The Lions of July: Prelude to War, 1914

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The Lions of July: Prelude to War, 1914 by William Jannen Jr. Presidio Press, 505B San Marin Drive, Suite 300, Novato, California 94945-1340, 1996, 456 pages, $18.95.

The 80th anniversary of the armistice ending the Great War has recently passed. Historians and political scientists, professional and amateur, continue to ponder the cause of that bloody conflict. In The Lions of July, his first book, William Jannen Jr. presents yet another look into the furious diplomatic and military maneuvering during July of 1914 that inexorably marched Europe and much of the world into war. A practicing attorney, Jannen earned his law degree and a PhD in modern European history from Columbia University. In addition to his legal practice, Jannen has taught history at Brooklyn College.

The Lions of July is a tough read-not because it is poorly written but because the author follows the machinations of over 80 different personalities in at least eight European capitals. Jannen peels back another layer from Barbara Tuchman's famous The Guns of August and examines not only the behavior of kings, prime ministers, and generals but also the actions of the many ambassadors to the European powers. Consequently, it becomes difficult to follow the large cast of characters through the turbulent month of July 1914. The work is exhaustively researched and well documented with numerous foreign-language primarysource materials. Jannen balances his treatment with perspectives from all the major powers. His research is excellent, his sources are compelling, and he valiantly attempts to breathe life into the scores of actors. The average reader, however, will find it difficult to track more than a handful of the more compelling personalities.

The Lions of July is a diplomatic history. Anyone looking for a thorough analysis of the military causes of World War I will be sorely disappointed. Because armies are the instruments of politics,Jannen rightly places responsibility for the war on the politicians and not on the Germans' singleminded adherence to the Schlieffen Plan. …