Norman Stone

Timetables May Change

The Lost History of 1914: Why the Great War Was Not Inevitable


Bloomsbury 392pp £20 order from our bookshop

Jack Beatty, a veteran American radio journalist, seems to have been reading a famous old book, George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England. It came out in 1935, only twenty years after the end of Asquith’s Liberal government, which had come to grief, said Dangerfield, over trade unions, Ireland and the women question. Then it was involved in war, and in 1916 Asquith lost out to the demagogue Lloyd George. Jack Beatty extends the Dangerfield argument to continental Europe, including Russia, and says that the death of liberal Europe was not inevitable, that the war did not need to happen, and that the liberal world could have gone on and on. He takes the famous European cases – Germany, Russia, France, Austria-Hungary – and tells some good stories in vigorous style, though a little bit of the Rasputin story goes a long way, and why we need to have the Mexican gunslinger Pancho Villa in the narrative is not altogether plain. 

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