The Proud Tower Author:Barbara Tuchman A portrait of the world before the War: 1890-1914 — The fateful quarter-century leading up to the Great War comes magnificently to life in these pages. It was a time when the world of Privilege still existed in Olympian luxury and the world of Protest was "heaving in its pain, its power and its hate." The age was the climax of a century of the... more » most accelerated rate of change in man's record, a cataclysmic shaping of destiny.
In portraying this world Barbara Tuchman concentrates on society rather than the state. Her aim, as she writes in her foreword, is "to discover the quality of the world from which the Great War Came...The diplomatic origins, so-called, of the War are only the fever chart of the patient: they do not tell us what caused the fever. To probe for underlying causes and deeper forces one must operate within the framework of a whole society and try to discover what moved the people in it..."« less
Great book, I read it several times as a teenager. It's a set of 8 more or less related essays on different aspects of Europe from 1890 to 1914 (she has a short segue between each chapter, but it's just for show.) Her style is to make broad generalizations, then give examples to back up the generalization, it doesn't get too tiresome if you take it in small doses.