NEW FROM AUTHOR WILL ENGLUND
ON THE BRINK OF WAR AND REVOLUTION
In early 1917, America and Russia both faced the possibility of unprecedented transformations. As the “War to End All Wars” ground into its third year, and technological slaughter engulfed Europe, Americans steadfastly maintained their neutrality in the conflict, while Russia teetered between autocracy and democracy. Pulitzer-winning journalist Will Englund’s MARCH 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution [W. W. Norton and Company; March 7, 2017; $26.95 hardcover] is a riveting history of one month that transformed the world’s greatest nations, as Russia faced revolution and America entered World War I. Englund’s stirring narrative recaptures these anxious days and gives readers the often-overlooked origin story of contemporary America, modern Russia, and the state of affairs their rivalry created that we confront to this day.
Through the end of the 19th Century, the United States had flirted with imperial expansion, but the cost of such ventures did not rest easily with the American people. The long-standing tradition of American isolationism held in the face of war in Europe. Woodrow Wilson, who was reelected on the slogan “He kept us out of the war,” was hesitant to sacrifice American boys in French trenches and ideologically unsettled by the presence of Russia—an unapologetically imperial and anti-democratic power—on the side of the allies. Wilson’s policies not only saved American lives, they allowed American industries to benefit from the ravenous consumption of Europe’s wartime economies. But American neutrality was being sorely tested. Germany’s policy of unrestricted U-boat warfare and the maneuvers between Mexico and Germany fueled pro-war propaganda efforts, and the nation shifted closer and closer to war.
Meanwhile, the Russian Empire was suffering under the strain of pressures both external and internal. Since 1914, Russia had been stuck in the gory quagmire of the Eastern Front, while the Czar’s government struggled to stifle domestic liberal reforms and reassert power on the global stage. The court lurched between reformist and reactionary positions when it wasn’t being rocked by scandals, such as the Czarina’s involvement with the mad monk Rasputin. The Russian military, humiliated by its defeat by Japan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1904-5, was crippled by ineffective leadership and unable to extricate itself from the meat-grinder of the Eastern Front. Liberal reformers used the crisis of the war to push for change, only to meet with violent counter-reaction from the imperial court. The death of legal, gradual political reforms allowed more violent and revolutionary actors to take center stage.
Before summer arrived, Russia would explode with revolutionary energy, leading to the establishment of a form of government never before seen on Earth and the rise of the United States’ rival for geopolitical dominance. At the same time, America would mobilize its vast resources for a foreign crusade that set the nation on the road to becoming the first modern global superpower. MARCH 1917 is a vibrant new retelling of Russian Revolution and Wilson’s fateful decision to enter the war—encompassing the people, power plays, and passions that surrounded it all.
In engaging, brisk prose, Englund incorporates a diverse range of characters—warriors, pacifiscts, activists, revolutionaries, and reactionaries. From Jeannette Rankin, America’s first female member of Congress who endured much scorn when she voted against Wilson’s call for war; to James Reese Europe, an American ragtime bandleader who would direct a regimental band (the “Harlem Hellfighters”) in France; to liberal Russian aristocrats and pro-German American journalists, Englund draws on a wealth of contemporary Russian and American diaries, memoirs, and newspaper accounts to illuminate the personal stories behind this crucial moment in history.
Today, a century after World War I, American leaders debate the proper use of power for the advancement of freedom and democracy, as Russia forcefully reasserts itself in Eastern Europe and beyond. Englund’s essential history allows readers to question critically the assumptions and decisions that shaped our world. MARCH 1917 gives us new perspectives on the increasingly complex relationship between the United States and Russia.
Pulitzer, Polk, and Overseas Press Club Award-winning journalist Will Englund was a recent Moscow correspondent for the Washington Post and has spent a total of twelve years reporting from Russia. He now lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Englund deftly intertwines the Russian story with the American one, in an eventful month that launched America into the world and signaled Russia’s temporary retreat from it… [A] detailed, fast-paced account of that fateful spring.
Haunting, unforgettable… It is not too much to say that the month launched the world on a trajectory it would follow for the rest of the 20th Century, the very argument Will Englund successfully makes in this new fast-paced history.
Despite the plethora of books on WWI, Englund… crafts a novel and persuasive point of entry into the topic, focusing on the pivotal month of March 1917… [he] delivers a satisfying, well written, and well timed work.
Nicely details both the political arena and the submerged social currents… Recommended for those eager to learn about watershed moments in history and all readers interested in World War I.