This is my review of The Fateful Year: England 1914 by Mark Bostridge.
Clearly written to tie in with the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, “The Fateful Year England 1914” reminds me as regards format of Bill Bryson’s “One Summer: America 1927”. The “helicopter” approach may surprise you with all the events that were occurring simultaneously, although the author’s selection is inevitably somewhat arbitrary. Everyone is likely to learn something different from the book: in my case, about the “strike schools” where, influenced by the high level of industrial unrest, pupils protested against dogmatic and repressive school boards or about the slashing of “The Rokeby Venus” along with other works of art by militant suffragettes. The photographs of the period are also interesting.
On the other hand, I found the coverage too fragmented and superficial. The decision to devote an early chapter to a highly publicised murder of the day struck me as a rather crude and unnecessary hook (Bryson does the same), whereas the complex but less exciting topic of resistance to Irish Home Rule was so condensed as to be hard to follow. The chapter “Premonitions” is particularly bitty, in its “catch all” attempt to skate over evidence of increased anti-German feeling, fed by the press and Erskine Childers’ “The Riddle of the Sands”’, Hardy’s anti-war “Channel-Firing” poem, Holst’s composing of “Mars, The Bringer of War” and the aggression of the Vorticists. The seven chapters of Section 3 on the effects of the war in England are the most cohesive and fully developed, but out of kilter with the rest of the format.