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The Pity of War


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The controversial revisionist history of World War I that made Ferguson's name

About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, and a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. He is the author of fifteen books, including The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, Empire, Civilization and Kissinger, 1923-1968- The Idealist, which won the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Prize. He is an award-making filmmaker, too, having won an international Emmy for his PBS series The Ascent of Money. His many other prizes include the Benjamin Franklin Prize for Public Service (2010), the Hayek Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2012) and the Ludwig Erhard Prize for Economic Journalism (2013). He was named Columnist of the Year at the 2018 British Press Awards.


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

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.)

The most challenging and provocative analysis of the First World War to date -- Ian Kershaw
Must take a permanent place at the top of the War's historiography. It is one of the very few books whose own scale matches that of the events it describes -- Alan Clark * Daily Telegraph *
Brilliant and stimulating ... radical, readable and convincing * The Times *
Possibly the most important book to appear in years both on the origins of the First World War ... Ferguson can confidently claim to have inherited A. J. P. Taylor's mantle -- Paul Kennedy * New York Review of Books *
At one massive stroke, Niall Ferguson has transformed the intellectual landscape * Economist *

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