In August 1914, the European powers plunged the world into a war that would kill or wound 37 million people, tear down the fabric of society, uproot ancient political systems and set the world on course for the bloodiest century in human history. On the eve of the 100th anniversary of that terrible year, Ham takes the reader on a journey into the labyrinth, to reveal the complexity, the layered motives, the flawed and disturbed minds that drove the world to war. What emerges is a clear sense of what happened and why. 'To understand the past,' Ham concludes, 'and share that understanding, is the chief role of the historian. To understand the past is to liberate ourselves from its awful shadow and steel ourselves against it happening again.'