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In Search of the World Before the Great War

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.
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Genre: Nonfiction / History / Modern / 20th Century

On Sale: June 24th 2014

Price: $19.99 / $23 (CAD)

Page Count: 544

ISBN-13: 9781610393805

What's Inside

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Reader Reviews


New Statesman (UK)
“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.”

The Independent (UK)
“Emmerson has done his homework. His book girdles the earth in an impressive fashion and conjures up a world we have lost.”

Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
“Emmerson's book is an ambitious effort…But there is so much that captivates, particularly the entertaining social detail and anecdote, such as the fact it took three years to assess JP Morgan's gargantuan estate, which included 138 watches in one of his houses in London.”

The Spectator (UK)
“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 Express (UK)
“Where Emmerson really scores is in the nuggets of detail and contemporary quotes that sparkle from these essays.”
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The Scotsman
“It is 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.”

The Guardian
“An ambitious, subtle account of the way the world was going until the first world war changed everything.” 

Daily Mail (UK)
“This ambitious panorama of a world on the brink throws up comparisons which are constantly provocative and fascinating.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer
“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.”
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The Guardian (UK)
“To capture a year of the world in a single snapshot is, of course, impossible, but 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."

New York Review of Books
"...Let's pause at this point, for Charles Emmerson's book presents a remarkable anatomy of the world in that single year 1913. He casts it in the form of spirited and diverting vignettes, with lively quotations and local color.

“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.”

The Guardian (UK)
1913 has narrative verve and insight”

The Times (UK)
“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.”
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