Catastrophe: Europe Goes To War 1914
Exactly the sort of balanced and readable account one would expect from Max Hastings, this book covers the first four months of the war on the basis that this period established the themes that remained essentially unchanged until the breakdown of 1918.
Hastings makes the familiar argument that the Western Front was the key to the whole war, with the other fronts being sideshows. But he makes the less familiar (to me anyway) argument that the deadlock was largely inevitable -- the result of macro-economic forces and the evolution of defensive military hardware -- rather than due in any significant way to failures in generalship on either side. This isn't to excuse the poor leadership, nor to minimise the consequences of the stubbornness and lack of imagination or empathy that went with it, but simply to say that the war had to be fought largely as it was, with few viable alternatives.
It's great to see Hastings acknowledge his debt to Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, which to my mind remains the greatest summary of this period despite its low standing amongst professional historians. This book runs it a close second, though.
4/5. Finished 21 November 2013.
(Originally published on Goodreads.)