Folly and Malice: The Habsburgs, the Balkans and the Start of World War One. By John Zametica (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2017)
If you want a book that finally tells you ‘what the hell was going on’ in Austria-Hungary that led to a first world war, then with this one you find out, at last, everything you really need to know but didn’t know to ask. What the Austrians really wanted, the Hungarians, Croats, various Serbians, Russians, Germans, Great Britain... Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Gavrilo Princip, the Black Hand, Kaiser Wilhelm...they’re all here, finally in their true colours. Folly and Malice: The Habsburg Empire, the Balkans and the Start of World War One is probably the definitive book on the East European origins of the first world war. Demolishing the claims of major academics like Chris Clark, and overthrowing much of the history taught to schoolchildren for a hundred years, it comes recommended by leading historian Professor Sir Hew Strachan as ‘a brilliant piece of writing on one of the most important aspects of the First World War…’, by the Historical Association as ‘a revelation... its challenge to existing thinking makes it a very significant contribution to the continuing debate about the causes of the Great War’ - and by renowned academic Professor Vernon Bogdanor as "a seminal work which forces readers to reflect further on issues they had thought settled...a powerfully argued work, whose conclusions will be carefully studied by historians for many years." It’s a big read, but you won’t find a better or more insightful one. The first half is fascinating, scene-setting background stuff. Then it moves on to 1914 like no book before. The chapter on the assassination can’t be bettered for drama or detail and reads like an emerging film. There’s a JFK-style whiff of possible conspiracy by which the Archduke is allowed to walk into a hornet’s nest in Sarajevo. And the July Crisis which led to the war is illuminated at the expense of a legion of historians of this and other generations. Get this book and keep your brain on. There’s not been another one like it.