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A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918    by G. J. Meyer order for
World Undone
by G. J. Meyer
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

On June 28, 1914, the relatively unimpressive heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were visiting the beautiful city of Sarajevo in the remote province of Bosnia at the southernmost tip of the Austro-Hungarian domains. On that otherwise peaceful summer day in Eastern Europe, Gavrilo Princip, a nineteen-year-old Serbian nationalist - one of several fanatical conspirators with the same goal - was standing impatiently at a spot on the roadside along which the archduke's motorcade was scheduled to pass. Then, when the time was right, an obsessed Princip pulled out his revolver, pointed it at the car that had stopped merely five feet in front him. He fired twice. Suddenly, a thin stream of blood came spurting out of a bewildered Franz Ferdinand's mouth. And within minutes, the archduke and his hapless wife (who had been unintentionally struck by one of the bullets) were both dead.

Political assassinations, of course, throughout history are not really unusual. Sometimes they merely became anecdotal footnotes in the grand scheme of things, full of sound and fury but actually signifying nothing. At other times they became undeniably dramatic though relatively peaceful catalysts for profound political or social changes. Franz Ferdinand's assassination, however, became particularly significant and singular - as every student of world history knows - because a little more than a month later, the entire world began to fall apart.

In the immediate aftermath of the archduke's assassination, Austria-Hungary had made humiliating demands upon Serbia. Almost inexplicably - when considered in retrospect - imperial, territorial and economic interests rather than prudent diplomacy and good common sense prevailed, and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Other declarations of war from other countries (taking opposing sides on profoundly foolish and disturbingly short-sighted issues) followed quickly, and soon nearly every major power in the world was at war.

G. J. Meyer's highly recommended, immensely readable, and impressively detailed A World Undone tells the story of that war, World War I, the Great War that 'reduced Europe's mightiest empires to rubble, killed twenty million people, and cracked the foundations of the world we live in today.'

More than an excellent history, which it is, A World Undone is a provocative analysis of one of history's most perplexing events. But this book is more than a conventional presentation about early twentieth century politics, military strategies, and battlefield horrors; especially noteworthy for the many specifically focused chapters that alternate with the superb chronological narrative, Meyer's compact but comprehensive treatment - in less than 700 pages - gives readers essential additional background information about the personalities and places relevant to an understanding of the Great War. Too often, other histories of World War I have left non-specialist readers confused because too much background information had been overlooked. A World Undone now gives readers in 2006 all the necessary information so that readers can more completely and critically evaluate one of history's greatest (and most baffling and senseless) tragedies.

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