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About the book
  • Published: 25 April 2013
  • ISBN: 9781448137329
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 544


The World before the Great War

A portrait of a world on the precipice of war – and the brink of globalisation.

‘If Downton Abbey still colours your impression of what Britain was like on the cusp of the First World War, 1913 could be a useful corrective’ Scotsman

2018 marks the centenary of the end of the Great War. What was the year before the war really like?
1913 is usually seen as little more than the antechamber to apocalypse. Our images of the times are too often dominated by last summers of upper-class indulgence or by a world rushing headlong into the abyss of an inevitable war.

1913: The World before the Great War proposes a strikingly different portrait: told through the stories of twenty-three cities – Europe’s capitals at the height of their global reach, the emerging metropolises of America, the imperial cities of Asia and Africa, the boomtowns of Australia and the Americas – Charles Emmerson presents a panoramic view of a world crackling with possibilities, from St Petersburg to Shanghai and from Los Angeles to Jerusalem. What emerges is a rich and complex world, more familiar than we expect, connected as never before, on the threshold of events which would change the course of global history.

‘A masterful, comprehensive portrait of the world at that last moment in its history…’ Spectator

  • Pub date: 25 April 2013
  • ISBN: 9781448137329
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 544

About the Author

Charles Emmerson

CHARLES EMMERSON is an Australian-born writer and historian. He studied modern history at Oxford University and international relations in Paris. He is the author of The Future History of the Arctic and 1913: The World Before the Great War. He lives in London.

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Praise for 1913

“Every so often a book comes along that simply must be read. 1913 is such a work. Luminous and majestic, rich in detail and stunning in its depth of research, 1913 is a sweeping and haunting portrait of the world on the edge of the precipice… Read this book, but be prepared to stifle at the end of every page an urge to scream out a warning to those long since dead that they must take another road”

Wade Davis

“Charles Emmerson explores an endlessly interesting question: How did the great glossy world of the European Empires come to grief in 1914? This is a most elegantly written book and should stand comparison with the much older classic, Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower”

PROFESSOR NORMAN STONE, author of World War One: A Short History

“A masterful, comprehensive portrait of the world at that last moment in its history…”

David Crane, Spectator

“If Downton Abbey still colours your impression of what Britain was like on the cusp of the First World War, 1913 could be a useful corrective”

David Robinson, Scotsman

“One of the great merits of Charles Emmerson’s global panorama is to show events in the months leading up to the summer of 1914 as something other than a precursor to mass slaughter”

Mark Damazer, New Statesman

“Majestic and cliché-defying”

Sheena McDonald, Herald

“Presents the true nature of the time, poised in hope”

Discover Britain


John Lichfield, Independent on Sunday

“For anybody wanting to understand this time period, including individuals with a keen interest in the events of the Great War, this is a must read book which helps portray a rather different picture to what many might suspect”

The History Blog

“Emmerson has done his homework. His book girdles the earth in an impressive fashion and conjures up a world we have lost”

Piers Brendon, Independent

“With a few deft strokes, Emmerson conjures an air of looming catastrophe”

Ian Thomson, Observer

“A fascinating tour that reveals a truly global society emerging for the first time in human history”


“The old empires were starting to implode and the centres could no longer hold. In an ambitious book, Emmerson catches their last vital sparks in the year before darkness fell”

Iain Finlayson, The Times

“Leaves readers with an astonishing panorama of bustling human activity in places as different and as far apart as London and Winnipeg, Tokyo and Detroit”

Christopher Smith, Eastern Daily Press

“Where Emmerson really scores is in the nuggets of detail”

Caroline Jowett, Daily Express

“An epic, sprawling panorama of a book, intended to show the moving world as it was, to bring the past to life in order to clarify the present. It’s a monumentally ambitious aim. The remarkable thing is, he pulls it off”

Roger Hutchinson, Scotsman

“There is so much that captivates, particularly the entertaining social detail and anecdote”

Richard Fitzpatrick, Sunday Business Post

“An ambitious, subtle account of the way the world was going until the first world war changed everything”

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

“A consistently brilliant survey… The conception of 1913 can thus be described as a smart idea. Its consummation is, frankly, astonishing… A world that was about to embrace death is brought to life with wit, sharpness and occasional delicacy”

Hugh MacDonald, Herald

“This ambitious panorama of a world on the brink throws up comparisons that are constantly provocative and fascinating”

Christopher Hudson, Daily Mail

“1913 has narrative verve and insight”

Ian Thompson, Guardian Weekly

“What emerges is a rich portrait and an important set of ideas”


“[Emmerson] takes the reader on a fascinating trip to the brash, bustling cities of North America, before heading off to places as diverse as Buenos Aires and Bombay”

Good Book Guide


Christopher Clark, London Review of Books

“[Emmerson’s] entertaining tour d’horizon is both witty and charming.”

Jay Winter, Times Literary Supplement

“A wonderful portrayal of a world before it was cataclysmically changed, a world very different from ours but with some frightening similarities”

Good Book Guide

“Brings the fantasies, anxieties and passions of city-dwellers immediately prior to the First World War eloquently to life”

Joanna Bourke, BBC History Magazine

“Emmerson provides a real sense of 1913 by combining details of individual lives with sweeping international trends: one of the great pleasures of this book is to see parallels between then and now”

Anthony Sattin, Observer

“Unique... A high-definition snapshot of the world as it stood a century ago”

Alastair Mabbott, Herald

“A series of vivid vignettes... Offers fascinating glimpses of everyday life”

Mail on Sunday

“A wonderful portrayal of a world before it was cataclysmically changed by war”

Good Book Guide

“Fascinating and sobering”

Mail on Sunday

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