Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 27, 2016

On a summer morning in Sarajevo a hundred years ago, a teenage assassin named Gavrilo Princip fired not just the opening shots of the First World War but the starting gun for modern history, when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Yet the events Princip triggered were so monumental that his own story has been largely overlooked, his role garbled and motivations misrepresented. The Trigger puts this right, filling out as never before a figure who changed our world and whose legacy still has an impact on all of us today. Born a penniless backwoodsman, Princip’s life changed when he trekked through Bosnia and Serbia to attend school. As he ventured across fault lines of faith, nationalism and empire, so tightly clustered in the Balkans, radicalisation slowly transformed him from a frail farm boy into history’s most influential assassin. By retracing Princip’s journey from his highland birthplace, through the mythical valleys of Bosnia to the fortress city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, Tim Butcher illuminates our understanding both of Princip and the places that shaped him. Tim uncovers details about Princip that have eluded historians for a century and draws on his own experience, as a war reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s, to face down ghosts of conflicts past and present. The Trigger is a rich and timely work that brings to life both the moment the world first went to war and an extraordinary region with a potent hold over history.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Archduke Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife
Sophie on June 28 1914 in Sarajevo.
My addiction to the final chapters of Hapsburg rule in Austria is well-known and thoroughly documented so it should come as no surprise that I jumped when my father gifted me a copy of The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand is easily the most recognizable moment of the era I study, but until now my understanding of that story has been entirely one-sided and I relished to opportunity to look at the events of June 28, 1914 from a new and largely enigmatic angle.

Historically speaking, the nature of Princip’s crime and its effect on European politics has long overshadowed his personal history and due to the turbulent politics of the region, there are now remarkably few resources available to those who wish to understand both his person and the movement he represented. Recognizing the gaps in the historic record, journalist Tim Butcher set out to discover what he could by following Princip’s footsteps from the remote village of Obljaj to his prison at Terezin. The Trigger is the end result of that journey and stands as chronicle of the author’s experiences and the insight they afforded.

The heart of the text is of course Princip and the details of his life, but Butcher’s reflections on the contemporary politics and culture of the Balkans brings a rare degree of relevancy to the history he documents. Most authors simply relay facts, but Butcher’s approach brings context to the assassination and challenges his audience to reconsider their understanding of it while drawing unmistakable parallels between past and present. Butcher's work shatters stereotypes about the early twentieth century, but it also illustrates how a single event can ripple across decades and resonate on various levels according to time, place, and perception.

To make a long story short, I greatly enjoyed the time I spent reading The Trigger. It's an illuminating volume in and of itself, but I want to note that it also makes a fascinating companion to The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World by Greg King and Sue Woolmans. The books are not affiliated in any way, but when paired the two titles humanize both sides of a key moment in twentieth century history and in many ways redefine the spark that lit the Powder keg of Europe. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
The statesmen leaving the Berlin Congress smugly convinced themselves that the people of Bosnia would benefit from the diplomatic finesse of having the Western Austro-Hungarians replace the Eastern Ottomans. What they had actually done, however, was quite the opposite, sowing seeds of resentment that would eventually destroy the status quo of the entire Western world.
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...