The Month That Changed the World -- July 1914 by Gordon Martel, Oxford UPress '14. $34.95, 484 pages, ASIN #0199665389. Index, list of works c
ited, notes, b&w images sprinkled through text..
Readers don't need a centennial observance to recognize the name of unlucky Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was assassinated at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, for we all learned about him in school. The importance of that event, of course, was that it led directly to a military conflict historians called the Great War (never realizing they'd have to change that to World War I to accommodate further carnage down the road).
Scholar Gordon Martel is one of a raft of authors on the subject who have published books this season to commemmorate the horrific event and to describe its outcroppings and importance. In his work, the author "goes back to the human dimension, to the contemporary diplomatic, military, and political records, in order to recount the twists and turns of the crisis afresh, with the aim of establishing just how the cataclysm was unleased."
Painfully, Mantell stresses that the motivating factor to the Great War "is the story of a terrible, avoidable tragedy -- a mystery that can be solved only by retracing the steps taken by those who took the world down the road to war." That story brings into view such historic personalities as Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor Franz Joseph, Tsar Nicholas II, Sir Edward Grey, and Raymond Poincare.
Mantell tells his story chronologically, devoting a chapter to each day of the infamous "July Crisis." Tragically, he stresses that "almost every day it seemed possible that the crisis could be settled as so many had been over the past decade." But, alas, it was not to be.
Author Gordon Martel is a specialist on the origins of the First and Second World Wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. He has taught at a number of Canadian universities and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland, and Australia.
D-Day Through French Eyes -- Normandy 1944 by Mary Louise Roberts, UChicago Press '14, $25, 211 pages, ASIN #022613699X. Index, bibliography, notes, b&w images sprinkled through text.
A brief excerpt from the author's Introduction:
"At the mention of D-Day, most Americans summon the image of GIs landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. These first steps onto Nazi-occupied soil, immortalized in a photograph often attributed to Robert Capa, dominated our perceptions of World War II. But did you ever wonder how the landings looked from the opposite direction -- to the French onshore? What was D-Day like for the Normans?
"U.S. historians have told and retold the story of the Normandy Invasion. But in most accounts, the focus remains on the day-to-day fighting of the Allied forces, particularly the American GIs. As a result, the experience of the Normans has been almost completely ignored. To remedy this, the collection of documents gathered in this book will widen our view by presenting D-Day and the Normandy Campaign through French eyes. Among these documents are temoignages, or testimonies, of the campaign culled from French archives and publications."
Author Mary Louise Roberts is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in WWII France.
Hotel Florida -- Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War by Amanda Vaill, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux '14, $30, 436 pages, ASIN #0374172994. Index, bibliography, glossary, notes, grouping of b&w glossy images, several b&w maps.
It is basic to the craft of writing history that readers respond to personal stories quicker than to anything else. In her latest work, historian Amanda Vaill employs the personal dramas of six people: Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, Arturo Barea, and Ilsa Kulcsar -- "whose lives all crossed paths at Madrid's Hotel Florida as they bore witness to the war."
From the dust jacket:
"Beginning with the cloak-and-dagger plot that precipitated the first gunshots of the war and moving forward month by month to the end of the conflict, Hotel Florida traces the tangled and disparate wartime destinies of three couples against the backdrop of a critical moment in history: a moment that called forth both the best and the worst from those caught up in it.
"In this noir landscape of spies, soldiers, revolutionaries, and artists, the shadow line between truth and falsehood sometimes became faint indeed -- your friend could be your enemy, and honesty could get you (or someone else) killed."
Author Amanda Vaill is author of the best-selling Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy -- A Lost Generation Love Story, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography. She has written other books as well and written features and criticism for a range of pubications. She lives in New York City.