• The Pity of War

  • Explaining World War One
  • By: Niall Ferguson
  • Narrated by: Graeme Malcolm
  • Length: 21 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 18-01-10
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Audible Studios
  • 4 out of 5 stars 4.1 (58 ratings)


In The Pity of War, Niall Ferguson makes a simple and provocative argument: that the human atrocity known as the Great War was entirely England's fault. Britain, according to Ferguson, entered into war based on nave assumptions of German aims-and England's entry into the war transformed a Continental conflict into a world war, which they then badly mishandled, necessitating American involvement. The war was not inevitable, Ferguson argues, but rather 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, inhuman, is memorialized in part by the poetry of men like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but also by cold statistics.
More British soldiers were killed in the first day of the Battle of the Somme than Americans in the Vietnam War; indeed, the total British fatalities in that single battle-some 420,000-exceeds the entire American fatalities for both World Wars. And yet, as Ferguson writes, while the war itself was a disastrous folly, the great majority of men who fought it did so with enthusiasm. Ferguson vividly brings back to life this terrifying period, not through dry citation of chronological chapter and verse but through a series of brilliant chapters focusing on key ways in which we now view the First World War.
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 nor more stimulating guide than Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
©2000 Niall Ferguson (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
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Critic reviews

"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." ( The Economist)
"[Niall Ferguson is] the most talked-about British historian of his generation." ( The New York Times)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Tom on 12-04-12

A fine book but better to read than listen to it

This is a fine and very thought provoking book. You dont have to agree with Niall Ferguson's views to enjoy it, and it does give you a different and fresh perspective of many aspects of WW 1. The economic analysis a lot more interesting - and convincing - than the political, which lacks realism in my view eg on whether it would have been to the benefit of the UK to stay out of the war. There are some excellent reviews on Amazon.

But it is better to read it than listen to it. I say this for three reasons: first it is a fact-dense, closely argued analysis and consequently difficult to listen to and keep the thread - you really have to concentrate; second, frequent reference is made to tables and charts "from the downloadable pdf file", which was presumably on the original audio CD, and lack of access to this material does hamper understanding; third the narration is very poor - disjointed, lacking variation in tone and totally devoid of any colour - which makes the challenge of concentrating that much greater.

I intend to get hold of a second hand copy as it is worth re-reading. That's what I would recommend to anyone thinking of buying the audiobook.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By David on 12-08-14

Thorough but dry analysis read ponderously

I really wanted to like this book and when I could get past the ponderous narration I found some sections really engrossing but large parts of it were very dry and laboured the points somewhat.

My main problem was with Graeme Malcolm's delivery which, while not terrible, was very slow paced and involved some improbably long and ill-placed pauses. This made some of the drier parts of the book really drag.

The book was at its best when examining the causes of the war, and particularly German war aims and willingness for war, and when looking at why the soldiers continued to fight, and particularly why they stopped fighting. The sections on the economics of war, on the other hand, dragged on almost indefinitely and while undoubtedly worthy in academic terms did not engage the more casual listener.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By gerry on 09-10-15

Written for Social Science Wonks -Patience needed!

I am not a political or economics wonk so I will admit this book was a huge bore for the first 13 or 14 hours (not sure when I woke up). The remaining part of it was a fascinating study of World War 1 in terms of what happened militarily and politically. I have read 2 other of Niall's books and this was by par the most intense study of them all. His references to books, plays, authors, politicians and poets and any other cultural figures of all the countries involved in the war was very impressive - although as noted above, over the top in terms of detail. I would even go so far as calling it an opus. Its not for everyone but if you love historical detail and insightful analysis - dig in.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Michael on 15-11-10

Excellent study

If you are into the First World War, or just interested in the causes of war then this book is a must. It is also an excellent study of the 20 Century. History does tend to repeat itself, and to hear what is reported to be a truth of the war, open my eyes to the lesser noble aspects that I grew up thinking the war was. We all hear about the atrocities of the Second World War, but perhaps on a lesser level the First World War had its share, committed by all sides. Britain comes out of this looking rather shabby, Germany, the cause of its own nightmare with the Nazis and even the USA is shown to be foolish. A great read.

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17 of 20 people found this review helpful

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