Ring of Steel
Sunday Times History Book of the Year 2014
Winner of the 2014 Wolfson History Prize, the 2014 Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History, the Society for Military History’s 2015 Distinguished Book Award and the 2015 British Army Military Book of the Year
For the empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary the Great War – which had begun with such high hopes for a fast, dramatic outcome – rapidly degenerated as invasions of both France and Serbia ended in catastrophe. For four years the fighting now turned into a siege on a quite monstrous scale. Europe became the focus of fighting of a kind previously unimagined. Despite local successes – and an apparent triumph in Russia – Germany and Austria-Hungary were never able to break out of the the Allies’ ring of steel.
In Alexander Watson’s compelling new history of the Great War, all the major events of the war are seen from the perspective of Berlin and Vienna. It is fundamentally a history of ordinary people. In 1914 both empires were flooded by genuine mass enthusiasm and their troubled elites were at one with most of the population. But the course of the war put this under impossible strain, with a fatal rupture between an ever more extreme and unrealistic leadership and an exhausted and embittered people. In the end they failed and were overwhelmed by defeat and revolution.
Alexander Watson's remarkable history of the first world war makes clear as never before how this unparalleled conflict impacted on and changed the societies of central Europe, particularly Germany and Austria-Hungary -- PD Smith * the Guardian * This book offers Anglo-Saxon students of the First World War a usefully original perspective -- Max Hastings * Sunday Times * An immensely authoritative new history of Germany and Austria-Hungary between 1914 and 1918. Watson writes fluently and compellingly, and his remarkable command of the sources offers new insight and information on almost every page. Soundly judged on the many controversial aspects of his topic, Watson is particularly ground-breaking in evoking the popular experience of the conflict and when investigating the atrocities that all too frequently were its accompaniment -- David Stevenson (author of 1914-1918) The Central Powers' Great War was not waged from the top down. Instead, as Alexander Watson's comprehensively researched and clearly presented analysis demonstrates, in both Germany and Austria-Hungary popular support was vital to mobilizing and sustaining an increasingly-futile conflict -- Dennis Showalter (author of Tannenberg: Clash of Empires 1914) In Ring of Steel Alexander Watson shows us what it was like to be pierced by the sharp end of the Allied juggernaut. He takes us on an illuminating tour of the German and Austrian trenches, their querulous headquarters, their cold, starving towns, and their increasingly desperate government ministries. This is a fascinating account of the Great War from 'the other side of the hill,' but also an explanation for the chaos that followed: communism, fascism, depression, and Europe's plunge into a Second World War -- Geoffrey Wawro (author of A Mad Catastrophe) An immensely authoritative new history of Germany and Austria-Hungary between 1914 and 1918. Watson writes fluently and compellingly, and his remarkable command of the sources offers new insight and information on almost every page. Soundly judged on the many controversial aspects of his topic, Watson is particularly ground-breaking in evoking the popular experience of the conflict and when investigating the atrocities that all too frequently were its accompaniment -- David Stevenson (author of 1914-1918) A truly indispensable contribution . . . It is a mark of talent in a historian to take familiar narratives and open them to new interpretation. Mr. Watson's book is a brilliant demonstration of this skill . . . Ring of Steel is a history as much of the emotions that hardship and war produced as of politics or diplomacy . . . Watson manages to mesh his dense bottom-up description with the grand narrative of the war's key moments of decision -- Adam Tooze * Wall Street Journal * British historians have tended to view the Great War predominantly from the side of the Allies. Watson has done our understanding an inestimable service by examining these familiar events from the perspective of the Central Powers ... Watson's shift of perspective offers illuminating sidelights ... Watson's balance is at its most strikingly effective in a superlative chapter on Germany's catastrophic decision to launch its U-boat campaign. But it is the lost hordes of East European refugees who create the most haunting images in the immense canvas of this outstanding book -- Miranda Seymour * Telegraph * Will be revelatory to most British readers -- Simon Heffer * New Statesman BOOKS OF THE YEAR * In a year dominated by memories of the First World War, this supremely accomplished book stands out. Not only does it look at the conflict from the perspective of the losing Central Powers, imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary, but it brings together political, military, economic and cultural history in an enormously impressive narrative. Although Watson's book is based on archival research in Germany, Austria and Poland, his scholarship is never suffocating. His accounts of the terrible struggle on the vast Eastern Front are brisk and well-judged, while he is particularly good at bringing alive the mood on the German and Austrian home fronts, from soldiers' letters to children's nursery rhymes. Above all, his book could not be a more powerful reminder that, as bad as the war was for Britain, it was far, far worse for the losers -- Dominic Sandbrook * Sunday Times, History Book of the Year 2014 *
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