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Ring of Steel

Ring of Steel

Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I

For Germany and Austria-Hungary the First World War started with high hopes for a rapid, decisive outcome. Convinced that right was on their side and fearful of the enemies that encircled them, they threw themselves resolutely into battle. Yet, despite the initial halting of a brutal Russian invasion, the Central Powers' war plans soon unravelled. Germany's attack on France failed. Austria-Hungary's armies suffered catastrophic losses at Russian and Serbian hands. Hopes of a quick victory lay in ruins.

For the Central Powers the war now became a siege on a monstrous scale. Britain's ruthless intervention cut sea routes to central Europe and mobilised the world against them. Germany and Austria-Hungary were to be strangled of war supplies and food, their soldiers overwhelmed by better armed enemies, and their civilians brought to the brink of starvation. Conquest and plunder, land offensives, and submarine warfare all proved powerless to counter or break the blockade. The Central Powers were trapped in the Allies' ever-tightening ring of steel.

Alexander Watson's compelling new history retells the war from the perspectives of its instigators and losers, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. This is the story not just of their leaders in Berlin and Vienna, but above all of the people. Only through their unprecedented mobilisation could the conflict last so long and be so bitterly fought, and only with the waning of their commitment did it end. The war shattered their societies, destroyed their states and bequeathed to east-central Europe a poisonous legacy of unredeemed sacrifice, suffering, race hatred and violence. A major re-evaluation of the First World War, Ring of Steel is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the last century of European history.

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Genre: Nonfiction / History / Military / World War I

On Sale: October 7th 2014

Price: $40

Page Count: 832

ISBN-13: 9780465018727

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reader reviews


David Stevenson, author of With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
“Alexander Watson's Ring of Steel is an immensely authoritative new history of Germany and Austria-Hungary between 1914 and 1918. Watson writes fluently and compellingly, and his remarkable command of the sources offers new insight and information on almost every page. Soundly judged on the many controversial aspects of his topic, Watson is particularly ground-breaking in evoking the popular experience of the conflict and when investigating the atrocities that all too frequently were its accompaniment.”

Dennis Showalter, Professor of History, Colorado College
“The Central Powers' Great War was not waged from the top down. Instead, as Alexander Watson's comprehensively researched and clearly presented analysis demonstrates, in both Germany and Austria-Hungary popular support was vital to mobilizing and sustaining an increasingly-futile conflict. The escalating sacrifice and escalating violence, by radicalizing populations, in turn structured the entropy that precipitated ideological conflict and race hatred across postwar central Europe. World War I was indeed a Judas gift that kept on giving.”
Winner of the Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History
The Society of Military History 2015 Distinguished Book Award Recipient
Winner of the Wolfson History Prize
British Army Military Book of the Year

Wall Street Journal
“In a year crowded with histories of World War I, Alexander Watson's Ring of Steel makes a truly indispensable contribution in allowing us to see from the inside out this disastrous alliance between Austria and imperial Germany.... It is a mark of talent in a historian to take familiar narratives and open them to new interpretation. Mr. Watson's book is a brilliant demonstration of this skill.”

Sunday Times History Book of the Year, UK
“In a year dominated by memories of the First World War, this supremely accomplished book stands out. Not only does it look at the conflict from the perspective of the losing Central Powers, imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary, but it brings together political, military, economic and cultural history in an enormously impressive narrative.”

Los Angeles Review of Books
“Remarkable…the first comprehensive history of the war written from the perspective of the Central Powers.”

Guardian, UK
Ring of Steel is perhaps the most important of the current crop of [WWI] books – and certainly one of the best.”
Open Letters Monthly
“One of the most comprehensive and readable assessments of the wartime roles of Germany and Austria-Hungary ever published in English; the book is an impressive, thorough tour de force.”

BBC History Magazine
“There are some gems among the very many books released to coincide with the First World War centenary. One is the ambitions, impressive Ring of Steel.... An important, well-timed book that deserves a wide readership.”

Library Journal
“In a centennial anniversary crowded with titles on World War I, Watson's book stands out and will appeal both to readers with a casual interest in the history of the Great War and to specialists seeking a balanced and nuanced view of the event.”

Publishers Weekly
“Watson makes a major contribution to the ever-growing historiography of WWI with this comprehensive analysis of the war efforts of the primary Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary.”

“For World War I and modern European history enthusiasts, this is a comprehensive work that ably conveys the disintegration of empire.”
Financial Times, UK
“This book, at times gripping, at other times poignant, and always revealing, marks a valuable contribution to debate on the war's place in 20th century history.”

Daily Beast
“A fresh approach in analyzing the conflict.... Watson's main concern here is to try and figure out why the loss of the war for the central powers created the unstable states that emerged in the aftermath of the conflict. He finishes off the task he has set himself here with considerable precision and skill.”

The Federalist
“Help[s] make sense of this deeply misunderstood conflict.”

Telegraph, UK
“British historians have tended to view the Great War predominantly from the side of the Allies. Watson has done our understanding an inestimable service by examining these familiar events from the perspective of the Central Powers.”

Sunday Times, UK
“Every worthwhile new book surprises or stimulates. Alexander Watson achieves this effect by asserting that the most potent moral force in wartime Germany between 1914 and 1918 was not hate, but love — of Fatherland, comrades and relatives at the front.... There have been so many social histories of wartime Britain that it is good to see here a mirror portrait of the other side of the hill.”
“Watson has contributed a definitive resource to the literature on the strategic enigma being debated during the centennial of WW I.”

Houston Chronicle
“For those who already have a general knowledge of the war, Ring of Steel is a good addition to their understanding.”

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Ring of Steel stands out among this year's flood of books marking the 100th anniversary of World War I's start. History buffs will appreciate its distinctive approach, which emphasizes what the publisher calls ‘the perspectives of (World War I's) instigators and losers.'”

Weekly Standard
“Watson's descriptions of these occupied territories—where efforts to win the sympathies of Poles and Ukrainians were largely squandered through harsh administration, internecine squabbling, and sham proposals for puppet ethnic states—is a notable strength of this account.”

Battles and Book Reviews
“Illuminating… an outstanding book that has been scrupulously researched. I highly recommend this book to students of World War I and indeed anyone who wants to see how the Central Powers dealt with the stresses of war on the homefront. They will not find a better, fairer history because it has not yet been written.”