On a summer morning in Sarajevo a hundred years ago, a teenage assassin named Gavrilo Princip fired not just the opening shots of the First World War but the starting gun for modern history, when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Yet the events Princip triggered were so monumental that his own story has been largely overlooked, his role garbled and motivations misrepresented.
The Trigger puts this right, filling out as never before a figure who changed our world and whose legacy still has an impact on all of us today. Born a penniless backwoodsman, Princip’s life changed when he trekked through Bosnia and Serbia to attend school. As he ventured across fault lines of faith, nationalism and empire, so tightly clustered in the Balkans, radicalisation slowly transformed him from a frail farm boy into history’s most influential assassin.
By retracing Princip’s journey from his highland birthplace, through the mythical valleys of Bosnia to the fortress city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, Tim Butcher illuminates our understanding both of Princip and the places that shaped him. Tim uncovers details about Princip that have eluded historians for a century and draws on his own experience, as a war reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s, to face down ghosts of conflicts past and present.
The Trigger is a rich and timely work that brings to life both the moment the world first went to war and an extraordinary region with a potent hold over history.
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A fascinating study of one of those rare individuals whose act of violence changed the history of the world. An incisive, shrewd, wholly compelling investigation of an assassin’s life and times - William Boyd
A fabulous book that all First World War historians will now have to take account of… Superb - Saul David
A splendid book. It takes its place among classics of Balkan history - Norman Stone
Tim Butcher goes from strength to strength. I enjoyed every paragraph - Dervla Murphy
Insightful, useful and delightfully written… A great book – one to be recommended to professional and amateur historian alike - General Sir David Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff
Lucid, passionate, urgent - Rory MacLean
This is first class history and in a year swamped with First World War centenary books, it’s the one you should read first - Andrew Roberts
A compelling and fascinating read...a shadowy assassin brought to life by an writer who gets to grips with a century of Balkan intrigue - Kate Adie
The most original of First World War centenary books; it is a travel narrative of rare resonance and insight - Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times
A marvellously absorbing book... A triumph of research, it will appeal to the layman and historian alike - Financial Times
Extremely well written, taut and evocative... Despite its complex subject, Butcher makes this an easy and engaging read with his breezy style and fascinating encounters - Daily Telegraph
The most imaginative and singular book on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War to date... This is expeditionary journalism at its best – a historical inquest radiated through the mind and experience of an outstanding reporter - Evening Standard
A masterpiece of historical empathy and evocation... This book is a tour de force - Guardian
Illuminating... Butcher achieves something remarkable with Princip. He promotes him quite plausibly from mad man to everyman; a warning to the future whom the future foolishly forgot - The Times
Arguably the most important story of the war - Mail on Sunday
As a travel writer, Butcher takes some beating. He packs balls as well as ballpoints - Sunday Express
A triumph of storytelling... [A] highly original gem of a book - Spectator
Informative and powerful - Irish Times
A page-turning exploration of how the forgotten past continues to inform the present... Important, and relevant - Independent on Sunday
[Princip’s] story as Butcher now tells it has a resonance far beyond the Balkans - Observer
Elegant, horrifying and enlightening… A book which is not only a good piece of detective work, it is the finest contribution so far this year to the rapidly expanding literature on the Great War - Herald
Tim Butcher has produced the most imaginative and singular book on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War to date. It is a lot more than a study of Princip… It is a piece of expeditionary journalism, an investigation in time, place and spirit, of the highest order - Scotsman
A revealing insight into the mind and journey of the boy who escaped the narrow confines of his village, and whose political aspirations for his native country had such far-reaching effects on the world - Oxford Times
Utterly absorbing… If journalism is the first draft of history, Butcher marries both disciplines with boldness and originality – as well as sympathy for his shadowy subject - BBC History Magazine
Insightful and entertaining, this blows the cobwebs off the history of that day - Evening Echo (Cork)
Positive proof that fact can be as gripping as fiction…rich and timely… Amongst so many books published around the anniversary of the First World War, this one stands out - CGA Magazine
A fascinating investigation… An absorbing read - Irish Independent
Despite its serious subject matter, the book is a rollicking read, full of amusing details and sarcastic humour - The Economist
A brilliant and haunting journey through the Balkans - Daily Telegraph
In the centenary year of the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, what better read than Tim Butcher’s The Trigger - Tablet
Highly readable but profoundly researched - The Times
A triumph of punctilious scholarship - Observer
By this author
About the Author
Tim Butcher is a best-selling author who blends travel with history. His first book, Blood River, was a number one bestseller, a Richard & Judy Book Club selection and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, while his next, Chasing the Devil, was longlisted for the George Orwell Prize. A journalist with the Daily Telegraph from 1990 to 2009, in 2010 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Northampton for services to writing. Born in Great Britain, he is based in Cape Town with his family.