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1913: In Search of the World before the Great War    by Charles Emmerson order for
by Charles Emmerson
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

There's a danger some readers may be put off by the length of this history and that is a real shame because this is a very readable and highly entertaining book.

Not only is the author's plan to explore 1913 without focusing on the fact that this was the year that led up to the Great War an interesting idea, but his approach (focusing on 21 major cities) also makes this a unique way of assessing the period.

By liberating 1913 from the shadow of the international conflict to come, Emmerson introduces his reader to a cosmopolitan world that has made a number of advances in the sciences, transportation, economics, the arts and many other areas.

A global economy had emerged based on the gold standard and distances between countries had shrunk dramatically thanks to the development in transportation and the cables that linked all the world's major cities.

In Detroit, Henry Ford was manufacturing affordable Model T autos while a rising force in Asia, China, had inspired Sax Romer's first Fu-Manchu novel.

The Romanovs were celebrating three hundred years of rule in Russia, young Turks were challenging the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring premiered in Paris and incited a riot because it was too avant-garde.

The author writes that the objective set for this book is not to explain the Great War but rather to focus on a single year. The book's sweep is 'geographic, more than chronological'.

Emmerson states in the book's introduction; 'Therein lies its peculiar ambitiousness: to paint a truly global picture of the world in 1913, often from the perspective of contemporary travelers and writers ... but also from the perspective of protagonists both high and low, famous and unknown, Western and non-Western ... 1913 was a year of possibility not predestination.'

When you open this book you'll begin a journey that stretches from London and Paris to New York, Detroit, Los Angeles and Mexico City. Then you'll cross the Pacific to Tokyo, Peking-Shanghai, and Bombay before heading back to Berlin and Vienna by way of Tehran, Jerusalem, Constantinople and St. Petersburg.

You'll also take side trips to Buenos Aires, Winnipeg, Melbourne and Durban. And, no doubt, you'll be quite disappointed when this fascinating odyssey is over because, unfortunately, it will end before you want it to!

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