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13 November 2018

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The Russian Origins of the First World War

By Sean McMeekin (Belknap Harvard, $29.95)

For nearly 100 years, historians have blamed Germany for the start of World War I, saying that Bismarck ordered mobilization to preempt Russia, which was expected to come to the aid of Serbia, which in turn had been issued an untenable ultimatum by Austria, Germany’s ally. But McMeekin looks more deeply into the historical record, uncover- ing convincing proof in previously closed archives that in fact Germany’s mobilization was in response to unequivocal evidence of a not-so-secret Russian mobilization throughout Poland and western Russia.

What is more, McMeekin delves into Russia’s motives for war. Questioning the common notion of Russian concern for Serbia, he shows that the real driver behind Russian actions was a long-standing desire to gain control of the Black Sea straits, or at least to keep it out of German hands.

A thorough and convention-shattering account, albeit one that often assumes a bit too much reader knowledge of related history.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Mar/Apr 2012