Ring of Steel

Ring of Steel

Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918


Sunday Times History Book of the Year 2014

Winner of the 2014 Wolfson History Prize, the 2014 Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History, the Society for Military History's 2015 Distinguished Book Award and the 2015 British Army Military Book of the Year

For the empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary the Great War - which had begun with such high hopes for a fast, dramatic outcome - rapidly degenerated as invasions of both France and Serbia ended in catastrophe. For four years the fighting now turned into a siege on a quite monstrous scale. Europe became the focus of fighting of a kind previously unimagined. Despite local successes - and an apparent triumph in Russia - Germany and Austria-Hungary were never able to break out of the the Allies' ring of steel.

In Alexander Watson's compelling new history of the Great War, all the major events of the war are seen from the perspective of Berlin and Vienna. It is fundamentally a history of ordinary people. In 1914 both empires were flooded by genuine mass enthusiasm and their troubled elites were at one with most of the population. But the course of the war put this under impossible strain, with a fatal rupture between an ever more extreme and unrealistic leadership and an exhausted and embittered people. In the end they failed and were overwhelmed by defeat and revolution.


  • In a year dominated by memories of the First World War, this supremely accomplished book stands out. Not only does it look at the conflict from the perspective of the losing Central Powers, imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary, but it brings together political, military, economic and cultural history in an enormously impressive narrative. Although Watson's book is based on archival research in Germany, Austria and Poland, his scholarship is never suffocating. His accounts of the terrible struggle on the vast Eastern Front are brisk and well-judged, while he is particularly good at bringing alive the mood on the German and Austrian home fronts, from soldiers' letters to children's nursery rhymes. Above all, his book could not be a more powerful reminder that, as bad as the war was for Britain, it was far, far worse for the losers
    Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times, History Book of the Year 2014

About the author

Alexander Watson

Alexander Watson is the author of the prize-winning history of the Central Powers in the First World War, Ring of Steel. He is Professor of History at Goldsmiths, University of London.
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