In the last decade of the nineteenth century, there was a palpable sensation of coming catastrophe. Writers, painters, poets all registered their sense of gloom. It had been almost a century since the last great world war effort against Napoleon, and year after year, the general population was treated to increasingly violent patriotic propaganda against various parties. In France, it was the "Germans," a new term carrying nationalistic scorn that was ubiquitous now that Bismarck had pulled together all the tiny German-speaking states that had earlier been easy pickings for the French Grande Armee of Napoleon. Great international colonial empires were crashing into each other. Britain, France, Germany, Holland all had profitable colonial territories, and each nation was governed by imperialistic cabals dedicated to maintaining the vast international money-making machines of empire. If you would like one book to describe this atmosphere and the politics of the situation, there is none better than Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED READING
The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914,
Ballantine Books paperback,
About the Book:
"The diplomatic origins, so-called, of the War are only the fever chart of the patient; they do not tell us what caused the fever. To probe for underlying causes and deeper forces one must operate within the framework of a whole society and try to discover what moved the people in it." --Barbara W. Tuchman
The fateful quarter-century leading up to the World War I was a time when the world of Privilege still existed in Olympian luxury and the world of Protest was heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate. The age was the climax of a century of the most accelerated rate of change in history, a cataclysmic shaping of destiny. In The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman concentrates on society rather than the state. With an artist's selectivity, Tuchman brings to vivid life the people, places, and events that shaped the years leading up to the Great War: the Edwardian aristocracy and the end of their reign; the Anarchists of Europe and America, who voiced the protest of the oppressed; Germany, as portrayed through the figure of the self-depicted Hero, Richard Strauss; the sudden gorgeous blaze of Diaghilev's Russian Ballet and Stravinsky's music; the Dreyfus Affair; the two Peace Conferences at the Hague; and, finally, the youth, ideals, enthusiasm, and tragedy of Socialism, epitomized in the moment when the heroic Jean Jaurès was shot to death on the night the War began and an epoch ended.
"Tuchman [was] a distinguished historian who [wrote] her books with a rare combination of impeccable scholarship and literary polish. . . . It would be impossible to read The Proud Tower without pleasure and admiration." --The New York Times
"Tuchman proved in The Guns of August that she could write better military history than most men. In this sequel, she tells her story with cool wit and warm understanding, eschewing both the sweeping generalizations of a Toynbee and the minute-by-minute simplicisms of a Walter Lord." --Time