Book Review: The Outbreak of the First World War: Structure, Politics, and Decision-Making


by Jack S. Levy and John A. Vasquez, editors

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xviii, 310. Tables, notes, biblio., index. $35.99 paper. ISBN: 1107616026

Elucidating the Disaster of 1914

The origins of the Great War never cease to be fascinating, and in this collection of papers, historians and political scientists from across the English-speaking world examine various aspects of the political and diplomatic institutions and decisions that had immediate influence on the outbreak of the Great War. The ten essays in this work fall into four groups.

“Overview of Debates about the Causes of the First World War”, has an essay offering overview of the ongoing scholarly battles over the causes of the war and one dismantling, in part, the “German paradigm,” that is that Germany was the key player.

“Structure and Agency” includes a paper on how strategic interactions and perceptions feed decision making, and on the perception of Russia among the other powers.,

“The Question of Preventive War,” has four essays on the possibility of preventing the war, including a review of earlier occasions when wars actually were averted, and an evidence based discussion of whether the outbreak of war in 1914 might have been avoided

“The Role of the Other Powers” includes two papers, one each on the roles of Russia and France in the coming of war, which offer some surprising observations.

All of the papers are well-written, carefully documented and thoughtful. The all also tend to be analytical, rather than narrative, and often fall into political science jargon, and presuppose considerable knowledge of events and actors on the part of the reader.

Nevertheless, The Outbreak of the First World War is an excellent work, though primarily for the serious scholar of the Great War and of decision-making in times of crisis.

Note: The Outbreak of the First World War is also available in hard cover, $103.00, ISBN, 978-1-1070-4245-2, pdf, $28.00, ISBN 978-1-1398-9921-5, and several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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