Reading in Time of Corona (and beyond!)

I managed to read Snyder’s short book on Tyranny last week. It was a revelation of sorts, and I’ve been recommending it to friends. It’s a very timely book.

I use the word revelation here in a very peculiar way, as most of what you will read will probably fall into what one would define as common sense, nevertheless, the genius is in finding the thread that brings it all together, while offering a pragmatic roadmap for action.

I’ll read Bloodlands in the near future.

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And I , Tyranny.

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Not quite a book, but feels like one. And worth watching every minute of it on the iPlayer.


What did you think?

It’s quite interesting. But one has to control oneself in order to avoid jumping to conclusions after that first few pages.

A lot of economists are in denial about this stuff, but some Nordic countries stated to adopt bits and pieces of economic policy under an MMT lens.

I can’t see this happening in my lifetime though. Some orthodoxies are too entrenched, but things are changing. Trickle down economics is now widely discredited and income inequality is now being recognised as a direct consequence of some of the neoliberal policies over the least 40 years.


The UK really should look at it now with the dire state of the infrastructure and public transport outside of London. Would increase growth fairly quickly.


Every few years I try and get to grips with July 1914.
…it is a real struggle…eventually I gave up with trying to work out the causes of WW1…instead I looked at why heads of state ordered the mobilization of their armies and when did they do so…this approach brings Russia into the forefront…and leaves me with the conclusion that the Kaiser did not want war but made several errors of judgement about Russian intentions.


I also have a certain fascination with that period, although unlike you my research hasn’t got much further than the much more superficial (but still excellent) Margaret Macmillan Radio 4 series on 1914 I posted about a while ago (maybe on this thread).

There’s a grim ‘if only they knew’ feeling about that summer. I wonder how far Europe’s ruling elites would have taken a different course of action if they could have had even a sense of the years of senseless slaughter of young lives that immediately followed.


Have you read Robert Massie’s “Dreadnought”? Excellent book, which I’ve recently re-read. He looks at all the personalities involved, not least the long lasting family/ national feuds, with lots of pomposity all round. Germany, then only recently a state, had exercised its power through the army, with Wilhelm then wanting to make an Empire, for which he needed a navy, as well as gaining respect among other heads of state, not least his uncle Bertie, Edward VII. There followed an arms race, with massive expenditure on capital ships for the decade preceding the war. And yes, it’s likely that he and his ministers miscalculated the Russian response to the Balkan crisis, but by then the German war plan was so entrenched, with the General Staff committed to defeating France before heading east, that it became a full blown European war.

In “Castles of Steel”, Massie then looks at the naval war, 14-18. Very interesting, lots of personalities with entrenched, often 19th century, views, though for me it didn’t quite have the impact of Dreadnought, which is one of the best history books I’ve read.


Have you read her incredible book about this subject? I’ve read it twice now, but I’m still going to give it a third reread sometime, because it’s just so dripping in information it’s almost impossible to take it all in.

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I haven’t - but will definitely look it out now! Thank you.

Have any of you read both the Christopher Clarke and Margaret MacMillan books? If so, which would you recommend to read first? I’ve not read either of them . .


I have a little bit of a thing for politics and political history - indeed from A level to degree level (career completely unrelated by the way, I’m sure giving the naysayers much ammunition!) - and it’s my opinion that The War that Ended Peace is one of the greatest books on the subject I’ve read. It’s incredible in its scope and detail, and (fundamentally) it’s ability to discuss and introduce ideas way outside of the mainstream ‘it was the Germans what done it’.

Indeed, it also introduces frightening parallels to our own time, where regression from more open borders and worldwide trade and ideas allows nationalism and national interest to make countries more insular in their approach to world affairs.

It’s fair to say I find it fascinating as a piece of work.


I have read both, and also Otte’s book “The July Crisis 1914.”
Each has something to recommend it. My recent approach was to chop up the period 28thJune 1914-4th August and take each key episode in the period and read each book’s focus on it. The meeting in Berlin on 5th July between Germany and Austria is dealt with slightly differently in each book.
On balance I find Clark the most even handed.

The only point I would make is that perhaps historians ask the wrong question in seeking to discover “The causes of World war I” because when we think of World War I there is a huge temptation to focus on the Western Front and hence approach the causes from a Germany/Britain/France perspective. I now ask myself what caused the mobilisation of armies in July/August 1914? That seems to me to be the critical point. Once heads of state ordered mobilisation there was no turning back from war. The war itself took on a life of its own. If the focus is on causes of mobilisation, the whole causation axis swings eastwards to Serbia and Russia.


I’ve always looked at it as a matter really of Austria-Hungary trying to maintain control of Serbia and things spiralling out of control from there & everyone dragged in etc etc

Andrew1990 & Tannatastic, thank you both very much for your thoughts. If one is looking to the summer of 1914 for the causes of the War then yes, presumably it starts with the assassination in Sarajevo. But like so many conflicts, the origins go back much further, which is what I found interesting about Massie’s book: like a massive European beast moving inexorably towards war.

Andrew, I’m not sure I understand why focussing on the Western Front in the war leads to approaching the causes of the war from a Germany/Britain/France perspective. Is it because the German plan did not allow for fighting a protracted war on two fronts, and that they might have done differently had they not convinced themselves of a quick victory in the west? I do agree that once mobilised, there was little/ no chance of going back.

There are indeed individuals who heavily shaped events, so yes, many parallels with today, Putin/Ukraine not least. It sounds as though MacMillan’s book looks wider too (have I understood correctly, @Tannatastic ?). I’ve thought about getting her book on the Treaty of Versailles, so I’ll likely start with her.


I believe it starts in 1870.

It’s scale and scope are huge though, and asks a question that I’ve seldom seen - such as most history (that I have read) looks back with hindsight and sees the inevitability of war, but her book tries to look at the sheer interconnectivity of the world before 1914, and points out that we should be shocked by the outbreak of war, just as those of the time would have been. (She also highlights the late rush to war, and the rapid rise of nationalism).


@CRW6 …The way things are going we may need new thread for this topic…in fact given its scale and complexity we may even need a new website!


I can send things off at a tangent by saying that I’m currently re-reading, and very much enjoying again, “Brunelleschi’s Dome”, by Ross King. All about the design and building of the dome onto Florence cathedral, and of course the background to it all. Really interesting, and a jolly well told story.
All the best,


I find that interesting. Not an academic historian or anything. But to locate things only at 1914 seems to be not going far enough. Why did it get to such a stage that everyone was ready to mobilise? Really not an expert but doesn’t this all have its roots slightly in German unification and the Franco Prussian war and the way France smarted from that?

Kind of in the way that the roots of the Second world war are in the way Germany was treated by the French/ allies at the end of the First because… (etc.)…