A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire

Hardcover | April 29, 2014

byGeoffrey Wawro

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The Austro-Hungarian army that marched east and south to confront the Russians and Serbs in the opening campaigns of World War I had a glorious past but a pitiful present. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and lugging outdated weapons, the Austrian troops were hopelessly unprepared for the industrialized warfare that would shortly consume Europe.

As prizewinning historian Geoffrey Wawro explains in A Mad Catastrophe, the doomed Austrian conscripts were an unfortunate microcosm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself—both equally ripe for destruction. After the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914, Germany goaded the Empire into a war with Russia and Serbia. With the Germans massing their forces in the west to engage the French and the British, everything—the course of the war and the fate of empires and alliances from Constantinople to London—hinged on the Habsburgs' ability to crush Serbia and keep the Russians at bay. However, Austria-Hungary had been rotting from within for years, hollowed out by repression, cynicism, and corruption at the highest levels. Commanded by a dying emperor, Franz Joseph I, and a querulous celebrity general, Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austro-Hungarians managed to bungle everything: their ultimatum to the Serbs, their declarations of war, their mobilization, and the pivotal battles in Galicia and Serbia. By the end of 1914, the Habsburg army lay in ruins and the outcome of the war seemed all but decided.

Drawing on deep archival research, Wawro charts the decline of the Empire before the war and reconstructs the great battles in the east and the Balkans in thrilling and tragic detail. A Mad Catastrophe is a riveting account of a neglected face of World War I, revealing how a once-mighty empire collapsed in the trenches of Serbia and the Eastern Front, changing the course of European history.

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The Austro-Hungarian army that marched east and south to confront the Russians and Serbs in the opening campaigns of World War I had a glorious past but a pitiful present. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and lugging outdated weapons, the Austrian troops were hopelessly unprepared for the industrialized warfare that would short...

Geoffrey Wawro studied at Brown and Yale and is Professor of History and Director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas. The author of five books, including Quicksand and The Franco-Prussian War, Wawro lives in Dallas, Texas.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:472 pages, 9.5 × 6.5 × 1.5 inPublished:April 29, 2014Publisher:Basic BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0465028357

ISBN - 13:9780465028351

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Brigadier General Peter Zwack, US Army"A distinctly unique and long overdue contribution to the historiography of early WWI. The aficionados of Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August and Istvan Szabo's film Colonel Redl will find this a marvelous, engrossing and distinctly well written read that gives necessary balance to the already well-covered narrative of WWI's Western Front. Understanding the challenges and ultimate fate of the creaky, polyglot, decrepit yet also curiously progressive Austrian-Hungarian Empire is essential for comprehending the furies that erupted and boiled over the subsequent century within the vast, complicated, multi-ethnic expanse it spanned. Master historian Geoff Wawro does a tour de force job in colorfully bringing this to light."Dennis Showalter, author of Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the 20th Century“A Mad Catastrophe systematically eviscerates Austria-Hungary's final, fatal efforts to play the role of a great power. Wawro presents a case study of culpable, comprehensive, synergistic incompetence at every level of policy-making, strategic planning, and operational effectiveness. A decaying empire went to war fecklessly, conducted war haphazardly, and pulled Europe down into its final vortex. Brilliantly acerbic and comprehensively researched, this is a book difficult to put down.”