First World War: Still No End in Sight, by Frank Furedi, Bloomsbury, RRP£18.99, 288 pages
Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! A World Without World War I, by Richard Ned Lebow, Palgrave Macmillan RRP$17.99 / RRP£27, 256 pages
Suppose the heir to the Austrian emperor had not, through various accidents on the day, become the victim of a Serbian assassin in Sarajevo in June 1914: what then? Well, no Austrian ultimatum to Serbia, no Russian support for its Slav client-state in resisting, no mobilisation in eastern Europe pitting Russian troops against Austrian, no intervention by the kaiser in support of his Austrian ally, no cause for belligerent French support of its Russian ally, no German mobilisation in western Europe, no violation of Belgian neutrality and thus no cause for Britain to intervene. In fact – or rather, in counter-fact – there would have been no European war.
So far, so plausible. But Lebow is concerned with projecting the consequences far into the future, along lines of causation that then become increasingly tenuous, since each fork in the road is premised on not having taken some previous forks. The author is well aware of this. Not only does he imagine a “best plausible world” – no Soviet takeover, no Nazi regime, no Holocaust – but he also gives us worst-case scenarios. Either way, we soon lose sight of the immediacy of the first world war itself and plunge into some far-reaching speculations, great and small alike. Thus Adolf Hitler, the unsuccessful artist, eventually “sets up a successful mail-order business that sells quack products”. Maybe; and yet again, maybe not.