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

Historical Nonfiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

Social Media
Official Website

From the author of Blood River: “A splendid book, part memoir, part history,” about the teenager who killed Archduke Ferdinand and sparked WWI (Norman Stone, author of World War One).

Sarajevo, 1914.  On a June morning, nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip drew a pistol from his pocket and fired the first shot of the First World War, killing the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Princip then launched a series of events that would transform the world forever.

Retracing Princip’s steps from the feudal frontier village of his birth to the city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, journalist, and bestselling author Tim Butcher discovers details about the young assassin that have eluded historians for a century. Drawing on his own experiences in the Balkans covering the Bosnian War in the 1990s, Butcher also unravels the complexities and conflicts of this part of the world, showing how the events of that day in 1914 still have influence today.

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 the 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 a 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 relevance 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 Powderkeg of Europe.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 26, 2016

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.