In a session at the Book Festival chaired by Sheena MacDonald, historian Charles Emmerson introduced us to and read extracts from his fascinating book â€œ1913: The World before the Great Warâ€. This is not a book about the causes and tensions that led to war in 1914. For those living at that time, there was little thought of war. The world was for the most part peaceful, prosperous and filled with progress. The British Empire was at its full power, China had just elected its first (and only) democratic leader, America celebrated the 50h anniversary of their Civil War with a feeling of unity within its 48 states. Telephone, telegraph, the expanding car industry, and an ever increasing global railway system had brought nations nearer and closer together than ever before. Emmerson looks at everyday events in 23 cities from around the globe – life in Shanghai, St Petersburg, Detroitâ€˜s new car industry, Bombayâ€˜s new railway station, coffee plantations in Brazil, a new Turkish governor arriving in Jerusalem. There was a World Fair in Ghent where nations came together to promote the brightest and best of new ideas. There was a royal wedding in Berlin where three cousins who ruled over the world – Kaiser Wilhelm II, King George V and Tsar Nicholas II – were to meet together for the last time in unity and harmony. Despite national rivalries, Europe seemed united by commerce and a common culture. Globalisation seemed to be on its way. In many ways, to our eyes, 1913 is amazingly modern, with ideas and concerns not unlike our own. And yet, not unlike today 100 years later, the seeds of discontent and rivalry are there – the border disputes, the social injustice, the feeling of discontent. As today, Germany was becoming an increasing force in Europe, and London, at the centre of this world, was not happy. For everyday anecdote and period detail this book is excellent. It strips away our hindsight and our narrow focus, and shows us a world that never being allowed to develop lost the rich possibilities it seemed to contain.
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