The Pity of War

Explaining World War I


By Niall Ferguson

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From a bestselling historian, a daringly revisionist history of World War I
The Pity of War makes a simple and provocative argument: the human atrocity known as the Great War was entirely England’s fault. According to Niall Ferguson, England entered into war based on naive assumptions of German aims, thereby transforming a Continental conflict into a world war, which it then badly mishandled, necessitating American involvement. The war was not inevitable, Ferguson argues, but rather was the result of the mistaken decisions of individuals who would later claim to have been in the grip of huge impersonal forces.
That the war was wicked, horrific, and inhuman is memorialized in part by the poetry of men like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but also by cold statistics. Indeed, more British soldiers were killed in the first day of the Battle of the Somme than Americans in the Vietnam War. And yet, as Ferguson writes, while the war itself was a disastrous folly, the great majority of men who fought it did so with little reluctance and with some enthusiasm. For anyone wanting to understand why wars are fought, why men are willing to fight them and why the world is as it is today, there is no sharper or more stimulating guide than Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War.
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  • "There is much to admire in The Pity of War...Niall Ferguson can confidently claim to have inherited [A.J.P.] Taylor's mantle."
    New York Review of Books
  • "An illuminating synthesis of current knowledge on the war. The reader will find plenty of fresh information and challenging ideas on the conflict's most important aspects."
    New York Times Book Review
  • "The Pity of War is one of the most controversial histories to come along in decades. Niall Ferguson...offers a bold, revisionist account of the Great War." Washington Post
    Washington Post
  • "Niall Ferguson, the enfant terrible of the Oxford history establishment...shatter[s] the display cases of the museum of World War I. Persuasive...affecting."
    Boston Globe
  • "A rich and provocative book, evocative and heartbreaking. Ferguson is a talented writer and a versatile scholar."
  • "Brings for the first time the carnage of 1914-18 into sharp, unmystified focus. This is analytical history at its mordant best. With all its other merits, The Pity of War is also a work of grace and feeling."

On Sale
Mar 3, 2000
Page Count
608 pages
Basic Books

Niall Ferguson

About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of the world’s most renowned historians and author of numerous books, including The Square and the Tower, The Ascent of Money, and Civilization. He is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing.

Learn more about this author