Book Review: Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I


by Michael S. Neiberg

Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard / Belknap Press, 2013. 336. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $18.95 paper. ISBN: 067472593X

Revisiting ground already well explored by the likes of Luigi Albertini and Barbara Tuchman, Prof. Neiberg (Southern Mississippi) takes a fresh look at the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of war in 1914. 

Neiberg tells this story using letters, diaries, and newspapers, as well as official documents.  Although he opens with the assassination in Sarajevo, he notes that to most contemporaries this hardly troubled anyone, from commoners to sovereigns, assassinations being at the time by no means rare, and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand hardly a beloved figure. He then reviews political and diplomatic developments over the previous decade, which suggest not so much a continent poised on the brink of war, as one which viewed war as unlikely, in which even autocratic rulers such as the Tsar and the Kaiser were champions of peace.  This is perhaps the weakest part of the book, as while everyone was championing peace they were also building up their armed forces and developing detailed war plans that in several cases proved timetables for disaster.

More usefully, Neiberg argues that war came through a series of inept decisions, mostly by Austria-Hungary, many by Germany and Russia, and some by the other powers, prompted as much, or perhaps more, by fears of declining influence or hostile encirclement than by aggressive intent.  He gathers a great deal of evidence showing that the people of all countries had difficulty accepting that war might come, and were as often shocked as elated when it did come.  Moreover, Neiberg sees public opinion in all countries as slow to anger during the war’s opening phases, until nationalist propaganda, fear, and the horrors of war further provoked them. 

Despite a rather surprising lack of maps, Danceof the Furies is a valuable addition to the literature on the outbreak of the Great War.  

Note:  Dance of the Furies is also available in hardcover for $29.95, ISBN 0674049543.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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