In Search of the World Before the Great War


By Charles Emmerson

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Today, 1913 is inevitably viewed through the lens of 1914: as the last year before a war that would shatter the global economic order and tear Europe apart, undermining its global pre-eminence. Our perspectives narrowed by hindsight, the world of that year is reduced to its most frivolous features — last summers in grand aristocratic residences — or its most destructive ones: the unresolved rivalries of the great European powers, the fear of revolution, violence in the Balkans.

In this illuminating history, Charles Emmerson liberates the world of 1913 from this “prelude to war” narrative, and explores it as it was, in all its richness and complexity. Traveling from Europe’s capitals, then at the height of their global reach, to the emerging metropolises of Canada and the United States, the imperial cities of Asia and Africa, and the boomtowns of Australia and South America, he provides a panoramic view of a world crackling with possibilities, its future still undecided, its outlook still open.

The world in 1913 was more modern than we remember, more similar to our own times than we expect, more globalized than ever before. The Gold Standard underpinned global flows of goods and money, while mass migration reshaped the world’s human geography. Steamships and sub-sea cables encircled the earth, along with new technologies and new ideas. Ford’s first assembly line cranked to life in 1913 in Detroit. The Woolworth Building went up in New York. While Mexico was in the midst of bloody revolution, Winnipeg and Buenos Aires boomed. An era of petro-geopolitics opened in Iran. China appeared to be awaking from its imperial slumber. Paris celebrated itself as the city of light — Berlin as the city of electricity.

Full of fascinating characters, stories, and insights, 1913: In Search of the World before the Great War brings a lost world vividly back to life, with provocative implications for how we understand our past and how we think about our future.



In 1913, Francis Wrigley Hirst, the editor of The Economist magazine, published an essay entitled ‘Foreign Travel’.1 In it, he described the globalisation of his day, a process which seemed to pick up speed with each passing decade.

‘Already’, Hirst wrote, ‘railways and steamers have made the journey from London to Chicago quicker and pleasanter by far than was the journey from London to Edinburgh two centuries ago’:

English comforts and American luxuries, French dinners and German waiters, are everywhere at the service of wealth. Wherever there is plenty of sport, good air for invalids, or good markets for merchandise, good hotels will be found. The watchful eye of capital, which knows no national prejudices in its unceasing search for high interest and adequate security, is always looking for opportunities, and the taste for travel grows with the facilities. Switzerland was the first playground of Europe. The world is now covered with playgrounds, to which active idlers and weary money-makers flock in obedience to the varying fashions of smart society, of sport, or of medical prescription. The African desert, Kashmir, California, Japan, the Canary Islands, Bermuda, the isles of Greece, Uganda, British Columbia, are not too remote for the modern globe-trotter. The commercial traveller is ubiquitous; and ‘our own correspondent’ pursues wars and rumours of wars as keenly as the hunter tracks his quarry.

Travel – not just that of wealthy tourists in search of new experiences but that of migrants in search of brighter tomorrows – had become much cheaper over the course of Hirst’s lifetime (he was thirty-nine years old in 1913). ‘No wonder, then’, he wrote, ‘if the number of those who travel for pleasure or profit steadily increases’.

A trip around the world, once fraught with danger, could now be sold to the curious traveller as a cruise, to be completed in the lap of luxury. The Hamburg-American Line offered regular round-the-world journeys on the SS Cleveland, from New York to Europe and then via the Suez Canal to India, Burma, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco, all for as little as $650. ‘So momentous an undertaking [as travelling around the world] has always been pervaded by an atmosphere of romance and a spirit of adventure’, declared the prospectus for the trip.2 In the modern age, however, the traveller was provided with a degree of comfort unimaginable to his or her ancestors. On the SS Cleveland, electric elevators connected the decks, and telephones allowed one to make calls from cabin to cabin. The ship was equipped with a darkroom for amateur photographers, a library stocking books in English, French and German, and a gymnasium with electrically operated machines, including several in the form of a saddle. In 1913 the last leg of the journey – from San Francisco back to New York – was still by transcontinental railway. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 would allow future travellers to complete their trip by sea.

This book is a circumnavigation of a different sort. Starting in the capital cities of Europe – London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, St Petersburg – it journeys to the cities of North America – Washington, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Mexico City and then to the four corners of the wider world – Winnipeg, Melbourne, Buenos Aires, Algiers, Bombay, Durban, Tehran and Jerusalem. Finally, it travels into the hearts of the chief cities of the great non-European empires of 1913 – Constantinople, Peking, Shanghai and Tokyo.

The intention is not to capture everything that happened in a single twelve-month period in every corner of the globe, still less to deliberately seek out the causes of the Great War which broke out the following summer. The origins of the First World War are the subject of an enormous and ever-expanding body of historical scholarship. Debate over the attribution of responsibility for the war has raged since its outset. Various historians at various times have pointed the finger of blame towards the militarism of Prussian society, German ambitions for world domination, the internal political crisis of the German state, Austro-Hungarian adventurism, the internal crises of the Austro-Hungarian state, Russian imperialism, the internal crises of the Russian state, the European alliance system, fears of European cultural degeneration, the remorseless logic of train timetables or a combination of a number or all of the above.3 Acts of commission and omission by particular individual diplomats inevitably influenced decisions made in the chancelleries of Europe. Relative assessments of power and intention – and of how these were likely to evolve in the near future – all changed the calculus of war in the minds of different politicians, monarchs and generals. Historians do not now generally believe that war was inevitable from the moment that the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo in June 1914. Exactly when war became inevitable – much earlier or much later, if ever – is an open question.4 Most historians accept that Britain’s participation in the war was not pre-destined in 1914, indeed some historians argue that it was a grave error.5 Even once it started, the course of the war – like any set of historical events – depended on a range of contingent factors, as well as more unalterable factors such as economic strength, administrative efficiency, population and so on.6 ‘Virtual history’, where one or other of the contingent factors is changed, can help us think afresh about causality, chance and path dependence in history.7

Seeking to understand why the world went to war in 1914, and how that war then lasted for four years, is a vitally important historical and political endeavour. Only through attempting to understand the past – however imperfectly – can we possibly hope to learn from it. And yet, as one leading historian has written, the single-minded quest for the causes of the war may, perversely, carry the risk of distorting the past as well as uncovering it:

… causes trawled from the length and breadth of Europe’s pre-war decades are piled like weights on the scale until it tilts from probability to inevitability. Contingency, choice and agency are squeezed out of the field of vision.8

Knowing what ultimately happened – a war which would turn the world upside down – can narrow our view of what the world was like before it happened. Because the war started in Europe, there is a natural tendency to focus on the magnificent cauldron of European hopes and ambitions in the pre-war era at the expense of the world as a whole.9 Listening for the voices of those who predicted war in 1913 can lead us away from the many others who did not expect it – and indeed who were surprised when it eventually came.10 In 1910, the writer and propagandist for peace Norman Angell famously declared that the idea of a profitable war was, in the interdependent world of the early twentieth century, a ‘great illusion’ (though he did not go quite so far as to say it was impossible).11 Even amongst those who did believe war was possible or even probable, the prospect was often greeted with a certain equanimity, for it was thought that any war would be a short shock to the system rather than a four-year bloodbath. Perhaps inevitably, asking a single question of the past – why did war happen? – risks making everything else a piece of evidence to be used or discarded according to its utility in providing an answer to that question. The world of 1913 risks becoming viewed as nothing more than an antechamber to the Great War, rather than being looked at on its own terms – ‘as it really was’, as the great German historian Leopold von Ranke famously put it.12

Of course, it is not possible to escape hindsight. We cannot but look at the world of 1913 through the prism of what happened after it – indeed part of the interest of that year is our knowledge of what happened next. But we can at least attempt to look at the world in 1913 as it might have looked through contemporary eyes, in its full colour and complexity, with a sense of the future’s openness. We can do this, in part, by looking at what individuals were writing about at the time and what newspapers were reporting. We can do this by reading the confidential reports put together by diplomats on the spot in Tokyo or Buenos Aires to inform their superiors as to the situation in a particular country at a particular time. We can do this too by looking at those parts of the world which tend to receive less attention from Western historians – the non-Western world – because they were less obviously and directly involved in the lead-up to what started as a European war.

The objectives set for this book are thus in one sense more modest and in another more ambitious than many books written about this time. Modest, because it does not seek to explain the Great War – this book should be taken as a complement to histories of the war’s origins, not as a replacement for them. Modest also because it takes a single year as its focus, rather than describing the entirety of the long nineteenth century, as some other historians have done so brilliantly.13 Its sweep is geographic, more than chronological. But therein lies its peculiar ambitiousness: to paint a truly global picture of the world in 1913, often from the perspective of contemporary travellers and writers – many of them Western – but also from the perspective of protagonists both high and low, famous and unknown, Western and non-Western. This book attempts to bring back to life their world. It is a book self-consciously engaging with the idea of 1913, and the years before it, as a period of unprecedented globalisation, rich in encounters, interconnections and ideas.14 1913 was a year of possibility not predestination.

Writing about the world in 1913 often involves digging further back. Sometimes it involves the arresting realisation that our perspectives on the passage of time are skewed by familiarity or by proximity – we tend to mentally compress time when it falls within our own lives, and extend it when it falls in the lives of past generations. And yet for those alive in 1913, the 1880s and 1890s were no more distant than the 1980s and 1990s are to us: the fall of Communism in eastern Europe, Tiananmen Square, the advent of the personal computer, the presidency of Bill Clinton. The Boxer Rebellion of 1901 – when foreign troops marched into the Forbidden City in Peking (Beijing) to put down a rising which targeted Western interests – is as close in time to 1913 as the events of September 11, 2001 are to us today. In 1913, only a hundred years ago, tens of thousands of veterans who had fought in the American Civil War met in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the site of one of that war’s most important battles. The shadows of the nineteenth century loomed large into the early twentieth century.

Similarly, the world of 1913, though separated from us by two world wars and the rise and fall of Communism, is not entirely foreign to our own times. It is not just that many of us have known grandparents or great-grandparents who were alive a hundred years ago. (My own grandparents were all alive in 1913; my grandfather was a young boy who took a steam train to school in rural Australia.) It is also that the world of a hundred years ago was in many respects decidedly modern.

In 1913, our world was alive and kicking. Globalisation, which is often casually assumed to be a phenomenon of the second half of the twentieth century, was well underway in 1913 – indeed in some respects one might argue that global integration was more advanced then than it is today. The ideas of global society or a world ordered by international law were commonplace in the year before the Great War even if its institutions were less well-developed. As the liberal British historian G. P. Gooch put it in 1912: ‘civilisation has become international’.15 The Peace Palace in The Hague, the building housing the forerunner to the International Court of Justice, opened its doors in 1913. There are striking and unsettling parallels between the geopolitics of the world today – shifting from a period of American unipolarity to a period of potentially much more competitive multi-polarity – and that of a hundred years ago – with Britain in relative decline, Asia re-awakening, and rising powers trying to carve out a place for themselves in a global system established by others. Furthermore, much of what we take to be quintessentially modern in terms of culture or technology – the modern art of Cubism and Expressionism, the aeroplane, the telephone, the automobile, even aerial bombing – was already around in 1913.

This book offers a selection and an interpretation – in that sense, it is a portrait. But it is also a journey into the world of a century ago – which, it turns out, is not so long ago at all.

The Exposition Universelle et Internationale of 1913, Ghent. The exhibition served as a celebration of human progress and a statement of the primacy of European civilisation. Within eighteen months the city would be occupied by the German army.




A European could survey the world in 1913 as the Greek gods might have surveyed it from the snowy heights of Mount Olympus: themselves above, the teeming earth below.

To be a European, from this perspective, was to inhabit the highest stage of human development. Past civilisations might have built great cities, invented algebra or discovered gunpowder, but none could compare to the material and technological culture to which Europe had given rise, made manifest in the continent’s unprecedented wealth and power. Empire was this culture’s supreme product, both an expression of its irresistible superiority and an organisational principle for the world’s improvement. The flags of even some of Europe’s smaller nations – Denmark, Portugal, Belgium or the Netherlands – flew over corners of the wider world, whether a handful of islands in the Caribbean, a south-east Asian archipelago, or a million square miles in central Africa. Among Europe’s Great Powers only Austria-Hungary remained without a colonial empire. To be a European – to be a European man, in particular – was to see oneself at the centre of the universe, from which all distance was measured and against which all clocks were set.

In a world made smaller by the distance-destroying innovations of technology, and made more integrated by flows of goods, money and people, it was inevitable that Europe, the engine room of these developments, would be most densely interconnected, crisscrossed by railway lines and telegraph wires. In a world where the remorseless logic of scale pointed to ever-larger industrial enterprises, and where economies seemed to be ever more interlocked with one another, Europe represented the summit of interdependence: each country relying on its neighbours for resources, or markets, or access to the rest of the world. And just as Europeans saw it as the natural order of things that they should venture forth to colonise and control the world, so it was inevitable that Europe would be where, in turn, the world came to display itself.

In 1913, it was perhaps in industrialised, peaceful, bilingual, constitutionally neutral Belgium where the force fields of European integration most overlapped. In that year the medieval Flemish city of Ghent hosted the Exposition Universelle et Internationale – more commonly referred to as a world fair – as had Brussels a few years before. Each country taking part commissioned its own pavilion, celebrating every aspect of its ascent towards the common uplands of industrial civilisation, from education to fine arts, electricity to sport. With the peaceful sound of fountains in the background one could promenade along the Avenue des Nations from the pavilion of neighbouring Holland to distant Persia. One could visit the elegant pavilion of Paris, host of the iconic world fair of 1900, or the neo-classical Palais du Canada, or that of Germany, more modern.

Because this was the age of empire, and because this was Belgium, one might also stop inside the Palais du Congo and leaf through a book commemorating the heroic endeavours of Belgian colonisation. ‘Does she [Belgium] not owe it to herself, to her honour’, its author asked, ‘to continue the work of civilisation begun by the valiant colonisers, sleeping in the African bush, far from the Mother-Country?’1 No mention was made of the thousands of Congolese sacrificed in the greedy quest for the African rubber on which so many Belgian fortunes rested; nor of the dishonouring episode of 1908, when international revulsion at Congo’s mismanagement under the personal ownership of the previous King of the Belgians had led to its formal annexation to the Belgian state.2 But no matter – a world fair celebrated the progress of the nations of the world. It did not investigate its underpinnings.

Within eighteen months Ghent would be a city occupied by a foreign army, languishing behind German barbed wire. But in 1913 Albert, King of the Belgians, could still welcome an invasion of commercial displays, of German furniture and of British arts and crafts. ‘The Ghent exhibition’, read a brochure encouraging participation, ‘should be an eloquent affirmation of the incessant progress for which the genius of humankind is responsible, in every field of its peoples’ activities’.3 The gold and white exhibition buildings were set in extensive, well-ordered gardens. At night the whole place was lit up with electric lights, bright symbol of a new age. An arriving visitor could be forgiven for thinking herself at the centre of a European universe, at the crossroads of progress and destiny.

Suitably enough it was a Belgian, Social Democrat Henri la Fontaine, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1913 for his work at the International Peace Bureau (he was also the founder of the Union of International Associations, headquartered in Brussels). And it was only a hundred miles from Ghent to the Dutch city of The Hague, where in August the Peace Palace opened its doors – a home for the Permanent Court of Arbitration, dedicated to the resolution of states’ differences by force of argument rather than by trial of arms. Underwritten by the generosity of American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, the building incorporated materials from all over the world: bricks from the Netherlands, sandstone from France, granite from Sweden and Norway, and the wood for its floors from Austria. Inside, British stained glass overlooked American bronze statues, rosewood and satinwood panelling from Brazil, silk cartoons and vases from China and Japan, and carpets from Turkey. Switzerland provided the clock tower that adorned the top of the building. Germany provided the Peace Palace’s wrought-iron gates.4

To those of a certain class in particular, ‘Europe’ was not just a geographic description of a continent, or the dream of wide-eyed internationalists, it was a lived reality. For men such as Harry Kessler, an Anglo-German aristocrat who dabbled in writing – he was heavily involved in composing the libretto to Richard Strauss’ wildly successful comic opera Der Rosenkavalier – Europe was an open book, to be picked up at any page, all equally intelligible to his European sensibilities. His diaries from 1913 find him dining with England’s part-German Queen Mary (whose conversational skills he denigrated), supping with the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (who advocated a Franco-German-British alliance), lunching with the Russian ballet impresario Nijinsky and visiting the French novelist Octave Mirbeau (who confided to Kessler that ‘we won’t have war because within thirty days it would turn into a stampede … and our [French] politicians know it’).5

Kessler was no doubt remarkable in the breadth of his social and political contacts – but he was not exceptional in treating Europe as a single entity, separated by national rivalries to be sure, yet entangled by common bonds of culture and class, trade and travel. Aristocrats had always been able to travel across Europe; now it was the turn of the middle classes. Young Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev accompanied his mother on a trip to Berlin, Paris, London and Switzerland that summer. When Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes finished a draft of a major book earlier in the year, he hopped on a train from London to Milan (and then a boat to Cairo) to celebrate; December found him at Roquebrune on the French Riviera.6 British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith travelled to Venice that May, revisiting the Adriatic shoreline along which he had cruised the previous summer on the Admiralty yacht the Enchantress with his wife, daughter and Winston Churchill in tow. Now, clutching his Baedeker to his breast in Venice, he became just like any other exacting European tourist of the age, interrogating his fellow gondola passengers as to ‘who had painted what saint, in which church’.7

For Europe’s leisured classes – and increasingly for the professional middle classes, or at least those who had money and the time to spend it – the continent might be experienced as a succession of train journeys from spa town to seaside resort, periodically interrupted, if at all, by the polite enquiries of differently plumed customs officials. These Europeans inhabited a continent of palace hotels, from the newly opened Carlton in St Moritz (which its owner claimed had been built as a retreat for the Russian Tsar) to the gold and marble gaudiness of the Negresco in Nice. Those seeking a health retreat might travel to the Radium Kurhaus of St Joachimsthal (Jáchymov), where Marie Curie had acquired pitchblende for her studies of radioactivity. Those seeking sun and inspiration might repair to the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Venetian Lido, the setting for a popular German novel of the previous year.8 In Monte Carlo, say, it would not be surprising to find an English gentleman conversing with an Austrian surgeon in French while he observed the losing streak of a Russian general at cards.

Patriotism, real though it was, did not negate the active cosmopolitanism of this European society. Love of one’s own homeland did not preclude identification with one’s social peers from foreign climes, nor appreciation of the finer qualities of their countries. So it was that when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in the summer of the following year – the event which unleashed the final approach of European war – politicians, generals and writers all found themselves on holidays on the wrong side of borders they were accustomed to cross without a second thought. Russian General Alexei Brusilov was in Germany.9 Serbian army commander General Radomir Putnik was in Austria-Hungary. Winston Churchill was at an Anglo-German naval event at Kiel, in northern Germany. British author Joseph Conrad was in Zakopane, in his native Poland.

Writing about these years later, after they had passed into much-mourned history, author Stefan Zweig recalled a French-speaking Belgian poet crying when he heard of the crash of a German Zeppelin airship, because this was a tragedy for European progress. Zweig remembered himself, an Austrian, cheering the exploits of French aeroplane pilots:

… because of our pride in the successive triumphs of our technics, our science, a European community spirit, a European national consciousness was coming into being. How useless, we said to ourselves, are frontiers when any plane can fly over them with ease, how provincial and artificial are customs-duties, guards and border patrols, how incongruous in the spirit of the times which visibly seeks unity and world brotherhood!10

Just as Europe’s leisured classes might have their sense of commonality forged by common social experience, so Europe’s progressive women shared the cause of seeking the vote, so Esperanto speakers shared the hope of a new language. And so Europe’s working classes had their sense of solidarity enshrined in the doctrines of socialism and in the practice of workers’ internationalism. European aristocrats had their rounds of regattas, casinos and social engagements with distant foreign cousins; Europe’s middle classes had their Baedekers and museums; Europe’s working classes had their socialist Second International, with its permanent bureau in Brussels. This was the Europe of Jean Jaurès, the French socialist leader, Victor Adler, the Austrian socialist, and August Bebel, founder of the powerful German Social Democratic Party – then the largest single party in the German Reichstag. Even Britain’s leftist leaders, Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald, attended congresses in Stuttgart and in Basel. Most members of the European working class could not dream of foreign travel – but their representatives could, availing themselves of the same forms of transport which brought coal from the mines, and steel from the foundry.

And although socialism was riven with its own doctrinal disputes – the extent of reform that could be achieved within a bourgeois society, the potential for revolution in an agrarian society, the relationship of socialism to colonialism – international solidarity of the working classes cut across all of them. In November 1912, five hundred and fifty-three delegates from twenty-three countries gathered in Switzerland to rededicate themselves to the causes of unity and peace.11 The greatest threat to the Ghent world fair in 1913, it turned out, was not the threat of war – it was the threat of a Belgian general strike. Faced with workers’ solidarity, was not war in any case a practical impossibility? Would not the very concept of the nation eventually become a quaint remembrance, evoking no more loyalty than one’s region or one’s city had a generation or two previously? Would not the nation, like the state, wither away?

The continent’s cultural and intellectual elites were not immune to myths of national character, to outright nationalism or even, more worryingly, to the glorification of war. French composer Maurice Ravel pronounced that there was an ‘abyss’ between the music of the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg and ‘my way of feeling, that of France’.12 Italian Futurism, which managed to be both fiercely nationalistic and hypercritical of Italy at the same time, proclaimed that the ‘world’s only hygiene’ was war.13 Darwin’s science and Nietzsche’s philosophy, similarly bastardised, appeared to announce the inevitability of human conflict (though Nietzsche also penned the rather less famous observation that, in the meantime, ‘Europe wants to become one’).14 French ‘culture’ was frequently compared to German ‘Kultur


  • "Emmerson draws upon an impressive range of contemporary source material, ranging from travel guides and memoirs to unpublished diaries, newspaper reports and diplomatic memos. They give a vivid portrait of the rapid changes occurring in daily life around the globe. Charles Emmerson captures all the world's hope and excitement as it experienced an economic El Dorado. 1913 is history without hindsight at its best."—Wall Street Journal
  • "In each city the author vividly surveys the political, economic and cultural scenes. The effect is transporting; 1913 is both passport and time machine. The centenary of the Great War will no doubt see the publication of many fine histories of the conflict, but few are likely to paint so alluring a portrait of the world that was consumed by it-and that helped bring it about."—Washington Post
  • "With the looming 100th anniversary of World War I, a spate of books about the not-so-Great War have begun to emerge. Emmerson's effort stands out for several reasons. First, Emmerson ranges widely, from Germany to Paris, from Bombay to Tokyo. Second, he is a sparkling writer, his narrative rarely flags and he has amassed a startling amount of detail."—Daily Beast
  • "[Emmerson] aims not to explain what caused or was lost to the war, but to retrieve from the partial glare of hindsight the world in which it erupted. This is no modest undertaking. Mr. Emmerson draws from a wide range of sources, including memoirs, billboards and newspapers, to recreate a year that was fairly uneventful. Not unlike Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time," the first instalments of which were published in 1913, his narrative finds coherence in the unremarkable. [W]hat emerges is a rich portrait and an important set of ideas."—The Economist
  • "Emmerson offers an impressive sweep that marshals much detail along the way, though at times there is a sense of being on a historical package tour (Baedeker is, indeed, a frequently cited source) in which some city breaks are better rendered than others. But there are some gems. In the patchwork Austro-Hungarian empire, one could drive on both sides of the road and there were 10 official languages but no translators in parliament. Does anyone wonder that it fell apart?"—Financial Times
  • "Marvelous. Emmerson, a scholar at Chatham House, a renowned London think tank, brilliantly avoids the inevitability trap in 1913. His panoramic depiction of the last year before the Great War permits us to see the world as it might have looked through contemporary eyes, in its full colour and complexity, with a sense of the future's openness. Emmerson is a superb guide and companion, whether inviting us to take a seat next to him in a favourite corner of a Viennese cafe or to survey tout Paris from the Eiffel Tower. In many ways, his book works as a time-travelogue--indeed, it frequently quotes contemporary tourist literature and travelers' accounts."—Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • "An eye-opening demonstration of just how modern the supposedly premodern world was."—Maclean's
  • "The book reveals a world both different from today's world, yet still familiar in many ways. It captures the year of 1913 in a way that is fascinating and revealing."—Galveston Daily News
  • "Portraying the European capitals of the next year's belligerent countries, Emmerson strikes a cosmopolitan tone by noting social interconnections linking London to Paris to Berlin to Constantinople. Including stops in Tehran, Mexico City, Jerusalem, several U.S. cities, Shanghai, and Tokyo, Emmerson's historical world tour emotively captures the civilization soon to vanish in WWI."—Booklist
  • "Emmerson's project would not be as compelling if he had simply focused on Europe, or on England and her colonies. The Great War was truly a global war, and the world of 1913 was truly a global society. In his book, Emmerson gives fair weight to societies around the world rather than presenting the year from a Eurocentric point of view."—Christian Science Monitor
  • "A fascinating bird's-eye view of a landscape seen in what was the dying light of empire and on the brink of tragedy. An imaginatively conceived, thoroughly researched, and outstandingly written perspective that is highly recommended for both academic and general readers."—Library Journal, STARRED review
  • "Charles Emmerson has written a book that contains much in the way of wistfulness, hope, bitterness, discord, assassinations, technological advancement, and enmity between nations and peoples. We may not ever fully know the reasons or reasoning behind the urge for war, and Charles Emmerson wisely does not bring them all out, but in 1913 his synthesis of the nervousness, striving, and strains in specific parts of the world give us a better understanding of the upheavals that led to the First World War."—Bookslut

  • "A masterful, comprehensive portrait of the world at that last moment in its history when Europe was incontrovertibly the centre of the universe, and, within it, London, the centre of the world. Charles Emmerson's 1913 brilliantly rescues [history] from the shadow of a war that would toll the end of the Old World and leave its survivors repining the loss of a Golden Age that had never been."—The Spectator (UK)
  • "An ambitious, subtle account of the way the world was going until the first world war changed everything."—The Guardian
  • "This ambitious panorama of a world on the brink throws up comparisons which are constantly provocative and fascinating."—Daily Mail (UK)
  • "Where Emmerson really scores is in the nuggets of detail and contemporary quotes that sparkle from these essays."—The Express (UK)

On Sale
May 7, 2013
Page Count
544 pages

Charles Emmerson

About the Author

Charles Emmerson is a Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House working on resource security, foreign policy, and global geopolitics. He is the author of The Future History of the Arctic and 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War. He was formerly a writer for the Financial Times and continues to publish regularly on international affairs. He lives in London, England.

Learn more about this author