I Know What Started World War I

This year saw the 95th anniversary of the end of World War I, and up until this year, I've never been able to figure out how the thing started in the first place. I had just assumed that one day everybody decided to murder everybody else, but I really didn't know for sure. Luckily, a slew of books came out this year that I'm sure will explain everything.

Max Hastings' Catastrophe 1914 covers the war from its beginnings through Christmas of the same year. The book is mostly a detailed account of the long slog through the early parts of the war. However, when it comes to laying blame, it falls on Germany and Austria-Hungary for their deliberately unacceptable demands on Serbia after the assassination of heir to the throne Archduke Francis Ferdinand.

But that's too easy. Why not blame the Russians? July 1914 claims that the early mobilization of Russia, supported by France, clearly means that French and Russian diplomats are most to blame. At the end of the day, though, everyone's at fault. Sean McMeekin takes us on a meticulous journey through the diplomatic intrigue of the month that led to years of war.

Then again, with enough effort, you can blame the war on that most horrible of influences: Love. The Assassination of the Archduke follows Ferdinand's forbidden marriage to a woman unacceptable to the Hapsburgh Monarchy. The book even retells a conspiracy theory claiming that members of the Austrian government, tired of the scandal-ridden heir and itching for a war, either plotted the assassination or allowed it to happen through willful neglect.

See? Doesn't that clear things up? Now you know what started World War I, too.