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 Speaking a mystifying array of languages and lugging outdated weapons, the Austrian troops were hopelessly unprepared for the industrialized warfare that would shortly consume Europe.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 Speaking a mystifying array of languages and lugging outdated weapons, the Austrian troops were hopelessly unprepared for the industrialized warfare that would short...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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San Francisco Book Review“A Mad Catastrophe finally brings some clarity to how the death of one Archduke, while admittedly tragic, could lead to the deaths of millions Wawro's excellently written book, in chilling detail, explains all the frustrating and infuriating blundering. The war was completely senseless, the insane war-lust of a failing state; this book gives Austria-Hungary its rightful, starring role as cause of the conflict.”Macleans (CAN)“Wawro writes about the Austro-Hungarian Empire's role in the start and unfolding of the Great War with verve, inescapable black humour and a certain note of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God.”Literary Review, UK“Wawro is a historian of the US military, but his damning portrait of the neurotic empirewell reflects the surreal fiction of Hasek and Musil.”Choice“With exquisite detail of preparation and battle, Wawro shows both scholars and general readers how and why the Austro-Hungarian Empire ended. Highly recommended.”BBC History Magazine“A Mad Catastrophe is a welcome contribution to the small but growing number of scholarly studies of the eastern front that have appeared in English over the last few years.”