Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Pines provides an epic exercise in historical speculation in this detailed and thought-provoking review of the United States entry into WWI. His daring thesis, buttressed by a sweeping review of sentiment at the time, is that U.S. intervention into a war in which American interests were not threatened laid the basis for the disastrous peace agreement, a vengeful postwar spirit, and ultimately WWII and the Cold War. Contending that the Allies and Central Powers were too exhausted to continue the fight, Pines maintains that, had the U.S. troops not entered the conflict, a negotiated peace would have ensued. The surrender terms imposed on Germany, he argues, led to a legacy of bitterness that helped foster subsequent Nazi rule.

Pines’s re-examination of the atmosphere of these times is fascinating food for thought as we approach 2014, 100 years after the start of “The War to End All Wars.”

Kirkus Reviews

A detailed look at one of history’s greatest turning points: the American decision to intervene in the First World War.

In this painstakingly detailed, thoroughly researched analysis, Pines (Out of Focus, 1994, etc.) examines the circumstances that led to President Woodrow Wilson to take the United States into World War I in April 1917, and that decision’s short- and long-term consequences. Without that intervention, the author writes, there would have been “[n]o punishing Versailles peace treaty, no humiliation of Germany, no German drive for revenge, no Hitler, no World War Two and likely no Cold War.”

These are all familiar hypotheticals, but Pines reinvigorates them with new perspectives and energetic prose. For example, he highlights the British propaganda campaign to sway isolationist America; the departure of staunch neutrality advocate William Jennings Bryan from Wilson’s administration and its effect on American foreign policy; and the March 1917 collapse of Russian czarist rule. He draws attention to the fact that huge portions of America’s manufacturing and agricultural economy were invested in the European war.

Pines also looks at the most-discussed factor in American intervention: the German sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 which killed 128 Americans. For Pines, however, the bulk of the blame falls on Wilson himself, whose 1916 re-election slogan (“He kept us out of war!”) belied his interventionist leanings.

The book balances expertly narrated accounts of WWI battles with vigorous extrapolations of what might have happened if those battles hadn’t been fought. American doughboys weren’t needed to save the Allies from defeat, Pines contends—“they were needed only to hand them victory,” and at an enormous cost. While some of this book’s theories may seem a bit complacent (German militarism, for instance, was a cultural fact regardless of the Treaty of Versailles), its main arguments are immensely insightful. A carefully and winningly argued case against military adventurism.

Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews (5 stars) by Carol Thompson

This is an excellent overview of WWI. Well written, well researched, informational and compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

America's Greatest Blunder by Burton Yale Pines is a fascinating story of America's involvement in World War I. The author takes the reader through a detailed account of the war in a well-referenced documentary with a very descriptive narrative. Consider it a compilation of every history book written about the war. The author's descriptions throughout the book are well-written. "Germany’s grand, carefully studied, meticulously tweaked and extensively rehearsed Schlieffen Plan for a swift victory over France had crumbled," is one of the many excellent sentences from the book.

The author's description of the Western Front brings a feeling of being there and most certainly allows the reader to feel the power and horror of war. We are taken through the Wilson administration and his failure as a peace broker. The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, following a Declaration of War on Imperial Germany by Congress. In June 1917 the first American troops arrived in France. The American soldiers became known as "doughboys" and the author does an excellent job of taking us on the journey of war.

I highly recommend this book for history buffs and those who would like to learn more about WWI, but don't want to read 30 or 40 books on the subject. This book will give an accurate overview. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Military Writers’ Society of America

History is said to be the propaganda of the winners. In America’s Greatest Blunder, Burton Pines shows how skillful propaganda can determine who the winners are.

With the one hundredth anniversary of the start of World War I approaching, many are re-examining the conflict. What perhaps has not been sufficiently noted was Britain’s clever manipulation of U.S. opinion, turning it from initially a neutral or slightly pro-German bent into a virulently anti-German declaration of war. For example, Britain cut Germany’s two trans-Atlantic cables to the America’s at the war’s outset, insuring her version of events would be the one most heard. Moreover, Britain had a highly effective covert government sponsored propaganda machine, cleverly disguised as “news.” The drumbeat was non-stop and clever. Germany, by comparison, had to handle its dispatches openly through its embassy and consulates. Hence, its efforts were seen as mere government propaganda.

Pines painstakingly, and occasionally laboriously, leads up to the events which tipped the military advantage in favor of Britain and France. He is at his best here, showing how President Wilson and the American public inevitably jumped on the war bandwagon. Pines then theorizes that the outpouring of American troops broke the military stalemate. Where a status quo ante bellum and a less punitive peace might have occurred, Britain and France rammed home the harsh terms which Wilson protested but proved unequal to prevent. Pines then follows a familiar thread, the resulting radicalization of Germany and rise of Hitler, leading to World War II.

Insightful, well-researched and documented, America’s Greatest Blunder is worth considering.

Portland Book Review (4 stars) by Nicole McGillagreen

America’s Greatest Blunder by Burton Yale Pines is a sweeping historical look at World War One and America’s involvement in it. Pines argues that by entering the war, America set in motion events that would later lead to the total devastation of World War Two. By flouting our own policies of neutrality, surreptitiously supporting the Allies before entering the war, and creating the opportunity for an all-out Allied victory, America helped set the stage for the punitive peace that came after the war.

Pines is meticulous as he sets about describing the war and all of its key players. While walking his readers through history, he lays out a rich woven tapestry, explaining different aspects of the war. Included in this tapestry is a look into American political climate and lack of military preparedness, trench warfare and Germany’s situation. Pines includes an examination of the way Britain was able to influence and even manipulate America to the point that not only were we willing to go to war for her but we were willing to make her enemies our own. To make his argument complete, Pines also gives readers a good look at how the armistice and the Treaty of Versailles were crafted and their dangerous and lasting results.

This book is a great read for any history buff, readers who are fascinated by the Great War and anyone interested in American foreign policy. Pines is careful to toe the line of history. When he is speculating he calls it speculation. When there is a point that could be argued from different directions, he is careful to give each point of view fair credit. Pines’ meticulousness can get the better of him as he sometimes belabors his points and carries on well after he has articulated the facts. But this is an easily overlooked fault. The book offers such an interesting wealth of information.

Steve Suddaby, Past President, World War One Historical Association

Despite its sensational-sounding title, America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One is solidly researched, convincingly argued, and at times fascinating.

This reviewer cannot do justice to Burt Pines’ argument in just a few sentences, but quoting from the introduction will give you a flavor for his thesis: “What is not speculative… is that American intervention in the [First World] war changed history’s course. And it is nearly impossible to imagine a worse, uglier, more self-destructive course than that which the 20th Century took.” The author believes and plausibly argues that, without U.S. intervention, WWI would have dragged on in continued stalemate until the exhausted and bankrupt combatants reluctantly agreed to peace negotiations. He asserts that “There they would have ended the conflict as all of Europe’s continent-wide wars had been ended since the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, by compromises and tradeoffs.” In this situation, he argues there would have been no punitive Versailles Treaty leading to the failure of democracy and the rise of Nazism in postwar Germany.

There is a lot more to this book than just its central thesis, however. One theme of it is Burt Pines’ decision to use the entire range of scholarship over the last century on the First World War to address the big questions about the war. A couple examples will suffice – he nicely summarizes the still-unresolved efforts of historians to determine who or what caused the war and uses the works of several generations of economic historians to discuss the causes and impacts of hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic.

The author casts a wide net in explaining the domestic political environment in the years leading up to the U.S. declaration of war. Despite decades of studying the First World War, this reviewer was surprised at his revelations about the demographics of prewar America. German-born Americans were the largest immigrant group at 9% of the total U.S. population in 1910, followed by those born in Ireland, none of whom had any love for the British. Surprising also were his revelations of how extensive the British propaganda effort was inside the U.S. and how the British had broken the code used for private messages between President Wilson and his special emissary Col. House! (It seems that there is nothing new under the sun…)

There is much in this work that is absolutely fascinating for those interested in U.S. and world history of the early 20th Century. America’s Greatest Blunder radically changed this reviewer’s perception of the U.S. entry into the war.

Midwest Review of Books by Diane Donovan, Senior e-book reviewer

America's Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One maintains what should be obvious: that America had no business entering the local, years-long conflict to create a world war, and that by intervening and tipping the local balance of power, the U.S. in fact created the roots of World War II's even greater atrocities.

Compromise would have come more quickly without American intervention, bitter resentments wouldn't have created a German national pride vulnerable to the likes of a madman like Hitler, and the entire situation would have likely resulted in a lasting peace, not the uncertain and volatile, simmering resentment that was to fuel World War II.

Now, many titles have already made this point. What's new here is an attention to documenting the political and social milieu that led up to America's decision to enter World War I, how an attitude of neutrality changed to one that saw military intervention as the best option, and how the famous and celebrated doughboys in fact introduced a new level of violence onto the battlefield which was to have lasting ramifications for all involved.

Much historical research and analysis has gone into America's Greatest Blunder: a fact reflected in chapters that provide plenty of background and insights to trace exactly how these decisions evolved. From how this country observed the war's progress to how it made the decision to become involved, how it entered the war, and how the doughboys broke a battlefield stalemate that allowed France and Britain to in effect punish Germany and crush its national pride. Chapters trace the legacy of a reluctant peace and its long-range effects at home and abroad.

What would have happened if the U.S. had stayed out of World War I? Burton Yale Pines maintains that peace would have been established and would have proved less unstable, that German national pride and identity wouldn't have suffered a crippling psychological blow, and that different surrender terms could have been crafted that might have avoided the rise of Nazism.

Had this country remained neutral (and military intervention been avoided), than human relationships in today's world might be very different. In this case, yes: the U.S. won that particular war. But the lasting impact of its decisions resonate even today in a world which cannot definitively be deemed 'better' for America's decision.

As this country continues along a path that involves military interactions with other nations, it could use the lessons of World War I as a cautionary tale of the long-term effects of interventions. And while readers could say that the projections of different scenarios had America not entered the fray are subjective ones, nobody can argue about the fact that World War I ultimately caused more problems than it purported to solve.

Plenty of well-researched evidence supports Burton Yale Pines's contentions here, providing logical lessons of cause and effect documenting the fallacies and dangers of military responses by this country as well as other nations. Political science (and especially military history) readers should consider America's Greatest Blunder a foundation work suitable for debate and reflection on the lasting impact of military intervention, no matter what the arena of battle.

Roads to the Great War (10/14/14 issue) by Dennis Linton, Col. U.S. Army (ret). Assistant Professor, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

“Entering Europe’s war truly was a gigantic and fateful American decision. As it turned out, it was America’s greatest blunder of the century.”

This provocative statement by Burton Yale Pines is clearly an attention getter on bookshelves cluttered with World War 1 selections surrounding the 100th anniversary. However, is the distinguished journalist actually able to convince a reader this is unequivocally true? At the end of the book, each individual reader is provoked to render his or her own verdict. The title sparks interest to read the book, but what keeps your attention is a well-researched and easy to read overview of the war and America’s involvement. Whether one believes America’s entry into the war was the biggest blunder of the century actually becomes unimportant somehow. The author convincingly illustrates the U.S. decision to enter the Great War as one of history’s rare pivot points. The beginning of the book states this bold thesis and supposes that without America’s entry into the war, the war would have stalemated and a “peace among equals” would have ended the conflict. However, with America’s entry, the decisive victory of the allies led directly to an unjust peace settlement, which in turn led to the rise of Nazism, the horrors of World War II and the tensions and conflicts of the Cold War.

The true beauty of the narrative is in the chapters describing America’s entry and role in the War’s outcome. Through eight chapters, the author seeks to answer the questions he raises at the end of the introduction of his thesis. “How did America end up fighting a war it never thought it would fight and in which no national interests were at stake?” and “What difference was made by America’s fighting?” The author’s significant research combined with a journalistic style makes this section of the book one of the most readable overviews of America’s entry on the shelves today.

The section on effectiveness of British and America propaganda is intriguing. The book explains how George Creel, in charge of the American propaganda machine, was able to turn a neutral population with strong Germanic roots to not only support the war, but to vilify the Kaiser.

As the author finishes with the American Expeditionary Forces’ entry into combat and its role in the final campaign successes, bringing the war to conclusion, one is left to ponder: “What blunder?” Certainly, Germany blundered with reintroducing unrestricted submarine warfare. Certainly, President Wilson blundered with his optimistic belief he could influence the Peace talks and subsequent treaty to be fair. However, does this rise to America’s greatest blunder? How could this be? The war pulled the U.S. out of a recession, and tied the allies forevermore to our economy. America now had a victorious military with global projection. America had arrived. Thus it’s not surprising that the reader wonders: where did America blunder at all, given victory and our rise as a global power?

I will not summarize how the author synthesizes and defends his thesis in the final chapters. Why? Because this is a book that should be read this year, if for nothing more than as one of the finest overviews of the War and America’s entry into it, and the effects of our entry on its outcome. Additionally, I think the author purposely finished the book in a manner to leave readers pondering their own thoughts on whether it was a blunder.

ForeWord Clarion Review (Four Stars) by Mark McLaughlin

This primer to American history asks “what-if” of the nation’s entrance into WWI, exploring the options with a well-paced and thoroughly researched narrative.

The entry of the United States into World War I was “one of history’s rare pivot points,” says veteran journalist and former Time Magazine editor Burton Yale Pines, who believes U.S. participation in that war was, as the title of his book states, America’s Greatest Blunder. Pines details how the United States went from being neutral—with citizens who were firmly anti-British, he says—to jumping into the war on the Allied side. The result, Pines asserts, was not only victory but also a punitive peace accord that “shaped the fate of most of the rest of the century,” and not in a good way.

This work is a good primer for anyone who seeks to understand how a nation can be dragged into war. It also provides a good overview of the U.S. participation in WWI on the strategic and political level. Pines spends very little time in the trenches or on the battlefield, instead focusing on the often stormy relationships between American commander General John “Black Jack” Pershing and his British and French counterparts. The author also gives a thorough analysis of why and how Germany launched its final, desperate offensives (their “last card” and final “roll of the dice,” as he puts it) and why they failed.

Many other historians have concluded that without the United States, the war-weary and nearly broken western Allies would likely have succumbed to the Kaiser’s forces, newly-reinforced by legions freed from the Eastern Front by Russia’s withdrawal from the war. To the contrary, Pines believes the German final offensive was doomed from the start, yet he concedes that a German triumph would have “been ugly for the defeated” and “even more rapacious” than the one the Allies imposed on Germany at Versailles.

ines’s key point is that without U.S. entry, the two exhausted sides would have eventually come to the conference table to settle things, as was done at the end of the equally devastating Thirty Years War in 1648. The author cites many factors that should have driven them to negotiate; however, he undercuts that thesis when he rightly notes that there were also many reasons that prevented the key actors from doing so, notably their pride and inability to explain accepting something less than victory to their constituents and subjects who had gone through “the greatest slaughter in the history of the world.”

Pines offers a number of “what if” conclusions to a WWI that ends without American participation. While none of them are pretty, he asserts that “it is nearly impossible to imagine a worse, uglier, more self-destructive course than that which the 20th Century took” because of America’s involvement.

Review Worm by Greg Lamb

Grab your note pad, because when you start reading this refreshing treatment of World War One History, you'll want to be able to reference it again and again. America's Greatest Blunder is a thoroughly researched work presenting a critical analysis that is easy to read and digest.

I've always been fascinated with the complexities of history that resulted in the human tragedy that took place in the trenches during those years. I thought I'd read most of the authoritative works on the subject, of which most were cited in the author's bold and speculative analysis of the period. America's Greatest Blunder should be required reading at the National Defense University, the Service War Colleges and U.S. State Department Foreign Service Institute.

From the outset Pines admits that the premise of this latest work is speculative. He boldly states that had America not blundered into declaring war against Germany on 6 April 1917, the outcomes of the 20th Century would have been different and possibly less traumatic for humanity on the whole. Pines presents a chronology of events from the very beginning when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, all the way through to the end when President Wilson was unable to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles.

Throughout the presentation of this work, Pines supports his theory with solid evidence and a thoroughly researched rationale. Unlike many historical works, Pines explains the "why" and "how" behind the key events that shaped the twentieth century. Age-old lessons of history come through loud and clear. For example, the single issue President Wilson offered Congress in seeking a vote to declare war against Germany was the belligerent's use of "unrestricted submarine warfare" against American shipping. Pines reminds us that the United States had no vital national interests at stake and that the country was under no direct threat.

I highly recommend America's Greatest Blunder as a "must read" not only for students of foreign policy and academicians of history, but for the casual reader as well. This work has an extensive bibliography and the evidence the author uses to support each of his points is thoroughly sited. However, the author's writing style is smooth and easy to follow making the reading experience refreshing and enjoyable.

BookIdeas.com by John Walsh

As we move towards a century of time separating us from the events of World War One, it is inevitable that many writers will grace us with their opinions of the meaning of the events and their retelling from new and interesting angles. In this well-written and carefully argued book, author Burton Yale Pines contributes to the re-evaluation by considering the role of America in the final years of the Great War.

He has two purposes in this book: the first is to tell the story of how the U.S.A. came to enter the war on the side of the Allies (which was far from certain) and, second, to make the case that this was, as the title explains, 'America's greatest blunder.' His principal argument is that without American intervention the principal combatants would have exhausted themselves and been forced to make some kind of compromise peace agreement that would have prevented the rise of Nazi Germany and, hence, the Second World War. There are, without doubt, many Americans who will agree with this analysis and, indeed, the isolationist tendency has a lengthy tradition in the country.

When reading a work of history, one of my first tasks (and one I followed here as I was sent this book for review) is to examine the list of sources employed and the nature of the footnotes. I like footnotes - not everyone does, of course, but their presence signals to me that I am dealing with history and not journalism - according to his bio details, author Pines is a trained historian and a working journalist, so he will be quite aware of the differences between the two forms. In this case, the list of sources is lengthy and includes not just books but some academic journal articles, correspondence and contemporaneous materials. All of the sources appear to be in English but that is not unusual and there are one or two translated pieces. The heavy use of historians such as Niall Ferguson and Liddell Hart will give further evidence of the kind of thinking that infuses the book. The footnotes are contained at the back of the book and do the job they are required to do. All of this is very reassuring.

World War One remains one of the most important events in modern human history and an addition to the literature covering it that is straightforward and readable and with clear aims is always to be welcomed. Burton Yale Pines has certainly succeeded in his attempt to write such a book and he deserves a wide readership for his efforts. There are, of course, different interpretations of the events possible. For example, it would be possible to argue that America entered the war to protect its overseas colonies and commercial interests, to expand its power in Europe and to suppress the growing possibility of popular revolutions at home and abroad. However, it is clear what the author thinks and he makes as much of his case as might reasonably be expected.

Feathered Quill

All readers should pick up this book and read it from cover to cover. The author is an insightful narrator who makes readers truly re-think the decisions made in America’s past.

Review by Mary Lignor

There are many people in this nation who wouldn’t be terribly enthusiastic about reading yet another history lesson regarding the ‘War to End All Wars.’ And I admit, at first I was hesitant too. However, this is the first on the subject I’ve read that is both engaging and educational, while also providing a powerful look at what could have happened if historical decisions had been different.

Author Burton Yale Pines asks the intriguing question: What if the United States had not entered the war in 1917? This was a time when the war had already been going on for three years, why then? This idea is explored and it shows that when the U.S. entered the war it became 'America’s Greatest Blunder,' bringing about negative effects that would change the course of history. The United States originally felt that the country should not get involved, but this eventually evolved into us leaping into the war on the side of the British. To complicate matters, this was a time when many Americans were not terribly fond of the British.

Readers will be glad to know that the author is a fascinating narrator; it feels as if you are sitting in his living room having a conversation. He does not try to belittle or confuse, nor does he fling the idea that America’s entrance into the war was a horrible notion but rather tells, in his own words, why he feels that way. Mr. Pines simply tells of the war; how the war started and why; what happened before the entry of the U.S. and after; and, surprise, surprise, how the wealthy skillfully managed the population into sending American soldiers into a war when most didn’t want that to happen.

Mr. Pines really grabs your attention at this part in his narrative. Anyone, even those who are not history buffs, can understand why the nation was dragged into war. Not a lot of time was spent in the book going over and over the actual strategic fighting; a far more in-depth look is given about the dislike between Commander General Black Jack Pershing of the U.S. and the commanders of British and French forces as well as the fact that the Germans failed in their last attempt to take command.

The most important point made is that if the U.S. had not entered the war, the Germans and the Allies (Britain and France) would have probably just stopped fighting as they were dead in the water. The Allies were tired of war and to top it all off the Russians had withdrawn and now had their finger in another pie – helping Germany. If the U.S. had not come into the war, which they didn’t really have to because the interests of the U.S. were not in any jeopardy, peace between Britain, France and Germany would probably have happened and the countries would have put their issues at rest. Instead, the surrender terms on Germany brought the world directly into a legacy of hate that would explode in the future with the German Nazi’s and the Communist Russians.

This book is a wonderful study of World War I and there are not a lot of people, still living, who know very much about it. The author did a great job of research and it would be a fantastic school history book. There are many students today who can’t name the Commanders of the First World War, which is simply wrong. Every facet of this nation’s history should be remembered. How else – as Mr. Pines poignantly points out – will we ever learn from our mistakes?

The Eclectic Book Worm blog by Amanda Amaya

I am a history buff. Prior to reading this book, I had absolutely nothing but a vague knowledge of WWI. The author has a way of engaging the reader in a unique manner. He explains things like he is sitting there having a conversation with you. I loved it. It helped me to make connections that I might not have with regards to which nation did what and when.

It is not a dry, rote rehashing of timeline and dates, it is specifically organized to prove his point. And it is effective. I particularly enjoyed the glimpse of what America was like in the early 20th century. The Progressive Movement, the isolationism. I was amazed to read about the propaganda employed throughout the war. I also think that the author made his case. He provides convincing evidence that had America not entered the war on the side of the Allies, the horrors of the 20th century might have been prevented. Both sides were heading toward a stalemate. And had America stayed out, the belligerents might have been forced to a more equal compromise, rather than the harsh peace imposed upon Germany.

The author clearly spells out the groundwork that led to WWII, and the systemic murder of millions. It also helped me to understand the reluctance of America to engage in WWII until we were outright attacked. I understand how fathers who fought in WWI wanted to spare their sons from the horrors of war.

Overall a great read that furthered my interest in this time period. I’m probably going to read more about it, thanks to this book. If you love history as much as I do, give this a try. You will not be disappointed.

Amazon Readers’ Reviews

John P. Jones III (5 Stars), (Amazon Top 500 Reviewer)

The centennial of the commencement of what was once universally referred to as “The Great War” will soon arrive in a few more months; thus Burton Yale Pines’ history of what is now generally called World War I is timely, particularly since a portion of his focus is on its reverberations today. He also focuses on that slipperiest but also most fascinating aspect of historical analysis: the “what if’s,” and in this case, what if America had NOT joined the side of the Allies, principally Britain and France. The author is a trained historian who had a “day job” with “Time Magazine” writing the proverbial “first drafts” on assignments as varied as Vietnam and Europe.

Pines writing style is crisp and lucid. He manages to unravel the complex forces and motivations of the participants of the war (and those that didn’t want to participate) and presents a meaningful exposition of the principal factors behind the salient events of the war. For example, Germany hoped for a quick victory, a repeat of what their armies had done in 1870-71, and reach Paris in the first couple of weeks of the war. It was called the Schlieffen Plan, and almost worked. But a flaw or two in its execution allowed the French to counterattack, in what would be generally called “the miracle of the Marne” and stop the German armies. What absolutely no one envisioned, accustomed to short, decisive wars over the previous 100 years since the Treaty of Vienna ended the “Napoleonic era,” was a four-year stalemate of trench warfare that would be known as the Western Front.

Although I’ve read several books on the First World War, there were a number of factors that I had never previously considered prior to Pines’ book. There was nothing inevitable about America joining the Allied side in the war, despite the fact that we spoke a common language with England. There were demographic factors in the States that weighed towards the Central Powers: sizable German and Irish populations, the latter in particular anti-English. And there were all the refugees from the very autocratic Russian Empire: the Poles, Jews and others.

Pines credits the British as masters of propaganda, and that was critical in changing American opinion to a pro-Allied leaning. For example, almost immediately after the war commenced, Britain managed to cut all the undersea communications cables that connected Germany to America. Thus, all the news of the war came from Allied sources. This was critical in a number of areas, for example the disparate treatment of the British naval blockade of Germany, and the German response by submarine warfare. There were virtually no images of starving Germans as a result of the blockade, and certainly no reports of American ships being taken to British ports for inspection. On the other hand, the image of the sinking of the Lusitania was endlessly re-run.

Like Johnson would half a century later, Wilson campaigned in 1916 as the peace candidate – that he had kept America out of the European war. Yet within a couple of months of his second-term inauguration, he is asking Congress for a declaration of war, and gets it. Pines identifies three key factors in this startling turnaround: America couldn’t “afford” to let the Allies lose due to American war loans to them; the “preparedness movement” that wanted war; and German submarine warfare. The author then describes how really unprepared America was for war, with virtually no trained manpower or material, and how it built a mass army, converted the economy to war production and developed and maintained an effective propaganda effort to ensure public support.

The “shadow” of the coming American army, which would eventually be two million, became the dominant factor in the war, specifically resulting in Ludendorff’s “go-for-broke” offensive, with new infantry tactics, in the spring of 1918 which the British and French barely were able to stop, with tremendous casualties. Heavy fighting by American army units occurred mainly in the last 100 days of the war. Concerning the “peace” that was to follow, Pines depicts Wilson as being singularly inept at accomplishing his objectives. The British and French imposed very punitive and vindictive terms on the Germans which lead, as we all know, to a re-run of the war 20 years later.

And the “what if’s”? If America had stayed out of the war, almost certainly neither Germany nor the Allies would have prevailed. Exhaustion would have, and most likely led to a peace similar to the end of the Thirty Years War of the 17th Century, without clear victors or vanquished. Thus the rise of Hitler would have been much, much more unlikely. And how many other wars has America participated in whose outcome was equally counterproductive?

As the extensive bibliography suggests, Pines has mastered the facts and issues involved in the war. For a centennial read, or any other time, his work is highly recommended.

Terry Sunday (5 stars) (Amazon Top 500 Reviewer)

While I am by any standards an enthusiastic, voracious reader with very broad interests and varied tastes in reading material, I will admit to having a couple of blind spots. One of them is World War I. I anxiously devour almost any books about the history, politics and technology of World War II, the Cold War and even the years between World Wars I and II. But I have never really read anything about World War I. It's not so much due to a lack of interest as it is to the fact that I always seem to have other books to read on subjects.

Having admitted my shameful ignorance about the subject matter of author Burton Yale Pines' America's Greatest Blunder, I also admit that, when he asked me if I would be willing to honestly review it, I accepted without a second thought simply because I knew I would learn a lot from it. And I sure did! I learned more from this book than I have from probably any other book I've read in recent memory. Of course, knowing virtually nothing about the subject to begin with meant I could only come out ahead, but it was even more of an enlightening experience than I expected it to be.

Mr. Pines' treatment of how and why America got involved in World War I, and the consequences of that action, is broad, deep and very readable. America's Greatest Blunder is exceptionally well organized. It describes the events that led up to America's joining the greatest global conflict up to that time, and the aftermath of that decision, in basically chronological form. Mr. Pines writes in a very lucid style. While he doesn't use the most straightforward prose I've ever come across, he nevertheless conveys huge amounts of information with seemingly effortless ease. Few history books that I've read are as fast-paced and accessible as this one, or as laden with the kinds of intimate details that truly bring the subject to life. This is an extremely well written volume that could serve as a model for how history should be told.

As for the subject, I don't know enough about it to judge whether Mr. Pines' central thesis is valid or not. He presents compelling evidence that America's abandonment of its neutrality and its entry into World War I, thus turning the tide against Germany, was a huge strategic blunder that inexorably set the 20th century on a tragic course to a second, even more devastating, world war just 20 years later. I don't know if his view is in the mainstream or on the fringe, or whether it aligns with the majority views of other historians. I suspect many Americans would not be comfortable with the conclusions he draws. Nevertheless, his arguments are logical, persuasive and convincing, and backed up by impeccable analyses and footnotes. I have no problem believing he is right.

As the first book I've ever read about World War I, I don't think I could have chosen a better one than America's Greatest Blunder. It was a real eye-opener for me. I recommend this volume most enthusiastically to anyone interested in the subject--even those who know nothing about it.

John D. Cofield (5 stars) (Amazon Top 500 Reviewer)

As we near the centennial of the outbreak of World War I a great number of new books are being published examining that conflict's causes and consequences. Most explain the war from the viewpoint of its earliest participants in Europe. Burton Yale Pines' contribution in America's Greatest Blunder is to evaluate the results of the war's greatest turning point, the entry of the United States on the Allied side in April 1917. His thesis, which he makes clear in the title and explains in depth in the body, is that U.S. entry prolonged the war and set the stage for what became the long and bloodstained history of the twentieth century.

As Pines is at pains to make clear, this is a bold thesis but not necessarily a brand new one. He draws from the works of numerous earlier historians in making his case. At times he echoes the ideas of Charles Beard and others who wrote critically about U.S. entry into World War I during the 1930s. Elsewhere he relies on more recent historians such as Niall Ferguson to make his points. But by no means is Pines merely recounting the work of others. He has synthesized the material into one complete argument which is influenced by his own career as a journalist/historian reporting on the Vietnam War and Eastern Europe during the Cold War. He saw first-hand many of the consequences of the American entry into World War I, and this colors his thesis and gives it fresh importance, especially now when the U.S. is dealing with the consequences of having entered another distant conflict.

There is a great deal of fascinating material in this book. I was aware that the largest foreign born group in the U.S. in 1914 was the Germans, for example, but I did not know how much influence they had, nor how much empathy there was between the U.S. and Germany during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Similarly, I had read quite a bit about the horrors of trench warfare, but Pines' descriptions of what soldiers went through are vivid and moving.

There is good coverage of the long years of fighting, when generals kept throwing masses of men into battle and certain death even though they knew it would be fruitless. Especially interesting are the chapters dealing with the U.S.' path towards intervention, despite there being little or no advantage in doing so, as well as those that describe President Woodrow Wilson's fatal combination of intellect, pride, and self-assurance. These are highlighted even further in the sections dealing with the Treaty of Versailles, during the writing of which Wilsonian idealism was out-bested by the more realistic, if much more cynical, policies of Clemenceau and Lloyd-George.

The Treaty of Versailles segment is followed by chapters dealing with its consequences: the devastation and embitterment of Germany that led to the rise of Hitler, World War II, and the Cold War, the weakness of the new League of Nations and the refusal of the U.S. to join it, and the multiple arenas for new conflict established by the shortsighted decisions of 1919.

The final chapter asks what might have happened had America stayed out of the war in 1917. Pines evaluates the likelihood and consequences of both a German and an Allied victory, then details what he feels would have been the most likely outcome: a negotiated settlement or "peace without victory," in which both sides would have been weakened but not impoverished, and a much more stable and eventually prosperous post-war era would have ensued.

Having read quite a bit about World War I myself, I have some doubts as to whether either side would have been as willing to negotiate as Pines maintains (governments and military establishments are too prone to denial of reality, even in the face of overwhelming evidence), but his thesis is solid and detailed and his background in journalism makes his writing clear and succinct. There can never be too many books questioning the assumptions that lead a nation into war, after all, especially when they are as well written and documented as America's Greatest Blunder.

Charles Ashbacher (5 stars) (Amazon Top 500 Reviewer)

Pines states two main conclusions, neither of which I can find strong arguments against.

The first is that had the United States not entered World War One in April 1917, it would have ended with a negotiated settlement that all sides would have hated, but endured. Despite the collapse of the Russian armies in the east, Germany did not have the military power to win in the west. The four years of war had so drained the country economically and there had been so many casualties that there was very little left with which to continue the war. The German people were starving due to the British blockade. Britain and France were also at the end of their resources, in that their manpower was drained and their finances were exhausted. They simply no longer had the strength for offensive operations and the French army had essentially staged a mutiny against further offensives. British politicians had also reached the point where they were beginning to veto any further British offensives.

Pines does an excellent job in describing this situation, using historical precedents for the conclusion of previous destructive and inconclusive European wars where the negotiated peace lasted for over one hundred years. Therefore, absent the American armies, mutual exhaustion would have ended the conflict. The relief that the war was over would most likely have dominated the anger at having given so much for so little.

The second is that American president Woodrow Wilson was incredibly inept at protecting American interests and maintaining even a semblance of American neutrality in the first three years of the war. When Britain walked all over America's rights to unfettered sea access to the Central Powers as a neutral, Wilson's response was extremely weak. The British were allowed free reign in pumping the American media full of their war propaganda while the Germans were denied equal access to put their side forward.

Then, after having put forward an idealistic blueprint for a settlement for the war that the Germans accepted, indeed based their request for an armistice on, Wilson wilted under the pressure from Britain and France, allowing them to increase their colonial holdings from what had been parts of the German and Ottoman Empires. The "treaty" that ended the war was so punitive against Germany that even some of the people on the Allied side spoke of it being a document that would lead to a second round of fighting.

I completely agree with Pines that Wilson was totally overmatched in the area of foreign affairs and the negative consequences of his mistakes are still being felt. Pines puts forward the following line of reasoning. If America had not entered the war (had Wilson not made so many mistakes) then World War One would have ended with a negotiated settlement. Germany would then not have suffered such deprivations in the 1920's that destroyed the middle class, the anchor of economic and political stability in the country. Hitler would then not have risen to power and World War Two in Europe would not have taken place. The Soviet armies would then not have driven to the center of Europe and there would have been no Soviet satellite states in Europe.

While all of this is speculation, it is very intelligent and logical speculation backed up by a great deal of historical analysis. Pines demonstrates a superb understanding of European history, so much that even his extensive speculations are based on solid principles of scholarship.

Omnivorous (5 stars)

It is generally understood that the extraordinarily harsh terms imposed on a defeated Germany at the end of the First World War resulted in a series of crises which provoked an even bloodier and more destructive war twenty years later. In America's Greatest Blunder, Burton Yale Pines argues convincingly that America bears, in no small measure, responsibility for the great tragedy of this second European conflict.

Clearly and vigorously, Pines makes the case that America had no compelling interest in taking sides in a clash between European imperialist powers. That it did so turned what would likely have been a balanced, negotiated peace between stalemated belligerents into an unconditional defeat for Germany. This allowed the Allies to impose terms on Germany that, even at the time, were viewed as destructive of European stability. America's almost inexplicable failure to negotiate a more reasonable treaty, Pines believes, was very much the fault of Woodrow Wilson. Pines depicts Wilson as an intellectually arrogant visionary so consumed with establishing the League of Nations as his legacy that he traded away nearly all of America's considerable leverage while getting little in return.

America's Greatest Blunder supports its thesis by supplying riveting accounts of America's varied and shifting attitudes toward the European conflict, by detailing the politics and strategies of the warring nations, and by depicting the initial enthusiasm for and, later, the flagging support of Europe's civilian populations and, indeed, its soldiers. Especially interesting for this reader are accounts of the well-oiled British propaganda machine which convinced Americans that Germans were a uniquely militant and barbarous people.

Pines upends many of the commonly held notions about the Great War. Importantly, he makes clear the responsibility we have as individuals to seek out the truth behind the sloganeering that shapes so much policy.

A flood tide of books will emerge leading up to the 2014 centenary of this tragic conflict. You would be well served to include America's Greatest Blunder in your reading on the subject.