Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 14 Oct 2019

Member Reviews

If the end of WW1 was just the beginning of the twentieth century's "Fifty Year War", what changes did it make to Europe and the world that led to the continuation beginning again in 1937. At the end of the war, it was decided by the victorious allies at Versailles, to divide up four of the major empires that existed before the war.

Germany lost all their colonies and was split in half with the loss of the Polish Corridor. Russia was forced to give up the Baltic States, area for the new Polish Republic, Austria-Hungary was split into its' constituent parts, as was the Ottoman Empire. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France, Japan was given the mandate over Germany's Pacific Island colonies; Czechoslavokia, Yugoslavia and Poland grew out of Germany and A-H, while Italy was able to grow north to the Brenner pass. England was happy with parts of Africa and the Middle East as was France. The US acquired only the plaudits for helping to win the war and the freeing of many people.

But none of this happened in a bubble, there was diplomacy, revolution, wars, and negotiations that were needed to solidify what was decided at the Peace Conference at Versailles. Who and how this all happened is what Crucible is all about. It is a finely written account of the people and personalities that would create the situations that then led to the last part of the Fifty Years War.

Zeb Kantrowitz
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Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of a New World, 1917-1924 by Charles Emmerson is an extensive history about the close of World War I and its early aftermath.  Emmerson is a Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House working on resource security, foreign policy, and global geopolitics. He is the author of The Future History of the Arctic and 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War. He was formerly a writer for the Financial Times and continues to publish regularly on international affairs.

The First World War changed the entire world dynamic.  Empire waned as the British Empire began to lose control in India, leaving thousands dead.  Physics changed when a German-born scientist received the Nobel Prize for the photoelectric effect (not relativity).  Sigmund Freud changed the field of psychology with psychoanalysis.  A Russian exile living in Zurich would make an almost unbelievable train trip back to Russia and lead a revolution.  He would work with Leon Trotsky and meet with a Georgian bank robber who would become the General Secretary of the Communist Party and create a different revolution.  The US and Woodrow Wilson would rise and quickly fall from prominence in European matters.  The US had its own problems at home, including violent racism.  Democracy spread in some countries and retracted in others. In defeated Germany, the army fought communists in riots, and a young Austrian immigrant and WWI veteran began his to power. In Italy, another war veteran would lead 30,000 Blackshirts to the March on Rome.  With the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire, a young leader would become the namesake of his country. The map of Europe was redrawn moving borders and creating and destroying countries.  In the Middle East, England and France divided the land and spread their influence.  It was not the same world as it was in 1914. 

In most basic histories, readers are led to believe that the Treaty of Versailles was the cause of the unsuccessful peace in Europe. In reality, it was much more than that.  It was the start of a different era in many aspects -- Industrialization, mechanization, nationalism, science, and worker's rights.  Even in art, modernism rose in literature and art. To many, this was as great of a shock as the political upheavals. 

Emmerson explores the complexities of the tail end of WWI and the beginning of the Interwar years.  Dividing the book's chapters by year, the reader will see a timeline that switches between countries and people in a coherent manner. This division is practical because it shows the flow of history on the whole instead of individual nations.  This is the beginning of the interconnectedness of all countries rather than just the influence of regional powers. It was the beginning of a new world, new ideas, modern science, and unfortunately the beginning of a darker side of the future.  A well done, extensive history, of a significant but little-studied period.
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This book provided an interesting look at the transformation of culture one hundred years ago and was about a lot more than just the end of World War I. However, it is a very in-depth account that is not easy to read unless you are really into that period of history.
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There are limitless books on history before 1914  and after 1933, but not many on the time after the First World War that led to both the expansion of democracy (women's suffrage) and set the state for totalitarianism (Hitler's rise to power). The author takes the reader through an explosion of art and self-expression, but also conflict and oppression.
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