The Road Less Traveled: The Secret Battle to End the Great War, 1916–1917

PublicAffairs: Perseus. Mar. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9781541750951. $30. HIST
For the better part of 1916, the administration of Woodrow Wilson sought to convene a peace conference to end World War I. Since the conference never took place, and the United States joined the war in April 1917, the story of the aborted peace conference faded from historical consciousness. Zelikow (history, governance, Univ. of Virginia; To Build a Better World) carries out a meticulous examination of this series of largely forgotten negotiations. Interestingly, the initial impetus for negotiated peace originated with German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, whose request to President Wilson to act as mediator came at a time when a few members of the British government were also looking for a path to negotiated peace. Zelikow argues that the failure of the peace initiative was due not only to the intransigence of belligerents, but also to the often-chaotic diplomatic actions of President Wilson and his confidant Colonel Edward M. House.
VERDICT This thought-provoking history is based on vast primary sources, and while the narrative sometimes bogs down in excessive detail, Zelikow’s sharp account brings World War I into focus and raises a number of fascinating “what if” scenarios. Recommended for all extensive history collections.
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