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Description: The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 ignited a Central Europe already deeply divided by political hostility. The Habsburgs felt Serbia threatening at every turn, challenging their power in the Balkans and their status as a great power. After two decades of inept, saber-rattling Weltpolitik, Germany, their closest ally, found itself diplomatically isolated and militarily outgunned on land and sea. War was an opportunity for both nations to turn around their declining fortunes, and reestablish themselves as major power players. The key to this much-needed victory would be popular supportsupport the Central Powers’ governments would lie to gain, and struggle unsuccessfully to keep. In Ring of Steel, award-winning historian Alexander Watson explores the experiences of the German and Austro-Hungarian peoples and the ordeals that they faced at home and on the battlefield, showing how wartime suffering undermined their fragile support for the war and eroded their sense of national unity. Facing a populace ultimately deeply distrustful of the state and unwilling to make the sacrifices required for total war, the German and Austro-Hungarian governments collapsed, losing the war, shattering their societies, and pushing Central Europe into a new age of darkness.Though many civilians felt a deep sense of unease and foreboding at the prospect of war, the Austro-Hungarian and German governments won their consent with a series of invented Russian attacks. Believing that they were not aggressors but defenders, the population rallied. Unfortunately, the early months of the war proved disastrous for the Central Powers, and their defeats ended any hope of a short, decisive war.Weakened, the lie used to start the war that the two countries were vulnerable to invasion ironically became a reality when the Russian army conquered and occupied East Prussia and Galicia. Losing battles, territory, and hope, the Central Powers dug in for a long and grueling campaignone that would demand everything from their people.As the war dragged on and supplies diminished, life on the home front became increasingly grim, and their rulers’ expansive war aims seemed to unnecessarily prolong civilian suffering. Food shortages and hunger plagued both nations, and the distressed populations increasingly blamed their own governments. National unity began to break down; city dwellers turned on farmers, ethnic tensions were enflamed, and food riots became worryingly frequent. It was only through the pitiless exploitation and plunder of conquered territories that Germany was able to maintain its fight for the last two years. By the second half of 1918, support for the war collapsed completely, both on the home front and in the trenches where soldiers deserted and surrendered en masse. The final curtain of WWI dropped on a very different Germany and Austria-Hungary, now countries marked by a fatal division between people and government, and a poisonous legacy of unredeemed sacrifice, stark ideological division, racial hatred and violence.Based on extensive research in archives across Central Europe, Watson takes us inside the hearts and minds of the ordinary men and women living in Germany and Austria-Hungary during the Great War. From the home front to the trenches, Ring of Steel examines the slow but pernicious erosion of communal solidarity as the deprivations mounted. Watson offers a groundbreaking account of World War I from the other side of the continent, brilliantly covering the major military events and the day-to-day life which resulted in the destruction of one empire, and the moral collapse of another