The author is Michael S. Neiberg and the subtitle is Europe and the Outbreak of World War I. This book stunned me, in a positive way. It argues for six main propositions, a few of which can be summarized quickly:
First…few Europeans expected a war and even fewer wanted one. Europe was not a place of white-hot nationalist passions looking for a spark…Virtually no one in Europe sought a war to correct supposed inequities stemming from the turbulent nineteenth century or as a way to adjust borders. Even in France, there was no desire for war as a way to avenge the loss of Alsace-Lorraine…
Third, the people of Europe accepted the necessity of war primarily because they believed their wars to be defensive.
Fourth, disillusion with the war…was well in place by the end of the war’s first year.
Sixth, despite their concerns and suspicions, societies kept fighting. Their reasons for doing so included a desire to avenge the losses of 1914, the quite real threats to their existence which remained from foreign armies, and an awareness that the hatreds unleashed by the war as early as the end of the first month made anything short of total victory or total defeat unthinkable.
I do not have the specialized knowledge required to judge these claims, but I found the evidence cited in the book quite strong and I consider myself provisionally persuaded. For those versed in public choice economics, and behavioral public choice, Neiberg’s account is much more intuitive than the popular analyses one often hears. Definitely recommended.
I also found reading this book to be a depressing experience: Neiberg’s third point implies that a major war in our future is more likely than I had thought. For instance the German government was scheming aggressively, but the German people genuinely believed, and with some justification given the information they had at the time, that they were fighting a war of defense.