Coming up on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, Penguin has decided to release the first five chapters of Niall Ferguson's The War of the World as a separate ebook to mark the event. The ad for this excerpt from Ferguson's larger work claims: "A century after its outbreak, we can now see World War I as more than just four years of industrialized slaughter. It was the moment when the process of global integration went into reverse and the lethal forces of ethnic disintegration took over. Weaving together the economics of empire and ideology of race, The Abyss is world history at its finest." World history at its finest? I wouldn't say so. This is a popular history by a popular historian. There are many interesting facts and revelations, some of the more original information includes discussions of economics and the racial tensions evident throughout Europe in the late nineteenth century, on the eve of the war, and in the war's aftermath. But this volume does not contain anything beyond what most expert historians of this time period would consider superficial analysis. More so, there are minor mistakes made, as when Ferguson claims Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka, was Jewish.
For those interested in a basic understanding of Europe at the turn of the century, before World War I, and the immediate aftermath of the World War, this would serve as a good introduction to the time period. Ferugson goes over often ignored events and nations where World War I is concerned (Japan, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire) giving a fuller understanding of what Europe experienced. The section on the First World War is wholly lacking, but Ferguson himself admits that part of the history of the twentieth century is covered in another of his books. Even so, I can't agree with how he presents the outbreak of the war. There were too many players missing and too much information glossed over. Thus, for those new to this time period, this is something that can be recommended. But it should be complimented with a broad range of monographs on many of the topics presented, which for the most part are lacking in in-depth analysis and context.