Published by Viking on November 13, 2014
Genres: Strategic Studies
Winner of the 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Author Tooze, a previous winner of the (UK) Wolfson Foundation History Prize, has written a richly detailed book of how France and Great Britain, working with the United States, formed a workable triumvirate that won the war in 1918, only to have it unravel over the following decade. The Deluge tackles the big picture from Tooze’s chosen turning point in the Great War and America’s economic rise to a major world power.
The New York Times review called it “Splendid interpretive history.” Reviewer Gary D. Bass explained, “Rather than starting at a conventional moment like the outbreak of World War I, Tooze begins midstream in 1916 — the year of the gory battles of Verdun and the Somme, but also the year when the economic output of the United States exceeded that of the British Empire. From then until today, writes Tooze, a professor of history at Yale, American economic might would be the decisive factor in the shaping of the world order.”
Professor Kevin Matthews of George Mason University stated in his review that “On reflection, America’s emergence should have surprised no one. As Paul Kennedy pointed out in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, by 1900 the United States was already the world’s leading manufacturing power, with Britain and Germany battling for second place. So, a change was coming; sooner or later, the world’s financial and political center of gravity would cross the Atlantic. What no one could have predicted was how sudden this move would be, a suddenness that ‘was a product of the Great War’ (pp. 40–1).”
President Woodrow Wilson so distrusted the European leaders that he offered his own 14 points and peace without victory, infuriating his two allies. Wilson was not interested in joining the Europeans in ruling the world, preferring his idea of a League of Nations.
Bass summarized: “So Tooze narrates the tumultuous and violent 1920s as a heartbreakingly avoidable tragedy, with the big democracies needlessly squandering their supremacy. Above all, grand liberal projects would never succeed without American engagement. With the United States emerging exponentially more powerful from the war, France and Britain would need its support to deter possible new German aggression. Even when the United States refused to assert itself, Tooze argues, the interwar order ‘was defined in large part by the absent presence of its most defining element — the new power of the United States.’”
America’s lack of engagement in world affairs left other nations to struggle with their own rebuilding. Many chose protective tariffs, a return to the gold standard, and austerity to pay down war debt. These decisions meant a post-war recession became the Great Depression as less money and limited credit left nothing to help rebuild.
The Deluge is an enormously worthwhile book, worldwide in scope, and recommended reading.
Reviewed by Anne Merritt