A World on Edge

Daniel Schönpflug

01 November 2018
368 pages


Journey into the heart of Europe, 1918 – a world left ravaged by World War 1, and on the cusp of radical change. Daniel Schönpflug's A World on Edge paints a vivid picture of a time when unorthodox ideas ignited the collective imagination – new politics, new societies, new art and culture, new thinking – hinting at new paths to tread.

Schönpflug tracks the lives of diverse personalities, encapsulating the struggle for the future, the clash of the old and the new, and the intimate human stories within these greater narratives. For rulers and revolutionaries, a world of power and privilege was dying – while for others, a dream of overthrowing democracy was being born.

The sculptor Käthe Kollwitz, translating sorrow and loss into art. Ho Chi Minh, working as a dishwasher in Paris and dreaming of liberating Vietnam. Captain Harry S. Truman, running a men’s haberdashery in Kansas City, hardly expecting that he was about to go bankrupt – and later become president of the United States. Virginia Woolf had just published her first book, while the artist George Grosz was so revolted by the violence on the streets of Berlin that he decides everything is meaningless.

Historian Daniel Schönpflug describes this watershed year as it was experienced on the ground – open ended, unfathomable, its outcome unclear. A World on Edge is the story of a decisive year – one that continues to echo in our times.

Schönpflug’s study of the immediate aftermath of the first world war brings a fresh and varied perspective to a familiar narrative, and reminds one of the brief period of optimism and hope that came out of the carnage and chaos.
For a brief moment a century ago the end of the Great War offered peace and the prospect of a bright new social order to a dark, ravaged Europe. In his moving and inspired book, historian Daniel Schönpflug recreates how these days were experienced by the people who lived them—their struggles, dreams, and desires—and traces the elusive fate of their noble visions. An evocative and deeply affecting requiem for what might have been.
Outstanding ... a wonderfully stimulating guide to a world that knew it had changed utterly but was fearful about where it was heading