or Beevor, or Tuchman, or any of the other accepted canon. These challenges furthermore regard "controversies" like to what depth Stalin had planed a preemptive invasion of Germany--great questions for a targeted history, but by no means a new synthesis of a war, let alone a century of war, let alone the socioeconomic, nationalist, racial and other drivers of those wars. Whether Stalin and the NKO wargamed for a first strike westward seems anyway moot, unless their plan included the phrase "two thousand kilometers of fascist dogs non-stop whuppin' our asssssssssssssss along the unpaved road to Stalingrad" and was decorated in the margins with little Stukas strafing massed Soviet infantry. Even then, it's the Red Army under the Terror, so every corporal who studies the plan ends up shot within a week anyway. It's war, and nazis, and strategic bombing, and bizarre ethnologists, and fairly well-written, so it's a pleasant enough read. It's not necessary, however, for even the most amateur historian of the Great Wars, and there's better introductions to the story. I would have given it three stars, but there was a table somewhere in the 300s with a particularly egregious typo, which I now can't find. Apparently there wasn't room in 746 pages for an index of tables. THANKS NIALL FERGUSON PHD.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    I have now read four of Mr. Ferguson's works, the others being Empire, Colossus, and The Ascent of Money, and this one is by far his best work (although, Empire was great too). No other book on WWII has done what this one has done: explained WHY WWII happened and WHY it was so violent. All other books explain HOW WWII transpired, but this one cuts right to the meat of the matter. The results and conclusions are devastating to anyone with a firm belief in humanity's central goodness. Mr. Ferguson I have now read four of Mr. Ferguson's works, the others being Empire, Colossus, and The Ascent of Money, and this one is by far his best work (although, Empire was great too). No other book on WWII has done what this one has done: explained WHY WWII happened and WHY it was so violent. All other books explain HOW WWII transpired, but this one cuts right to the meat of the matter. The results and conclusions are devastating to anyone with a firm belief in humanity's central goodness. Mr. Ferguson shows how every nation involved in the war was also involved in some sort of crime that goes against the idealistic rules of war. Not even America is spared from being tagged with war crimes, as the carpet and fire bombings of civilian culminating in the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki show. This book gives further proof that war, even a necessary war like WWII, is still a blight upon mankind. Any person opposed to war purely on moral and idealistic grounds would do well to read this book and use its analysis and conclusions as a part of their argument. In short, this is a necessary book to be read by anyone interested not just in WWII, but in 20th century history and conflict and in discovering the true depths of human depravity, which are, to judge from Mr. Ferguson's work, staggering. Not only that, but certain parallels to today's world should make everyone concerned about the potentials of a "Second War of the World."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Brilliant! This is a very serious and dense book when Ferguson explores the deep themes of war. His main premise is that in the 50 years between the start of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904/5 and the end of the Korean War, that more humans died in conflicts that at any time in the history of mankind. He documents that opinion at length and explores major themes: - economic volatility, - ethnic conflict; and - the descent of European power. Details: Ferguson explores issues of racial tension in very s Brilliant! This is a very serious and dense book when Ferguson explores the deep themes of war. His main premise is that in the 50 years between the start of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904/5 and the end of the Korean War, that more humans died in conflicts that at any time in the history of mankind. He documents that opinion at length and explores major themes: - economic volatility, - ethnic conflict; and - the descent of European power. Details: Ferguson explores issues of racial tension in very sensitive terms and in a very honest manner. Ferguson's opinion is incredibly well researched and I am amazed at the breadth of this undertaking as he covers such a long period and so many countries. I was especially fascinated by his comparisons of the treatment of ethnic Germans and Jews in eastern Europe in the 1920's and 1930's. I had always thought that poverty led to conflict but Ferguson focuses on economic volatility instead. Depressions hurt everyone but when the haves and have-nots change places, anger rises. The Takeaway: A masterpiece for the modern historian. I have to read everything Ferguson has ever written.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This is a book about killing. That's about it. Mostly it's about the mass extermination of humans. And the economics of killing lots and lots and lots of people. If you're interested in why people hate and kill millions of people, this might be a book for you. But there isn't even much "why" in the book. There are a lot of numbers. Pages and pages of numbers...of people...killed by the tens of thousands. There's not much else in its 646 pages. Niall Ferguson is a well-respected historian. He loo This is a book about killing. That's about it. Mostly it's about the mass extermination of humans. And the economics of killing lots and lots and lots of people. If you're interested in why people hate and kill millions of people, this might be a book for you. But there isn't even much "why" in the book. There are a lot of numbers. Pages and pages of numbers...of people...killed by the tens of thousands. There's not much else in its 646 pages. Niall Ferguson is a well-respected historian. He looks great on TV and does some excellent documentaries. He seems like a pleasant, even brilliant man. But history, even the history of war, is not only about killing. It's about people and how they think and why they decide things. It's mostly about telling stories -- presenting dramatic narrative of events involving humans in difficult and challenging times. This book has none of those elements. You don't know anything about the people being killed. You don't learn anything about the handful of monsters doing the killing. You're just numb..and fairly bored.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Niall Ferguson's breath-taking overview of the violent 20th century is certainly worth the time taken to read it. Even with my familiarity with history, I feel that there was something to learn and contemplate on every page. While his conclusions are complex and difficult to sum up, the endless atrocities of the bloody previous century were a result of man's infinite ability to see other classes, ethnic groups, religions and tribes as enemies, and practice unconstrained mass brutality, whether d Niall Ferguson's breath-taking overview of the violent 20th century is certainly worth the time taken to read it. Even with my familiarity with history, I feel that there was something to learn and contemplate on every page. While his conclusions are complex and difficult to sum up, the endless atrocities of the bloody previous century were a result of man's infinite ability to see other classes, ethnic groups, religions and tribes as enemies, and practice unconstrained mass brutality, whether during wars or not. As usual, Ferguson writes with craft and style, and has the enviable and rare knack for expressing economic realities in an entertaining narrative. I would recommend this fine book to all who take an interest in modern history, especially if you extrapolate the past to better understand where this poor old world is headed.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

    Bloody brilliant....this is what revisionist history should be....a second reading has left me less enthused but still a very good book...but the descent of the West? Only if you decided America cannot be included in this. The 20th was, after all, the American century and the East did not begin its true rise until near the end of the century...mostly EU propaganda...but a very good book for all that.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jimmit Shah

    The more I read authors from "revered" institutes (like Oxford) the more I lose respect for these institutes. What a waste of pages. Yes, the author has a few nuggets of uncomfortable truths that the West is unwilling to acknowledge (esp the fact that WWII was not a fight of good vs evil but evil vs evil) but the author is highly biased towards the Anglo-American view of the events Quick to denounce Hitler for his Aryan (read White) supremacy, the author fails to see the same flaw in Churchill (o The more I read authors from "revered" institutes (like Oxford) the more I lose respect for these institutes. What a waste of pages. Yes, the author has a few nuggets of uncomfortable truths that the West is unwilling to acknowledge (esp the fact that WWII was not a fight of good vs evil but evil vs evil) but the author is highly biased towards the Anglo-American view of the events Quick to denounce Hitler for his Aryan (read White) supremacy, the author fails to see the same flaw in Churchill (or in the British people, for whom he has only praise; Someone needs to remove those rose-tinted glasses). He dismisses the death of Indians (3mn+ Bengalis) calling the equivalence of two oppressive colonial regimes facile. He even goes to a great extent to justify the deaths 1. Quit India angered the Brits; (there is a line which reads like "Sure we killed a few million. What about Gandhi eh? Quit India was also violent. Some 60,000 injured. So much for peaceful protests ha. No one tells Gandhi anything".) This stupid equivalence is used to justify the moral stance of the Brits 2. It was war and India was declared as a resource center (occupied hostile territory) by Brits (indicating that the methods were "unfortunate but understandable") 3. The famine was triggered by a natural disaster and Churchill wasn't really to blame; According to the author, Churchill (or the British Raj) would be as evil as the Nazis IF they had killed leaders systematically. For me, that was the point where the author and the book lost all relevance. It is just another highly biased portrayal of global events. His coverage of the forces at play White-washes the crimes of the British Raj. Germans industrialized Killing of Jews. British gobbled up cultures and created systems of oppression that could have lasted for millennia. They were not different. They were the same ideologies, directed at different sets of people in different parts of the world on different timescales. Their cost to humanity has been the same and they deserve equal amount of scorn and denunciation. Funnily enough, the only true representation of the British Raj in the book comes from a source that the author quotes (but doesn't comment on). Hitler rightly called out the moral hypocrisy of the Raj in subjugating the people in the name of democracy and modernization and author was kind enough in adding (or maybe not vigilant enough in removing) that quote Also, the blurb is misleading. The book does not cover the whole of 20th century. It is just about the two world wars and there are much better books on each of the subjects. Overall, it is a biased collation of various other works, paraded as a new take on events. Can skip the book for sure.

  21. 5 out of 5

    David Brown

    This is undoubtedly a hard and difficult read, the book is extremely dense and packed with a mind boggling wealth of information on every page. Nonetheless Niall has managed to write to my mind one of the best accounts of the time from roughly the late 1890s to 1945 with a coda of pages running from 1953 to the mid 2000s that I have ever read. This book challenged my preconceived idea that the cold war was a struggle between competing economic ideas and reframed it as being a continuation between This is undoubtedly a hard and difficult read, the book is extremely dense and packed with a mind boggling wealth of information on every page. Nonetheless Niall has managed to write to my mind one of the best accounts of the time from roughly the late 1890s to 1945 with a coda of pages running from 1953 to the mid 2000s that I have ever read. This book challenged my preconceived idea that the cold war was a struggle between competing economic ideas and reframed it as being a continuation between forces of ethnic conflict between minorities. This is at first a bizarre way of framing this period but is convincing take the Soviet union where kulaks were given a racial element the son of a rich farmer being a class enemy based not on wealth he owned but through racial characteristics. Indeed throughout the time period covered by this book Niall gives so many examples of this identifying certain zones in the world as hotspots for ethnic conflict. He also focuses on the factors that gave rise to the first and 2nd world war with one of the most interesting anaylises of the cause and outcome of the first world war I've read to date. I would hardly call myself a novice in this field having a degree in modern history focusing on European history in general. But I found this book to be an interesting change of pace and more insightful than most of the books and essays I had to read during University.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Curran

    Work in Progress "For Stalin regarded certain ethnic groups within what was still a vast multinational Russian empire as inherently unreliable — class enemies by dint of their nationality.”" Quotes: "the hundred years after 1900 were without question the bloodiest century in modern history" (p. xxxiv) "were not ethnic divisions actually more important than the supposed struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie?" (p. xxxvii) "Above all, the old history books told the story of the twentieth centur Work in Progress "For Stalin regarded certain ethnic groups within what was still a vast multinational Russian empire as inherently unreliable — class enemies by dint of their nationality.”" Quotes: "the hundred years after 1900 were without question the bloodiest century in modern history" (p. xxxiv) "were not ethnic divisions actually more important than the supposed struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie?" (p. xxxvii) "Above all, the old history books told the story of the twentieth century as a kind of protracted, painful but ultimately pleasing triumph of the West.... The world wars and the Cold War were thus morality plays on a global stage. But ... did the West really win the hundred years war that was the twentieth century?" (p. xxxvii) "To consider twentieth-century conflict purely in terms of warfare between states is to overlook the importance of organized violence within states." (p. xl) "relatively insignificant as a predictor of ethnic conflict is the degree of assimilation between two populations ... a sharp rise in assimilation ... may actually be a prelude to ethnic conflict." (p. xlix) "racism ... is one of those 'memes' characterized by Richard Dawkins as behaving in the realm of ideas the way genes behave in the natural world. The idea of biologically distinct races, ironically, has been able to reproduce itself and retain its integrity far more successfully than the races it claims to identify" (p. li) "This was another central paradox of the modern era. Even as the hereditary principle ceased to govern the allocation of office and ownership, so it gained ground as a presumed determinant of capability and conduct." (p. liii) "The principal distinguishing feature of ... the Holocaust was not its goal of racial annihilation but the fact that it was carried out by a regime which had at its disposal all the resources of an industrialized economy and an educated society." (p. liv) "In certain parts of the world there was an exceptional mismatch between ethnic identities and political structures." (p. lv) "What was galling to those trapped in relatively stagnant economic sectors like traditional handcrafts and small-scale agriculture was the evident propensity of those better placed to profit from international economic integration and increased financial intermediation" "the victory of the Western ... model of liberal democratic imperialism ... seems to fundamentally misread the trajectory of the past hundred years, which has seen something more like ta reorientation of the world towards the East." (p. lxvii) "This was not 'the triumph of the West', but rather the crisis of the European empires, the ultimate result of which was the inexorable revival of Asian power and the descent of the West... redressing a balance between West and East that had been lost in the four centuries after 1500." (p. lxviii) "The potential instability of assimilation and integration;l the insidious spread of the meme that identifies some human beings as aliens; the combustible character of ethnically mixed borderlands; the chronic volatility of mid-twentieth-century economic life; the bitter struggles between old multi-ethnic empires and short-lived empire-states; the convulsions that marked the decline of Western dominance." (p. lxx) Entertaining, detailed, provocative, incredibly detailed, great insights and research (steel, surrender ratios, etc.); convincing main thesis Meandering; doesn't look enough at ideology (Mao); many parts without obvious connection to thesis; insufficient discussion of decline of the West (imperialism, economics); maps make following difficult Best part: looking to the future Parts that apply to modern age: Outline: - Bloodiest century in modern history - Despite unparalleled progress, the first wave of globalization, modern society - Typical explanation focus on economic crises, class conflict, extreme political ideologies (communism and fascism), imperialism, increased destructiveness of modern weaponry -- these are necessary but not sufficient - Three factors: - Ethnic conflict, aided by the hereditary principle in theories of racial difference, the political fragmentation of borderland regions, and the reality of multi-ethnic nation states - Often ambiguous, love-hate relationships (high intermarriage rates, sexual dimension, "mixture of aversion and attraction") - The spread of the "race meme" - Discrepancy between the reality of mixed settlement and ethnically homogeneous nation states - Economic volatility, especially where there disproportionately affected (or were perceived to) specific groups - "rapid growth in output and incomes can be just as destabilizing as a rapid contraction." (p. lix): " Economic volatility ... tends to exacerbate social conflict." (p.lxi) - Empires in decline: the decomposition of the multinational, multi-ethnic European empires and the emergence of new challenging "empire-states" in Turkey, Russia, Japan, and Germany - "What nearly all the principal combatants in the world wars had in common was that they either were empires or sought to become empires." (p. lxii) - Violence tends to erupt at "fault lines" between empires (1) Empires and Races: - World was prosperous, globalized, and integrated as never before - Empires were starting to struggle with "how to transform enfeebled [multi-ethnic] empires into strong [ethnically homogeneous] nation states" (p. 11) (Russia, China, Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary) - Rise of Social Darwinism, revulsion against miscegenation, state-sanctioned segregation - Economics of antisemitism - German diaspora and Jewish Pale of Settlement; vast ethnic pathworks (Jews, Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Germans, Romanians...) (2) Orient Express - Rise of Japan ("Sapiens") - Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War - First crack in Western hegemony: first major military victory in the modern era of an Asian power over a European one. - Disproportionate involvement of Jews in revolutionary politics - Rise of modern antisemitism and first violent pogroms (3) Fault Lines - Gavrilo Princip - WWI toppled four impreial dynaties: Habsburgs (Franz Joseph I, Austria-Hungary), Romanovs (Tsar Nicholas II, Russia), Hohenzollerns (Germany, Willheim II) and Ottomans (Sultan Mehmed VI) - "One of the world's great fault lines - the fateful historical border betwen the West and the East, the Occident and the Orient." (p. 74) Fault line between weakening Ottaman empire and the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires - Rise of the idea of nation state, lead by the 'idea of France' - "Such exchanges were designed to transform regions of ethnically mixed settlement into homogeneous societies that so appealed to the nationalist sentiment.... The implications were distinctly ominous for the many multi-ethnic communities elsewhere in Europe." (p. 76-77) - Consensus was that German government turned the crisis into a world war, but "Shared responsibility of all Europeans empires" for the conflict (p. 103) Economist: 'it is fair ... to ask ... what Great Britain would have done in a like case' (p. 104) "From a modern standpoint, the only European power to side with the victims of terrorism against the sponsors of terrorism was Germany." (p. 104) It was the decision of Britain to intervene that ultimately escalated the cionflict into a world war (4) The Contagion of War - Factors behind eventual allied victory: naval dominance and blockade, stronger financial position of Britain, American support "too big to fail" for America, - Beginning of ethnic hatred, dehumanizing language, along Western Front, despite the small differences between the combatants, bode poorly for future wars and theaters - Similarities between experiences of soldiers: Henri Barbusse's Under Fire, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Frederic Manning's The Middle Parts of Fortune, and Emilio Lussu's Sardinian Brigade - Degeneration in prisoner conditions, despite its benefits to propaganda directed at the enemy, growth of 'take no prisoners' culture', shooting civilians as reprisal, bombing of cities, unrestricted submarine warfare on merchant and passenger ships - Various justification for prisoner killing -- need to escort, effort, rations -- but "in its most extreme form, however, prisoner killing was justified on the basis that the only good German was a dead German." (p. 129) - "The fact that these attitudes could take root on the Western front, where the ethnic differences between the two sides were in fact quite minimal, was an indication of how easily hatred could flourish in the brutalizing conditions of total war." (p. 130) - "In Easter Europe ... war spelt the dissolution of the old order of multi-ethnic and ethnically mixed communities" (p. 136) and exposed ethnic minorities to suspicion, deportation or rforced resettlement, and retribution; while the Jews were hardest hit, many minorities were victims in various places - Ivo Andrić's The Bridge on the Drina "describes the impact of the outbreak of war in 1914 on the ethnically mixed Bosnian town of Višegrad." (p. 138) - "The Western Front had reveled a new level of industrialization in warfare.... But the Eastern Front had seen an equally important transformation in warfare. There the death throes on the fold Central and East European empires had dissolved the old boundaries between combatant and civilian. This kind of war proved much easier to start than to stop." (p. 139-140) (5) Graves of Nations - "The peace that followed the First World War was the continuation of war by other means. The Bolsheviks proclaimed an end to hostilities, only to plunge the Russian Empire into a barbaric civil war." (P. 141) Spanish influenza and Bolshevism swept the world which "ultimately proved as lethal as the influenze" (p. 145). "The war in teh East changed into a terrible civil war, in many ways as costly in human life as the conventional war between empires that preceded it." (p. 144) - First use of terror as a state sponsored tactic Other interesting ideas - WWI was not expected or inevitable (imperialism, nationalism, Social Darwinism, militarism): "many narratives of escalating crisis have been constructed by historians not to capture the past as it actually was in 1914, but to create an explanation of the war's origins commensurate with the vast dimensions of what happened in the succeeding four years.... For the reality is that the First World War was a shock, not a long-anticipated crisis. Only retrospectively did men decide they had seen it coming all along." (p. 80-81) Financial markets, WWI as a White Swan (p. 91). "the international institutions that failed in July 1914 had in fact done a reasonably good job of avoiding a major great-power war throughout the preceding century" (p. 91) "Nor, despite all that has been written on the subject, was militarism especially pronounced either in the sums the great powers spent on their armed forces, or the numbers of emn they mobilized.... It was only with hindsight that Europe appeared an armed camp, eagerly anticipating mobilization. "p. 93) "Extraordinary integration of Europe's nominal ruling class" (p. 93) which provided an important formal and informal diplomacy - Britain and France should have gone to war in 1938 - Third World's War - Invasions to protect ethic minorities: Russia in Manchurian (p. 50) - Importance of surrender to defeat (France in WWI, p. 111). "The First World War confirmed the truth of the nineteen-century military theorist Carl von Clausewitz's dictum that it is capturing not killing the enemy that is the key to victory in war". (p. 131.) Despite the huge casualties, a decisive breakthrough proved elusive; "it did prove possible, first on the Eastern Front and then on the Western, to get the enemy to surrender in such large numbers that his ability to fight was fatally weakened." (p. 131.) Collapse of morale with realization that the war could not be won - Key intelligence (WWI Britain, p. 113) - Importance of financial and economic factors (WWI britain, p. 115)

  23. 5 out of 5

    David Readmont-Walker

    Great robin. Harrowing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    فلاح رحيم

    One star for Ferguson and three for the team of researchers behind him. They did a wonderful job.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tripp

    Niall Ferguson writes thick history books with controversial ideas. His argued in the Pity of War that Britain should have just sat out World War One and dealt with a German dominated Europe. In Colossus, he put forth the idea that the world needs America to be a real empire, but believed the country isn't up to the tasks. One of more recent books is War of the World which explores the incredibly violent 20th century. His argument is that the break up of empires and the expansion of the national Niall Ferguson writes thick history books with controversial ideas. His argued in the Pity of War that Britain should have just sat out World War One and dealt with a German dominated Europe. In Colossus, he put forth the idea that the world needs America to be a real empire, but believed the country isn't up to the tasks. One of more recent books is War of the World which explores the incredibly violent 20th century. His argument is that the break up of empires and the expansion of the national/ethnic idea fuel the intense ferocity of century's killing. So many American books about the war focus on the technology, whether it be aircraft carriers, tanks or planes. That's fine, it is how Americans tend to look at things. It also tends to make the conflict seem a bit more bloodless. This ship sank, forty planes were destroyed. We know that people died when we read this, but it removes the horror of it somewhat. None of that for Ferguson. He goes straight down to the village level. He shows the remarkable breadth of the cruelty in the century. We've tended to focus all of our horror on the Holocaust. This makes sense as it is a uniquely terrible series of events, but our focus has obscured all else that happened and even the share of guilt in the Holocaust. Germans, naturally, get the blame for the Holocaust, but Ferguson shows the horrid but willing participation of many other Europeans. He also shows the incredible terrors and evil of Stalin's regime, the terrors of bombing, the Japanese atrocities in China, the fate of African-Americans in the early 20th century and more. It makes for fairly grim reading. Thankfully, Ferguson is a strong and often witty writer, which alleviates the sadness quite a bit. One strange bit is the subtitle. It is called the Descent of the West. He doesn't really support the declinist idea in the book, which is too bad, as it is certainly on the tops of peoples minds. Thanks to that problem and a fair amount of bloat, I have to say that The War of the World isn't Ferguson's best book, but it remains a good, if dark, read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    Niall Ferguson's The War of the World has received a fair amount of "buzz." And, indeed, as one reads it, the scholarship, the knowledge of historical nuances, and the command of the sweep of the 20th century are all readily apparent. However, in the end, the book is somewhat unsatisfying. The book begins with an interesting notion, namely that life was rapidly improving as the twentieth century began. However, the puzzle addressed by Ferguson follows from that: why did the rest of the century b Niall Ferguson's The War of the World has received a fair amount of "buzz." And, indeed, as one reads it, the scholarship, the knowledge of historical nuances, and the command of the sweep of the 20th century are all readily apparent. However, in the end, the book is somewhat unsatisfying. The book begins with an interesting notion, namely that life was rapidly improving as the twentieth century began. However, the puzzle addressed by Ferguson follows from that: why did the rest of the century become so bloody? The First and Second World Wars were ghastly events in terms of the butchery of human life. And, looking at the subtitle to the book, one result was "the descent of the West." What factors shaped the currents of this time period? He suggests three major factors: ethnic conflict, economic turbulence, and the decline of empires. The first two are easily understood. However, he also notes the disintegration/decline of the old empires, such as the British Empire. What next? He suggests that the West is slowly being challenged by rising powers such as China. He also notes that the West, because of slow population growth, is coming increasingly to depend upon foreign labor, including those from the world of Islam (the Near East, as he terms it). Thus, his sense is that the West is facing challenges as we have entered the 21st century. Obviously, this is an ambitious volume. It is worth reading to get a global, overarching perspective on the 20th century. However, in the end, it is not fully satisfying. The thesis is never crisply stated, the book tends to meander, and the final chapter does not really pull things together as well as it could. In short, the whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mary Ronan Drew

    Niall Ferguson approaches history from an economic point of view. This gives them something most histories of the 20th century do not have. His research is careful and he thinks about things in a new way. This was one of the best books I've read in the last year. Here's what Publisher's Weekly has to say: "Why, if life was improving so rapidly for so many people at the dawn of the 20th century, were the next hundred years full of brutal conflict? Ferguson has a relatively simple answer: ethnic un Niall Ferguson approaches history from an economic point of view. This gives them something most histories of the 20th century do not have. His research is careful and he thinks about things in a new way. This was one of the best books I've read in the last year. Here's what Publisher's Weekly has to say: "Why, if life was improving so rapidly for so many people at the dawn of the 20th century, were the next hundred years full of brutal conflict? Ferguson has a relatively simple answer: ethnic unrest is prone to break out during periods of economic volatility-booms as well as busts. When they take place in or near areas of imperial decline or transition, the unrest is more likely to escalate into full-scale conflict. This compelling theory is applicable to the Armenian genocide in Turkey, the slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda or the "ethnic cleansing" perpetrated against Bosnians, but the overwhelming majority of Ferguson's analysis is devoted to the two world wars and the fate of the Jews in Germany and eastern Europe. His richly informed analysis overturns many basic assumptions. For example, he argues that England's appeasement of Hitler in 1938 didn't lead to WWII, but was a misinformed response to a war that had started as early as 1935. But with Ferguson's claims about "the descent of the West" and the smaller wars in the latter half of the century tucked away into a comparatively brief epilogue, his thoughtful study falls short of its epic promise." The book was written in conjunction with a BBC TV production which I have not seen.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    This is, by far, Niall Ferguson's most dangerous book. In what many believe to be a far-flung example of historical revisionism, Ferguson attempts to explain the 20th Century as one long episode of racial conflict. In the process, the line is often blurred as to who the heroes and villains of the century actually were. Ferguson's critique of the allied forces at the end of the WWII might leave a good many allied vets more than a little chafed. This book also takes a foray into interpretive histo This is, by far, Niall Ferguson's most dangerous book. In what many believe to be a far-flung example of historical revisionism, Ferguson attempts to explain the 20th Century as one long episode of racial conflict. In the process, the line is often blurred as to who the heroes and villains of the century actually were. Ferguson's critique of the allied forces at the end of the WWII might leave a good many allied vets more than a little chafed. This book also takes a foray into interpretive history, which is one of Ferguson's passions, but again may leave the civilized westerner a bit cold in the end. If you would like to believe that conventional history's take on the 20th Century is flawed, then this is the book for you. As for me and my house, I'll stick with the classic story.

  29. 5 out of 5

    D.A.Calf

    I came upon this book by way of the six-part documentary of the same name which based on the book and narrated by Ferguson. I knew of Ferguson prior but only his work on Economic History. Anyhow, the documentary is good but it doesn't give you an idea of the sheer detail contained in this book. In fact I willingly left this book after it's coverage of WW2 concluded. I felt two things at that moment: that if I read on it'd be lost in a sea of twentieth century politico-military history, and; that I came upon this book by way of the six-part documentary of the same name which based on the book and narrated by Ferguson. I knew of Ferguson prior but only his work on Economic History. Anyhow, the documentary is good but it doesn't give you an idea of the sheer detail contained in this book. In fact I willingly left this book after it's coverage of WW2 concluded. I felt two things at that moment: that if I read on it'd be lost in a sea of twentieth century politico-military history, and; that I immediately needed to read more on the two world wars and the events that lead up to them. While this book is very detailed and decently long, it's consistently interesting and quite often riveting. It's definitely a book I hope to get to re-read (and maybe even finish) in the future.

  30. 4 out of 5

    James

    The author has a talent for writing, rare these days, so it was a pleasure to read this book, even at 600+ pages A couple of annoying thing, in at least 3 of his books he misquotes Hobbs, Hobbs said WHEN MAN GOES TO WAR WITH MAN, EVERY MANY BECOMES THE ENEMY OF EVERY MAN... AND LIFE BECOMES SOLITARY, SHORT, NASTY AND BRUTISH. Hobbs put that in the tight context of people who were actually caught up in a war. Like all other authors, Niall leaves out the first line and makes it seem that Hobbs said li The author has a talent for writing, rare these days, so it was a pleasure to read this book, even at 600+ pages A couple of annoying thing, in at least 3 of his books he misquotes Hobbs, Hobbs said WHEN MAN GOES TO WAR WITH MAN, EVERY MANY BECOMES THE ENEMY OF EVERY MAN... AND LIFE BECOMES SOLITARY, SHORT, NASTY AND BRUTISH. Hobbs put that in the tight context of people who were actually caught up in a war. Like all other authors, Niall leaves out the first line and makes it seem that Hobbs said life was solitary...etc FOR ALL PEOPLE. He seems to get his snappy quotes from books of famous quotations, rather that the actual source. There is other material he recycles from book to book

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