Read Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia by Dominic Lieven Online


The Russian decision to mobilize in July 1914 may have been the single most catastrophic choice of the modern era. Some articulate, thoughtful figures around the Tsar understood Russia's fragility, and yet they were shouted down by those who were convinced that, despite Germany's patent military superiority, Russian greatness required decisive action. Russia's rulers thougThe Russian decision to mobilize in July 1914 may have been the single most catastrophic choice of the modern era. Some articulate, thoughtful figures around the Tsar understood Russia's fragility, and yet they were shouted down by those who were convinced that, despite Germany's patent military superiority, Russian greatness required decisive action. Russia's rulers thought they were acting to secure their future, but in fact - after millions of deaths and two revolutions - they were consigning their entire class to death or exile and their country to a uniquely terrible generations-long experiment under a very different regime.Dominic Lieven is a Senior Research Fellow of Trinity College,Cambridge University, and a Fellow of the British Academy. His book Russia Against Napoleon (Penguin) won the Wolfson Prize for History and the Prize of the Fondation Napoleon for the best foreign work on the Napoleonic era....

Title : Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781846143816
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 448 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia Reviews

  • Hadrian
    2019-05-14 05:54

    This volume is at first a history of the collapse of the Russian Empire (though you may have gathered that from the title), but it presents three connected narratives: how Russia became involved in the war, how the war itself started (his starting point is 1908, with the Austrian annexation of Bosnia), and then a look at the international causes of the Russian Revolution. Lieven attempts to balance what he calls the 'God's-eye view' of the broader, structural causes of international conflict and domestic upheaval, how the remaining multi-ethnic empires struggled to hold themselves together in a time of resurgent nationalism - with the 'worm's-eye view' of individual political actors, such as the doomed Tsar, his ministers (even those involved with domestic affairs), or figures within the press or the army. In particular, I appreciated the discussions about the nationalist press, trying to balance foreign policy and military deployment between Europe and Asia (especially after the disastrous Russo-Japanese War), and how they reflect the extent of the ideological debates within the top political circles.Covering all of this in a single book is an ambitious goal, and Lieven's work is impressive because he has achieved so much of what he set out to describe.And yes, the talk of ascendant second powers, political leaders talking up brinkmanship, Russian aggression, nationalist populism, and arms races is all very unsettling these days. So it goes.

  • Joseph
    2019-04-26 04:45

    The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution is a look at the world leading up until WWI. Lieven is Professor of Russian studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, a Fellow of the British Academy and of Trinity College, Cambridge.Last year was the 100th Anniversary of the start of WWI and the world was saturated with new books on the subject. I have read nearly thirty books on the war in the last two years, and for the most part, one area of the war has been missing -- the eastern front. The war starts between Serbia and Austria-Hungary and then histories move directly to the Western front and stay there. The study of WWI is almost entirely a study of the Western front. It is easy to forget that there was fighting in Asia, the Australians were chasing German ships in the Pacific, and the largest of the great powers was fighting Germany and Austria along the Eastern front. I picked up this book hoping to gain more insight on the war in the East but discovered the title a bit misleading. Nearly the entire book covers the events up until the start of WWI. It is told from a Russian perspective, but anyone who studied tsarist Russia is already familiar with the events leading to the war and Russia's poor position to fight a modern, industrial war. Russia lost its navy to the Japanese a decade before and the population was not ready for another national embarrassment. The 1905 Revolution, a peaceful protest turned violent with the military ordered to fire on civilians, created lasting unrest inside the country. Russia's rail system, needed for rapid mobilization, was in a sorry state. Hastily and cheaply built there was only a single set of tracks along most of the route making the scheduling trains running in both directions quite difficult. Furthermore, Russia's main hub or moving troops up and down its Western border was only thirty-five miles from the Austrian border making it very vulnerable to capture before mobilization was complete. Most of the foreign affairs have been well written about in past books. Lieven, however, manages to include Russia as a main player instead of a sidelined power. Trade with Germany and French loans play a large role in Russia's involvement Europe. Lieven, also mentions the importance of the Ukraine. The Ukraine allowed Russia to become self-sufficient in food production making a long war advantageous. However, food production was never really Russia's problem. Transporting food to where it was needed was a problem even in the Soviet times. Internal Russian politics are also covered in detail. From the creation of the Duma, Nicholas’ own incompetence, and a foreign ministry that preferred roles as ambassadors to that of foreign minister all go against Russia. Russia was also recovering from serfdom, which kept the great majority of the population poor and tied to farming. France made Frenchmen out of their rural population and Russia kept their peasants at a level barely above slavery. With the population that was poor and uneducated, the Russians did not develop the sense of nationalism other countries had; the peasants fought for Tsar and God. When the Tsar fell out of favor so did the will to fight. All in all, The End of Tsarist Russia, is a solid history. For those unfamiliar with the politics leading to WWI and Russian history, it is an excellent book. For those familiar with both Russia and the war it is a good review. A single rating for this book is not practical depending on the category the reader falls into it is either four or three stars respectively.

  • Susan
    2019-04-22 10:54

    In this fascinating read, author Dominic Lieven looks at the history of WWI from the perspective of Russia. Indeed, he suggests that WWI was, essentially, an Eastern European conflict; one in which the initial confrontation between Austria and Russia led to defeat for both sides. Although the author is careful to explain events in some depth, so that you do not need to have any real background knowledge, I would not really recommend this book as a good starting point. However, if you have an interest in either Russian history or the beginnings of WWI, then you should enjoy this excellently researched book. The scene is set with an initial look at Europe before the first world war – a time when Empire mattered and nationalism became a force. The four continental powers were France, Russia, Austria and Prussia and the relationships between these countries are explored in depth. The author then discusses the Russian Empire and the many problems it faced. Russia ruled over a sixth of the world’s land surface and yet this vast land was essentially an agrarian empire. It was, in effect, both a great power and a poor country, weakened by internal problems and uncertainty. This book looks at what led to the outbreak of war and the consequences for Russia and Europe – both during and after the conflict. This really is a book you can immerse yourself in. I have not read anything by this prize winning academic before, but I look forward to exploring more of his work, as I found this an extremely rewarding read.

  • Dimitri
    2019-05-19 06:02

    Alltough some damn foolish thing in the Balkan would indeed bring about a European war, the role of the two Great Powers situated on the east side of the continent in its origins have received less attention in the English-language historiography than those of Great Britain, its French ally and its infamous main opponent, the German Empire. Dominic Lieven handles the Russian origins of the Great War with gusto. Between the defeat of the tsarist forces in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 and the assassination in Sarajevo, Russia was closely involved in every pan-European war scare, to an almost annual rythm if one adds the two Morrocan crises (1906/11) and the tension with Great Britain over spheres of influence in Persia (settled provisionally in 1907). The annexation of Bosnia by the Habsburg empire (following a de facto occupation since 1878) comes close to being a turning point in Russian Great Power politics; not a weight usually attributed. The Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 are understood in terms of the questionable Serbian and Bulgarian allegiance to Russia. Throughout, themes of tension run through the minds of Russian diplomats, ministers and generals. Pan-Slavism towards the rapidly shaping Balkan nations was popular with the press and the middle classes, but difficult to translate into foreign policy without the responsibility of war. Closely related was a form of Russian nationalism that seeked to orientate the towards Europe and its liberal modernism, to restore the country to the strength it possessed prior to the confrontation in the Far East. The defeat had been a clear signal that tsarist autocracy and semi-serfdom were no longer a reliable basis for an economically secure Russia. In terms of the industrial demands of modern warfare, this was undoubtedly true. Diametrically opposed was a desire to focus on the development of Russia's "empire in Asia", exploiting the economic resources of the Siberian landmass without crossing the sphere of influence that Japan was carving out in Northern China. Regaining strength by minding one's own business often also seemed like a good idea.This divergence was never solved. The only element in foreign policy that nobody wanted to neglect was the alliance with France and its investment in the development of Russia's infrastructure. Russia was not fully prepared to declare war on Austria-Hungary over the Balkan states, but proved equally unable to reign in their mutually incompatible nationalist expansionism. Ironically, Germany was often the voice of mediation and instrumental in reigning in the Vienna hawks whenever they pushed for war against Serbia lest it stirred Habsburg Slavs into revolt and separation. Most importantly, no motive was strong enough for Russia to actively seek war. By july 1914 however, the Tsar and his advisers were tired of backing down in the face of Austrian challenges towards Belgrade and honoured their commitment to France. Lieven is clear and elegant, breathing life in the individual decision makers, who merit a whole chapter which takes up a fifth of the book. Lined up, they can all be ranked by the degree of their Pan-Slavism and their familiarity with European diplomacy. As a general rule, experience gained through postings in European capitals tempered jingoism with realism. He profits from previously unmined Russian arches (some closed again at present) to challenge convential views on the Russian role in the last decade of peace, which were more often than not glanced at through the published memoirs of White exiles. In the first sentence of the preface he drops a bombshell right away, presenting the fate of Ukraine as pivotal to the outbreak of WWI, alltough he doesn't return to this line of thought until the very end, where he combines it with the proposition that Germany could've won the war by settlement if it had been able to hang onto the annexations of Brest-Litovsk to counterbalance the might of the United States. This in itself is worth another book. It's also a pity that the war and revolution can't be discussed with the same clarity and depth as the outbreak period. "Empire, War and the end of Tsarist Russia" only covers the first third of its subtitle. I wish for a sturdily boxed trilogy that runs op to 1920.

  • Jennifer
    2019-04-29 10:47

    Unbelievably dry and dull. Goodness.

  • David Myers
    2019-05-05 11:46

    Enlightening perspective from the point of view of Russian history. A non-"western" perspective on the bloody 20th century. That said-- for me it was tough sledding through a Russian winter.

  • Katia N
    2019-05-19 12:06

    Well researched analysis of the reasons and events leading the First World War from the perspective of Russia. The author went through a lot of the documents in Russian archives which were not previously available. He presents his results in a clear and concise manner. He considers the influence of public opinion on the actions of the governments which was quite interesting.However, his conclusions are hardly controversial: according to this book, only Germany could have stopped the war in July 2014. But it has chosen not to do it. Russia, on the other hand is depicted a little too rational its actions all way through. This i find hard to believe considering the domestic situation and the national character.

  • Aman
    2019-05-09 05:48

    Went into a bit more detail about individual diplomats than necessary. Would have appreciated some more detail about the actual revolution. That said, an excellent summary of the geopolitical situation in Central/Eastern Europe leading to WW1.

  • Alex
    2019-05-11 09:58

    Can't say it wasn't well-researched, but this "worm's eye" account of intragovernmental and diplomatic minutia was endlessly dull. I kept waiting for the narrative to kick in, but this was just a 300 page Wikipedia article.

  • Pieter
    2019-05-07 10:50

    The book appears to me as being unbalanced. Reading the cover, one expects to learn more about the prelude of WW I, the war itself and the Russian Revolution. In reality, only the last 40 pages out of 430 relate to the last two topics.In the end, I must admit the book did not meet my expectations. The prelude is more or less known to me and better covered in books like 'Ring of Steel' (Alexander Watson) and 'The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went into War in 1914' (Christopher Clark). The focus on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is too detailed while leaving little 'room' left to elaborate on some theories Lieven exposes in the last chapters:- In what sense did the Russian army perform better than generally considered?- How would the German annexation of Ukrain impact the Russian economy?- How could the tsar have politically survived WW I?- ...I hope the author finds time to revert on the here above topics and many more as these seems more like no man's land in the world of historians.

  • Jan Chlapowski Söderlund
    2019-04-20 06:04

    * * * * - I really liked this book as a review of the causes of WWI from an Eastern perspective. But despite its title, the information about the Russian Revolution itself was very sparse. I threw myself over "The End of Tsarist Russia" by Dominic Lieven, hoping this would be a good next step in my self-education about the 1910-1920 era. This turned out not to be quite the case, but well worth my time nonetheless. D.L. uses a distinct touch of geopolitical analysis to his narrative, which feels very modern and relevant. As a note on the general nature of historical books - D.L. delineates two separate ways of portraying historical events. The God's eye view where an overview can be obtained, an understanding for the big events and "historical currents", but without any personal understanding or knowledge why individuals made the decisions they made. Versus the worm's eye view, where you delve into the personal motives, emotions and reasoning of the people involved in the events. An elegant distinction in my opinion, maybe not new in itself but never so neatly stated aloud. "The End of Tsarist Russia" turned out to be an in-depth look at the origins of the Great War from a slightly different global perspective than in most other English literature. Whereas the story of the War usually is told by the events concerning Britain - France - Germany, this book tells it from a more Eastern perspective - namely Germany - Austro-Hungary - Russia. In fact, D.L. argues that the entire reason for the War itself was in Eastern Europe. Where there was still possibility for the Great Powers to vie for influence/suzerainty among the Balkan states. Although instead, these states were able to play off the Great Powers against themselves (as becomes even more evident in this book). D.L. analyses nationalism as a factor in the pre-War/pre-Revolution events. As well as the imperial politics that were in vogue in those times. There is a negative side to the focus on the First World War. Which is that I get the feeling Dominic Lieven has mixed together the First World War with the fall of Imperial Russia. Granted, the two events are closely intertwined. But I believe the Russian Revolution might very well have occurred without the help of World War I. Even though the War was a catalyst to the Revolution (as it was a catalyst to so many other things), the absence of war would not have made an overthrow of the Imperial powers impossible. This assumption is based on my personal knowledge. Which may not be of a strictly scholarly nature, but which is slightly more in-depth than the average person's. I have lived in Russia and find it a fascinating country in all aspects and have studied its history at least to some extent. D.L. avoids the blame-game in regards to the originator of WWI quite well. Although he does mention that Germany is mainly to blame for the start of the War, with the fact that Russia started mobilising first, as only a natural reaction to an unjust accusation from Austro-Hungary. The downfall of the book in my view, was the rapid end once D.L. arrived to the events of the Russian Revolution. This was practically covered very superficially in half a chapter! After having delved quite a bit into the personalities of Nicholas II, the Russian Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and other dignitaries - I expected to get a similar expert review of Lenin, Troskij etc. But to my sorrow and astonishing, nothing of the sort. Maybe they are not strictly speaking part of the end, but the beginning of the new Russia. But nonetheless, I really thought they would be more than just mentioned in passing. Bare in mind, this "downfall" I just described, reflects more my own expectations, rather than a mark of bad quality. This is a splendid, modern analysis of the origins of World War I from a justified non-British perspective.

  • Liviu
    2019-05-03 12:05

    I really liked the author's Russians against Napoleon book, so i was eager to read this one too; after a great start covering how Russia turned against Austria and later Germany (the first because after saving the Habsurgs in 1849 from the Hungarians, the Austrians cheerfully betrayed them in Crimeea only a few years later, fact that even 50 years later had the Romanov tsar - Nicholas the Last - shouting it to Austrian representatives at one of the "we have common imperial interests, let's be friends" tries on the Austrian part, the second because after crushing France with the tacit backing of Russia, Bismarck was perceived to betray Russia by stripping all her gains in the 1877-1878 war and San Stefano peace at the Berlin conference - here things were more nuanced objectively because san Stefano was unacceptable to London and Vienna, so Bismarck tried to avoid another Crimean like war), the book starts meandering somewhat dealing with the internal politics of the Russian Empire and the disputes between the slavophiles and the westernizers, as well as between the one for which colonizing Siberia with the Trans-Siberian railway was the key to greatness and the ones who still wanted Constantinople, the Balkans and the Straitsultimately as the book makes it clear, the weakness of the Tsar and the little understood (by the elites of the day) fact that like in France of 1789, only the authority of the state - weak as it was anyway - sat between the vast mass of oppressed peasants (even after they got land in the famous 1860's abolition of serfdom and even after buying a lot of the available land from the gentry in the following decades, the peasantry still lived mostly subsistence lives) and the civil society, while Russia lacked the lower middle class that in France broke the Jacobins in the end, made the imperial collapse inevitable in case of a crisis that broke the state poweroverall some very interesting nuggets, but too much emphasis on the internal politics of the pre war years, when the stated conclusion above showed that only a very powerful personality behind the tsar who understood that war with Germany meant the end of the dynasty could have tried to stop the disaster and the set-up of the empire was that such a personality(a Russian Bismarck) wouldn't have been accepted by the elites

  • Cedric
    2019-05-01 06:08

    The interesting point in the book is Lieven's attempt to argue that WWI was predominantly an eastern European conflict (true) and the real issue was control over the resources of the Ukraine, an argument dependant largely of counterfactual speculation. Beyond that, the book is fairly conventional, although as written from a base in Russian archives it has detail not always contained in other works on the topic. Lieven dislikes the work of Sean MacMeekin, which he describes as 'polemic', is mired in the traditional international relations view of history (ie. trying very hard to avoid an economic determinist and class conflict interpretation, preferring the vagueries of 'national interests', 'imperial prestige' and so on) and adheres to the German responsibility for the outbreak of the war thesis. I think Russia had far more responsibility for escalating the July crisis. Germany's error was to tie itself to the incompetence and irresponsibility of Austrian decision making, rather than just telling them what to do.

  • Patricia Romero
    2019-05-18 11:46

    Dominic Lieven is a senior research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, and a fellow of the British Academy. He previously taught Russian Studies at the London School of Economics for thirty-three years. His last book, Russia Against Napoleon, won the 2009 Wolfson Prize for History and the Prix Napoleon.The very first words caught my attention: “As much as anything, WW1 turned on the fate of Ukraine” … author, 2013, before the current crisis. The author has researched extensively the topic of Russia and the role it played in WWI, and to a large extent is still playing today.This isn’t a casual week end read. But a well researched and thought out of the Russians and all of their manipulations in the area and how they still are pertinent today. There is no better time than now to read this book. I was intrigued at the Library by the title and after reading the first paragraph, I was hooked. Ukraine? Why is everything still hinging on Ukraine.Than you to author Dominic Lieven for such a well researched and written work of art.

  • Michael Flanagan
    2019-05-10 06:05

    Towards the Flames examines Europe's headlong plunge towards World War I from the view of Russia. This presents some new and fresh views on this much examined and analysed period of History.It is a book though that makes you work for this information. It is written in a dry factual matter that you as the reader have to really concentrate on to take in. It is more akin to a piece of scholarly writing which may limit its audience base.As a history buff I got a lot out of this book. As I read the last page I was overcome with a great sense of achievement and felt that my knowledge on this period of time is a lot more rounded and full. This book will best suit those who have a real thirst for history.

  • David R.
    2019-05-15 10:13

    Lieven is a thorough archival researcher and has produced an exhaustive tome concerning the political decline of Tsarist Russia largely in the period from 1905 to 1917. He is absorbed with the monarchy and aristocracy and their self-destructive decision making and does not much concern himself with subversive movements such as the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately this book is exceedingly turgid and a slow read, nor does it truly unveil new insights on the Romanov regime.

  • Dario Andrade
    2019-05-06 06:08

    Não é um mau livro, mas também não é aquilo que estava procurando. Estava atrás de algo mais preocupado na análise interna da situação social, econômica e política da Rússia pré-revolucionária. Nesse aspecto, posso dizer que o livro não era o que eu buscava. Um dos meus interesses era o de conhecer exatamente o caldo cultural e político que levou à Revolução. É óbvio que a Revolução de 1917 aconteceu graças à Primeira Guerra Mundial, mas também havia na Rússia, pré-1914, uma sociedade que se defrontava com o dilema de se modernizar. De um lado, havia um inegável desenvolvimento econômico, mas de outro era bastante atrasada, tanto socialmente, quando em termos políticos. Um exemplo: a primeira constituição do país, de 1906, criou um parlamento, mas preservou uma parte considerável dos poderes autocráticos do czar. Ao mesmo tempo, como se modernizar? Como se tornar uma sociedade moderna, tendo tantas resistências internas para que o processo se efetivasse? E mais, como se modernizar politicamente e ao mesmo tempo conseguir frente aos desafios que eram postos por países economicamente muito mais desenvolvidos? Enfim, o viés do livro é outro: na realidade, é uma obra de relações internacionais, ou seja, a política externa russa nos anos anteriores à Primeira Guerra Mundial. É verdade que o livro entrega o que ele se propõe porque há um bom exame das relações entre as potências europeias no início do século XX e, mais especificamente, nos dilemas que os formuladores russos – e também novos atores internos, caso da imprensa de massa – enfrentavam, especialmente após a derrota na guerra russo-japonesa de 1904-5. O livro de maneira acertada, em meu ver, mostra como a Rússia buscava objetivos mutuamente excludentes – defesa dos povos eslavos nos Balcãs, controle dos estreitos de Bósforo e Dardanelos, além de buscar uma política ativa em termos de rearmamento naval ao mesmo tempo em que enfrentava uma ameaça (os alemães e austríacos) fundamentalmente terrestre. Além disso, havia demandas de política externa excessivamente amplas. Os objetivos, além de serem contraditórios, exigiam das finanças (e da economia) russas mais do que elas poderiam fornecer.Ainda é importante observar que os atores internos não concordavam com o que devia ser a política externa russa e, pior, em boa parte defendiam teses que, no final das contas, acabaram por se mostrar excessivamente ambiciosas e contrárias aos interesses nacionais russos, tanto em termos de política externa, quanto interna. O livro observa, pois, – de maneira acertada – que os objetivos buscados na política externa iam de encontro aos próprios interesses russos! É o caso, como o autor acentua, em vários momentos, da proteção dos eslavos na península balcânica, que no final das contas, queriam proteção militar russa, mas não aceitavam a liderança política, e cultural, russa. E mais ainda, vários eslavos (e aí não se fala só dos Balcãs) rejeitavam por completo a Rússia, caso mais óbvio dos poloneses. Uma obra que tem pontos interessantes, especialmente em termos de política externa, mas que creio ser voltada para viés que não era exatamente aquele que buscava.

  • Marks54
    2019-05-10 04:59

    Dominic Lieven is a distinguished British historian who has written a terrific book linking the Russian Revolution and the First World War. This is a very good book but it is not for everyone. For example, if you have not already read a bit on WWI and the revolution, this will not be a good introduction. Lieven presents a complex argument that moves across multiple levels of analysis to make his case. To understand the scope of Lieven's accomplishment, recognize that World War I is likely the most written about historical event ever. If there is a second prize, it would be the Russian Revolutions of 1917. Lieven's book is coming at the end of a fairly long run up to the centennials of both. What more, one might ask, is there left to say?It turns out that there is a lot. I will not summarize the argument. Lieven does that himself in his introductory chapters and in his conclusions. What is key is that he argues that the course of WWI can best be understood by understanding the interplay of Germany and Russia in their war - and the Balkan Crises that led to it - and the interaction of Germany and the Bolsheviks and the Germans in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917, which created the potential for Germany to actually win the war, despite the stalemate and slaughter on the Western Front. Germany's defeat, the dissolution of empires in Eastern Europe, and the pariah status of the Soviet Union in the interwar period in turn led to the two critical continental powers in Europe being thoroughly alienated from the Versailles Peace treaties and strongly oriented towards upsetting the European interwar order. The in turn led to WW2, the second of the second thirty years war, which arguably led directly into the Cold War.These orientations have been present in other treatments of WWI but this is the most coherent approach I have seen and the book is effective in making its case. Lieven argues that all the major players were acting as Empires struggling in a world a aggressive nationalisms and that this situation placed requirements on what the Empires needed to do to survive (the US is part of these arguments). Lieven also makes good use of multiple levels of analysis, showing how grand geopolitical ideas, such as those of Mackinder, can interact with arguments about armies and government institutions, and how both fit into situations where small numbers of decision makers can have large impacts (such as in July 1914).Lieven presents his arguments from a Russian perspective and makes good use of the newly opened archives of the Russian foreign ministry. I am not sure how much fundamental conclusions about WWI will change but this is certainly a perspective that needs to be considered.

  • Sean
    2019-05-13 11:15

    A magisterial history of the diplomacy and grand strategy during the period from the Russo-Japanese War to the fall of the Romanovs and the rise of the Bolsheviks. As the title indicates, the focus is on Russia, but the Great Powers dance is covered in detail. I’ve never read Lieven before, but his knowledge of the period, the personalities, the domestic scene, and the international political situation is encyclopedic. The book can be dry at times, I’ll admit, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone as an introduction to either WWI or Russian history.Lieven’s book opened my eyes to the importance of two things I’d glossed over or neglected when thinking about WWI: the importance of Eastern Europe, and the pivotal role played by the disintegration of the Ottoman state. If you’re interested in 20th century Europe and you haven’t read much about the various Balkan wars, the state of the Austrian and Turkish empires before the war, or the various political crises in the decades before 1914, I can’t recommend this highly enough.As I was reading, I highlighted some of the interesting bits, and there were a lot of them. These are some of the ones that jump out at me as I flip through the book.* The Russo-Japanese War caused WWI, sort of. The 1904/5 war was a humiliating defeat for Russia, and revealed that the Tsar’s empire lagged behind his European rivals in military power. Over the next several years, the Russians rearmed and reformed as quickly as possible. This “…dramatic eclipse and then resurrection of Russian power between 1904 and 1914 destabilized international relations in Europe. In the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War, Berlin and Vienna pursued policies that took for granted Russian impotence, and the intelligent “management” of Russia’s recovery as a great power proved beyond them.”*The French set a trap for themselves. In the fall of 1912, contrary to the French position during an earlier Balkan crisis, the French prime minister and soon-to-be-president promised “…that if an Austrian military advance into the Balkans brought on first Russian and then German intervention, France would not hesitate to go to war in defense of its obligations under the Russian alliance.”*Don’t blame the patricians. Lieven writes, “It is often stated – even indeed assumed – that a key cause of World War I was the survival of aristocratic elites and their atavistic values at the center of power. Professional, intelligent, and “modern” middle-class men are somehow presumed to have been more liberal and pacific. This is a comforting view for twenty-first century observers but often a false one. Genuinely reactionary aristocrats were usually far less dangerous then intelligent professionals and intellectuals with “modern” views about power, history, race, and even masculinity, especially if these “new men” were skilled at playing popular politics.” Note that he’s not just talking about Russians.* Modernity and Empire don’t mix. “The basic point was that modernity in general and ethnic nationalism in particular were making empires ever harder to manage. Probably contemporary opinion exaggerated the power of nationalism. No doubt the domestic political systems in Austria, Russia, and Britain often exacerbated this problem. It is also true that political leaders in Vienna, Petersburg, and London frequently responded to the nationalist challenge unskillfully. But the threat – Serb, Ukrainian, Irish, and other – was already very real in 1914 and was likely to become worse as modernity took hold. Although it is currently unfashionable among historians to make this point, in my opinion it remains true. Nationalism was in some cases already a major threat to empire in 1914, and it was a great long-term challenge to the stability of a global order dominated by empires.”-*Conrad von Hotzendorff, the Austrian Chief of Staff, was a boob, but Russia blew it. Conrad sent 1/3 of his army to crush the Serbs, 1/3 into Galicia to hold off the Russians, and held 1/3 in reserve. When the Serbs showed they could take a punch – mainly by being willing to explode – Hotzendorff committed his reserves. He soon panicked and turned them about to face the Russians. They achieved little on either front, writes Lieven: “In essence, Conrad’s incompetence had wrecked Austrian offensive capability almost before the war had begun. This contributed greatly to devastating losses and a major defeat for the Habsburg armies. If the initial plans of the Russian chief of staff on the southern front… had not been watered down by Petersburg, the Russians might actually have destroyed the Austrian forces and the eastern front in the autumn of 1914, which would have had enormous implications for the war’s outcome, tearing the Central Powers’ southeastern front wide open at a time when German forces were entirely committed elsewhere.”* Ludendorff and Hindenburg blew it, too. “In Germany, William II was largely replaced by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg as regards charismatic leadership, while General Erich Ludendorff increasingly dominated the actual conduct of the war. The Hindenburg-Ludendorff combination was supported – indeed demanded – by most of the German elite and much of the parliament and population. Their leadership proved a catastrophe, losing a war that Germany would probably have won without their miscalculations. This illustrates how a monarch could hand over his power to the heroes of public opinion and nevertheless doom his dynasty and country.”* Versailles plus normalcy equals WWII. Lieven opines thusly: “A major problem with the European order created at Versailles was that it would never have come into being without American intervention. When the United States retreated into isolation in the postwar years, it undermined the power on which the peace settlement rested. With Britain also half withdrawing from European commitments, the onus of maintaining the Versailles settlement in Europe above all devolved on France, which was much too weak to carry this burden alone.” Lieven goes on to note that the collapse of the Habsburg state would probably have doomed the settlement, anyway, since it created an unstable vacuum in the east.

  • Dorothy Caimano
    2019-05-10 06:51

    How and why did WWI happen? Why did the Russian people want to get rid of the Tsar? My take-away from the book: "It's complicated." Hmmm. Half way through, I decided I should have kept a score card. I considered starting over, score card in hand, but didn't. Three-quarters of the way through, I decided the score card wouldn't have been enough ... unless it was a really giant score card and I wrote very, very small. The author does think that Rasputin's influence has been overrated. That's interesting. And also, he thinks that Ukraine played a more important role than most historians have given it credit. But please don't ask me to tell you why. Maybe I should have given the book more than 3 stars. Maybe the fault is my own lack of background for such a detailed and thorough account.Anybody know another book that will help me understand this period in history a little better? Perhaps I should see whether a class is offered at the local community college.

  • Dan O'Meara
    2019-05-17 06:12

    I have read and admired much of Dominic Lieven's work. However, when the blurb for this book claims that "Dominic Lieven connects for the first time the two events [WWI and the Russian Revolution]", he, or his publisher, makes a highly misleading, if not false, claim. Starting with Leon Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution, almost everybody who writes about the two revolutions of 1917 sees the devastating impact of WWI on Russia's mainly peasant soldiers as the principal factor precipitating both. Lenin's slogan of "Peace, Land and Bread', made the connection a vital political mobilising force.

  • David
    2019-05-08 11:01

    Most WWI reading focusses on events ranging from Serbia west, often mentioning Russia as an afterthought. With access to previously unavailable Russian archives, the author sets out to explain the run up to the war from Serbia east. Russia was facing many of the same pressures as the key regional empires in its efforts to spur its economy, develop strategic alliances, unite its large and diverse nation, sate growing calls for civil society, and assert itself through foreign policy. Russia and its leadership seem astute and aware of their country's strengths and weaknesses, a far cry from the usual portrayal of a stumbling giant on the eve of WWI.

  • Raughley Nuzzi
    2019-05-16 07:10

    This was a really dense book, but I enjoyed it a lot. It dives deep into Russian domestic and foreign policies and puts WWI in context as a conflict "chiefly about Eastern Europe." While I liked it a lot, it's tough to recommend because it's somewhat demanding. The book has long stretches of inaction, particularly a semi-biographical chapter about "The Decision Makers" within the Russian government that lasts for over 100 pages. It's all worth it to a dedicated reader, though, as the conclusions are interesting. This topic is part of my personal academic expertise, so, if you're like me, give it a read!

  • Salvador Medina
    2019-05-02 04:08

    Libro de historia de cómo cayó el último régimen de los zares, tomando la perspectiva desde Rusia. Muy recomendable para comprender cómo comenzó la primera guerra mundial y la revolución rusa de 1917.

  • Jake Brown
    2019-05-09 12:14

    Far too forgiving of Tsarist Russia and the Tsar himself. Takes old world, imperialist diplomacy at face value

  • Ken Hamner
    2019-05-09 06:12

    This was a decent book, but not as interesting as it should have been considering the subject material.

  • Pierre
    2019-05-09 04:06

    Better to dip in and out than tackle all at once. A little too much depth at times, a bit too little at others.

  • Robin Friedman
    2019-05-13 07:12

    The centennial of the Great War has been encouraging many scholars and readers to think anew about the conflict. Dominic Lieven's new book, "The End of Tsarist Russia: WW I and the Road to Revolution" examines the factors that brought Russian into the War and that helped precipitate the Russian Revolution. A senior research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, and a fellow of the British Academy, Lieven has written extensively on Russian history, including an award-winning 2009 book, "Russia Against Napoleon."Although the larger portion of WW I books concentrate on the Western Front, Lieven argues that "contrary to the near universal assumption in the English-speaking world, the war was first and foremost an eastern European conflict. ... The great irony of World War I was that a conflict which began more than anything else as a struggle between the Germanic powers and Russia to dominate east-central Europe ended in the defeat of both sides." Lieven's states that the book has a three-fold aim: 1. to offer a history of Russian's descent into WW I, 2, to offer an interpretation of WW I from the Russian perspective, and 3. to offer an introduction to the origins and consequences of the Russian Revolution from an international perspective.The book is not a military history of WW I. It spends little time on the fighting but rather discusses the events leading up to the Great War. It discusses both events in Russia and events throughout Europe. The book is impressive and thoughtful in its erudition, judgments, and scholarship. Lieven had access to several Russian archival sources that had not earlier been made available to Western scholars. He uses these archival sources extensively to paint a fuller picture of Tsarist Russia and its government than had been possible in earlier studies.As Liewen points out, the book examines Russia and the Great War from a variety of distances. It begins with what Lieven calls the "God's eye view". Thus, the first two chapters of the study offer broad discussions of the competing empires in Europe at the War's outset and of the history of the Russian Empire. At the other extreme is a "worm's eye view" which examines the actions of a small number of individuals over a critical, short period, sometimes measured in days or hours. An intermediate level of analysis shows how broad, structural considerations were brought together by individual actors to produce important results.In general, Lieven's book is at its best at the broader and intermediate distances. He has truly insightful things to say about Europe, the nature of Empire, the history of Russia, and the attempts at diplomacy in the years before WW I. He also discusses well the reasons that WW I and the Treaty of Versailles failed to produce a lasting peace. It is in the narrower, "worm's eye" discussions that the book sometimes bogs down. In particular, Lieven writes at endless length about many Russian officials in the Tsar's confidence and out, ministers, diplomats, military leaders, and shapers of public opinion. This information is valuable in that it gives a fuller picture of Tsarist Russia and the complexities of its government structure and people than is generally known. But it slows down the book with information that often is not fully integrated into the broader history. The book offers extended discussions of the Balkans and of the wars which immediately led to the outbreak of WW I in 1914. Here again, Lieven's command of his material is sure and the subject is of key importance. The thread of the narrative of some highly confusing events sometimes is lost in the telling. Following the outbreak of WW I, the book is relatively brief in discussing the fall of the Tsar, the communist take-over and the separate peace between Russia and Germany which gave Germany its best chance to win the War.In many ways, this is an outstanding history. The author has a passion for his subject and a great deal of importance to say. The writing style sometimes is idiosyncratic but effective. There is a sense of personal involvement in the book. The problem is that some of the lines of the study are not well connected. The book occupies a middle ground between a work for the many lay readers interested in WW I and a work for scholars and historians with a great deal of detailed background. Some of the material is better suited to the latter group of readers although its target audience is the former group. For readers with a strong interest in WW I, this book has a great deal to teach and is more than worth the effort. I read the book in a prepublication edition through Amazon's Vine program. This edition had no maps, making the book much more confusing and difficult to follow than it would be otherwise. The edition I read has ample spaces for inserts where the maps are going to be. The maps will be an essential part of the book, as the geography of the regions discussed in the text will likely be unfamiliar to most American readers.Robin Friedman

  • Linda
    2019-05-19 08:45

    Rather than write a history of Tsarist Russia from the "bird's-eye view" as he calls it, Lieven has chosen to write this history from what he calls the "worm's-eye view." Therefore, he deals more with the people involved and their personalities, beliefs and decisions.It is fascinating. However, because there is so much to discuss, the book sometimes becomes overbearing. If you can get past that, you'll learn a lot. (I had to put the book down for a few days several times just to be able to come back to it and not feel overwhelmed.)The one fact Lieven mentions, which I've tried again and again to "force" other people to admit, is that Gabrilo Princep, the assassin of Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austria Empire, was an Austrian citizen, not a rogue Serb. Yes, the Black Hand in Serbia almost undoubtedly had a large "hand" in shaping his actions, but he was NOT Serbian. So actually, Austria should have declared war on its own province, Bosnia-Herzegovina.That aside, the run up to the War was deeply tragic and truly ambivalent. Russia wanted desperatley to become a Great Power. (Lieven divides the countries of Europe at the time as Great Powers or Second World Powers. Britain and Germany were Great Powers; France and Russia Second World Powers.) She had already begun with a new emphasis on industry and some, albeit minor, changes in the way the country was ruled. However, she lacked one thing that all the other European countries had - a tightly knit population that believed in the Motherland. Because of the sprawl of the country, many people still lived under a defacto serf conditon. Word from Petersburg took a long time to ripple through the country. Because of this, when war began to threaten, Russia could not prepare quickly enough and strongly enough to face the challenge. Austria had its empire, Britain had its, Germany had made a great thrust for Algeria and Italy was suffering in Syria. The only empire Russia had was its own land. It had tried for empire earlier and "lost" the Russo-Japanese war. Also, its interests were in the East rather than the West. Russia always held that the Straits of the Bosphoros and the city of Constantinople were vital to them since Turkey could control the entry and exit of military vessels. Russia's navy was basically located in the Baltic Sea, the Pacific and at the Straits. This meant that if Russia needed ships in the Baltics, it had to send them from the Pacific, rather than from the Black Sea. The most interesting here if, of course, the personalities. We're familiar with Tsar Nicholas II but most of the other characters will be new to the reader, unless their specialty is Russian history. I can't begin to list names, but many times Russia had to send diplomats to other countries who weren't really diplomats; they didn't understand what diplomacy is. Sometimes, a diplomat was ill or out of the country during a crisis and his assistant had to make the decisions. Some of the players were still of the old aristocratic landowning class. A couple had risen from the peasant ranks and understood the country better. And Nicholas truly wanted to help the peasants but had no idea how and was never helped by his upper class on how to approach the issue.Another interesting fact for me was that after the Revolution of 1905, several of the 'ruling' class predicted that if Russia entered WWI, there would be a major revolution and the country would fall. Through it all, we see the countries of Europe making alliances, hesitating to make decisions that could lead to war, viewing troop buildups negatively, everyone wanting to be ready in case of war but never wanting to actually go to war. Over the years Russia had been urged to "protect" the Slavs in the Balkans, mostly by the newspapers which, all over Europe, had become a major force in creating public opinion.So when Austria declared war on Serbia, Russia felt obligated to declare war on Austria which lead to Germany declaring war on Russia (because Germany was an ally of Austria, and France declaring war on Germany (because France was an ally of Germany and Great Britain, which was an ally of France and Russia, hesitating.WWI could have been avoided but the fears and ambitions of the various countries (all of them had both fears and ambitions) finally caused the dominoes to fall. This is only a "bird's-eye view" of Lieven's book but the book is a fascinating study of how human nature can force something to happen although none of the players want it to happen.

  • Chris Jaffe
    2019-05-18 03:46

    This book was disappointing. Let’s start with the title. It indicates that this book will give you an idea of how Russia got caught up in World War I and how the tsarist regime fell by revolution. A reasonable assumption – that’s explicitly what the title says. Yeah, well, it doesn’t really deliver. Oh, you get plenty on how Russia got into WWI. Tons of deep background on that. But Revolution? Eh…..technically the book does that, yeah. Technically. Basically, WWI begins around page 340 and the book ends before page 370. So, yeah, there is diddley on the Revolution. At the start of the book, Lieven says he has three goals in this book: 1) describe/analyze Russia’s descent into WWI, 2) offer a different interpretation of WWI from a Russian angle, and 3) look at the Russian Revolution from an international angle. Well, if those are his goals, he should spend more than one damn chapter total on the last pair of goals. I guess he meant a different interpretation on how the war began from a Russian angle, but his interpretation isn’t all that different. It’s standard: he blames Germany and Austria. To be fair, a big trend in recent years is to focus more on Russia as great power who did the most to create a war, but Lieven’s interpretation is still the traditional one. Personally, I found his interpretation less convincing that books like “Sleepwalkers” which do place more blame on Russia. Lieven does point out how Russia felt obligated to go to war and how many leaders didn’t want to. But I think he goes too far in absolving them. But even before we get to that point in the book, I was already checking out mentally. After a few interesting opening chapters looking at the overall framework of international relations in the postwar world, he dives into Russia, with a never-ending (91 pages!) chapter titled “The Decision Makers.” OK, it’s good to know about the specific individuals who are in charge of Russia….but 91 pages is overkill. (OK, it’s not all on the leaders as popular opinion and the like also come up, but it’s mostly a few/several pages on seemingly everyone who ever showed up to the foreign ministry. There are some nice points. Lieven notes the rising importance of nationalism among ethnic minorities without states of their own and how that made international relations more difficult. Most notable were Ukrainians – the first sentence in the book flatly states that Ukraine determined the course of WWI. Russia needed it to be a great power, but some Ukrainians were also in Austria – and they were the more nationalist, which caused plenty of friction between Russia and Austria. He says Germany could win the war if they could achieve dominance in the Ukraine, and the treaty of Brest-Litovsk did that, but conquest is one thing and political consolidation another. They never did that. It had it’s moments, but the book I got wasn’t the book I was expecting – and the book’s title and opening statement of goals are what fed my expectations.