Sometimes, historians stop what they are doing and investigate something that people have overlooked, or not taken in to account. The brilliant German historian Daniel Schönpflug has written an excellent history looking directly at 1918, as the end of war and the dawning of a new age. Personally, I think this book needs a wider audience; to a historian, this book is just as important as AJP Taylor’s Origins of the Second World War.
This takes a more European view of 1918 than the usual British and American view, as war was over, peace began, we were the victors. This book looks at Europe that had been devastated by war, large swathes of Belgium and France had been destroyed. The Kaiser had gone into exile and Germany had to find a new non-military government.
Schönpflug even outlines what future President Harry Truman was doing, the exciting job of running a shop out in Kansas City, Ho Chi Minh was a pot washer in Paris, and Adolf Hitler was a failed corporal in the Reich Army, along with being a failed artist.
The book is brilliantly written and researched, taking you on a journey of intrigue and learning. One of my favourite chapters was A Deceptive Peace, which takes from what has been described as the ‘dreamland of the armistice’, through the dark hatred and the growing violence across especially in Eastern Europe, Poles were fighting Ukrainians, and the Germans were fighting each other, Russia had killed the Tsar, the middle and upper classes and the workers were in control. All part of the build up to an age of extremes, and to what would finally crush the world: hatred.
This really is a fantastic book that uses many sources that many English historians do not have available unless they have language skills or a researcher that does. It is the right time, with a century having passed, that we look at the events from 1918 with a broader view. This book is the beginning, and people need to read it to understand what followed from 1933.
Paul Diggett 5/5
A World on Edge by Daniel Schönpflug
Picador 9781509818518 pbk May 2019