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1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War

Historian Charles Emmerson's sweeping journey through 1913 shows that the Great War was far from inevitable. The optimism, ideas, and global interconnectedness of the era could have led the world down a different path.

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1913
By Charles Emmerson
PublicAffairs
544 pp.

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It’s easy to forget that history is not preordained. To the modern eye, a pall hangs over 1913; 1938; October 1963; and August 2001. In our imaginations, we see the people living through those years marching inevitably towards sweeping changes about to permanently transform the world order.

 But in 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War, historian and geopolitical specialist Charles Emmerson sets out to paint a picture of 1913 as it was, rather than as simply a prelude to World War I. In his sweeping travelogue, which takes the reader from London to Durban, Detroit to Winnipeg, Algiers to Tokyo, Emmerson shows that the Great War was far from inevitable and that the optimism, ideas, and global interconnectedness of 1913 could have led the world down another path, had history taken a different turn.

Citizens of most countries and empires around the world had reasons to be optimistic in 1913. Europe, the continent that would tear itself apart the next year, was united across national borders: The upper classes shared tastes in art, culture and music, while workers shared their socialist principles and women shared their desire for universal suffrage. Non-European cities were enjoying unprecedented success: Tokyo was the center of a rapidly modernizing and industrializing country that was considered by some to be the England of the East. Buenos Aires, fueled by wealth generated from large-scale industrial farming, was becoming a grand city that attracted cultural events such as the Ballets Russe. Detroit’s star was rising as its automobile production inaugurated a culture of mass consumerism and middle class luxury.

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