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Titus Bluth's Blatherings

A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire

A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire - Geoffrey Wawro A flawed and incomplete history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Great War.

At 385 pages long including introduction and epilogue, the first third of the book is a broad-brush description of the political and military situation in Austro-Hungary immediately previous to the opening of WW1. Unfortunately most of this is wasted, as the author largely reiterates the obstructionism of the Hungarian part of the empire and the incompetence of the Imperial government and military leadership over and over. There is very little in the way of facts and figures or biographical detail of the major players to illustrate the author's points; as it stands, the reader must take Wawro's facts on the basis of bald assertion and anecdotes. A far more detailed and illuminating account of the political battles within and between the Austrian and Hungarian parliaments and political elites and the industrialization (or failure to industrialize) of the Austro-Hungarian economy could have been written in the same space, and the topic deserves far more volume.

The second third deals with the outbreak of the war and the opening campaigns against Russia and Serbia. Here, again, the narrative is lacking in detail and abundant in verbiage. Great armies advance, collide with great and pointless butchery, and one or the other withdraws. As to how and why the armies advance where they did, and are forced to withdraw, the author is almost silent. Again, the topic deserves more space, and could easily have included far more detail in the space allotted. The author instead writes at some length on the pettiness and incompetence of the Austro-Hungarian leadership, something he already established in the first part.

The final (and shortest) third deals with the war after 1914 and its consequences to the Empire. Here are the book's most glaring flaws; the entire Italian Front is dealt with in a couple of paragraphs, the Romanian campaign is barely even mentioned and relations with Austro-Hungary's Bulgarian and Ottoman allies of necessity are glossed over in favor of yet another litany of Franz Josef's and Conrad's sins and errors. The Salonika front and Franchet D'Esperey's breakthrough -the campaign that actually ended Austro-Hungary's war- are completely ignored.

In all honesty this book deserves two stars. The information it contains could have easily fit in a book half its (already short) length, and the subject matter requires at least three or four times the size to do it justice, even in an overview. I give it three stars simply because of the lack of other, better books on the topic.

Contrast Thompson's The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 for a much better popular history of one country in the Great War.