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A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire, by Geoffrey Wawro

New York: Basic Books, 2014. Pp. xxiv, 340. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.99. ISBN: 0465028357.

Austria’s Role in Bringing about the Great War

Prof. Wawro (University of North Texas), the author of several books on Bismarck’s wars with Austria in 1866 and France in 1870-1871, has a simple thesis; The war was the fault of Austrians within the Dual Monarch of Austria-Hungary.  Specifically the Emperor, higher nobility, and the higher military commanders left their nation miserably unprepared for a great power war and then forced just such a war over the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, ignoring the failings of both their military and diplomatic preparations. 

Having done this, they then mishandled the operations during first months of the war, leading to disatrous defeats in the Balkans and in Galicia, which wrecked both their army and society. Some secondary blame is given to the Hungarians, due to the complex political structures of  the Dual Monarch, and, of course, to Imperial Germany, which issued the infamous “blank cheque,” but both are treated as secondary players in an Austrian induced tragedy. 

Wawro is certainly expert on both the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the period’s military history.  His writing style is somewhat polemical, but fills an important missing link in Western World War I historiography by covering in depth the twin Austrian theaters, Bosnia-Serbia and Galicia-Poland.  The book will be useful to anyone seriously interested in both the outbreak of the war and the Eastern Front.

Note: A Mad Catastrophe is also available as an e-Book, ISBN 978-0-465-08081-6 .

Our Reviewer: Scott Palter graduated from Dartmouth and Stanford Law. A veteran war gamer, one of the old SPI playtesters, he is also a game developer and was founder and publisher of West End Games.  His most recent reviews for StrategyPageincludeForgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia,Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, Normandy Crucible: The Decisive Battle that Shaped World War II in Europe, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, and Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany.


Reviewer: Scott Palter   

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