I started reading this book the other night. It had been sitting on my shelf for a long time. It dates back to the days of the old NYTimes forums when I used to get into those rows with Mosca over European history.
Very interesting start as Ferguson relates his grandfather's experience in WWI and how the Scottish regiments sustained more per capita losses than just about any other country during the war. Twenty-one per cent, as I recall. The losses in WWI were great, estimated at close to 10 million, dwarfing that of the American Civil War.
The US didn't get into the war until late, much to Teddy Roosevelt's chagrin, and in the end he lost his youngest son, Quentin, who apparently was short-sighted like his father, and died in a plane crash. I don't think Roosevelt ever forgave himself for that, as he was insistent that his sons go to war, as he had done in the Spanish-American War.
What I like most about Ferguson's account is the way he treats the pre-war climate in Europe, as the four major powers -- The UK, France, Russia and Germany -- vied for territorial possessions. It was this sense of empire that appeared to put the superpowers at odds with each other, although Ferguson noted that the UK was very good at crisis management and had a relatively friendly relationship with Germany right up to the eve of the war.
He also explores the pre-war literature, particularly that of the British "militarists" who perceived Germany as a threat. He also notes some of the German literature from the time that likewise prophesied war. He wryly notes that Friedrich Engels was perhaps the only one to correctly predict the death toll, although Engels imagined a sweeping socialist revolution to occur in the wake of the war, which didn't extent far beyond Russia.
Ferguson noted a few asides that concern the United States, such as Roosevelt's intervention in the clash between the UK and Germany over Venezuela, and the relationships Roosevelt cultivated while in Europe, notably the Kaiser, as he took TR on a horseback ride to review the troops.
The thrust of Ferguson's arguments are economic, where he excels. He is best known for his books on finance and his provocative arguments on world economics. He is careful to separate his counterfactual arguments with the events as they occurred, while still making for a lively read.