Forever in the shadow of the war which followed, 1913 is usually seen as little more than the antechamber to apocalypse. Our perspectives narrowed by hindsight, the world of that year is reduced to its most frivolous features – last summers in grand aristocratic residences, a flurry of extravagant social engagements – or its most destructive ones: the unresolved rivalries of the great European powers, the anxieties of a period of accelerated change, the social fear of revolution, the violence in the Balkans. Our images of the times are too often dominated by the faded pastels of upper-class indulgence or by the unmitigated blackness of a world rushing headlong into the abyss of an inevitable war. 1913: The World before the Great War proposes a strikingly different portrait, returning the world in that year to its contemporary freshness, its future still undecided, its outlook still open. Told through the stories of twenty-three cities – Europe’s capitals at the height of their global reach, the emerging metropolises of America, the imperial cities of Asia and Africa, the boomtowns of Australia and the Americas – Charles Emmerson presents a panoramic view of a world crackling with possibilities, from St Petersburg to Shanghai and from Los Angeles to Jerusalem.
What emerges is a rich and complex world, more familiar than we expect, connected as never before, on the threshold of events which would change the course of global history.
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Every so often a book comes along that simply must be read. 1913 is such a work. Luminous and majestic, rich in detail and stunning in its depth of research, 1913 is a sweeping and haunting portrait of the world on the edge of the precipice… Read this book, but be prepared to stifle at the end of every page an urge to scream out a warning to those long since dead that they must take another road -
Charles Emmerson explores an endlessly interesting question: How did the great glossy world of the European Empires come to grief in 1914? This is a most elegantly written book and should stand comparison with the much older classic, Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower -
A masterful, comprehensive portrait of the world at that last moment in its history… - Spectator
If Downton Abbey still colours your impression of what Britain was like on the cusp of the First World War, 1913 could be a useful corrective - Scotsman
One of the great merits of Charles Emmerson’s global panorama is to show events in the months leading up to the summer of 1914 as something other than a precursor to mass slaughter - New Statesman
Majestic and cliché-defying - Herald
Marvellous - Independent on Sunday
For anybody wanting to understand this time period, including individuals with a keen interest in the events of the Great War, this is a must read book which helps portray a rather different picture to what many might suspect - The History Blog
Emmerson has done his homework. His book girdles the earth in an impressive fashion and conjures up a world we have lost - Independent
With a few deft strokes, Emmerson conjures an air of looming catastrophe - Observer
A fascinating tour that reveals a truly global society emerging for the first time in human history - Choice
The old empires were starting to implode and the centres could no longer hold. In an ambitious book, Emmerson catches their last vital sparks in the year before darkness fell - The Times
Leaves readers with an astonishing panorama of bustling human activity in places as different and as far apart as London and Winnipeg, Tokyo and Detroit - Eastern Daily Press
Where Emmerson really scores is in the nuggets of detail - Daily Express
An epic, sprawling panorama of a book, intended to show the moving world as it was, to bring the past to life in order to clarify the present. It’s a monumentally ambitious aim. The remarkable thing is, he pulls it off - Scotsman
There is so much that captivates, particularly the entertaining social detail and anecdote - Sunday Business Post
An ambitious, subtle account of the way the world was going until the first world war changed everything - Guardian
A consistently brilliant survey… The conception of 1913 can thus be described as a smart idea. Its consummation is, frankly, astonishing… A world that was about to embrace death is brought to life with wit, sharpness and occasional delicacy - Herald
This ambitious panorama of a world on the brink throws up comparisons that are constantly provocative and fascinating - Daily Mail
1913 has narrative verve and insight - Guardian Weekly
[Emmerson] takes the reader on a fascinating trip to the brash, bustling cities of North America, before heading off to places as diverse as Buenos Aires and Bombay - Good Book Guide
Magnificent - London Review of Books
[Emmerson’s] entertaining tour d’horizon is both witty and charming. - Times Literary Supplement
A wonderful portrayal of a world before it was cataclysmically changed, a world very different from ours but with some frightening similarities - Good Book Guide
Brings the fantasies, anxieties and passions of city-dwellers immediately prior to the First World War eloquently to life - BBC History Magazine
Emmerson provides a real sense of 1913 by combining details of individual lives with sweeping international trends: one of the great pleasures of this book is to see parallels between then and now - Observer
CHARLES EMMERSON was born in Australia and grew up in London. After graduating top of his class in Modern History from Oxford University he took up an Entente Cordiale scholarship to study international relations and international public law in Paris. The author of The Future History of the Arctic (2010), he writes and speaks widely on international affairs. He is a Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House (the Royal Institute for International Affairs).