The application to the graduate school where I ended up doing my Ph.D. in modern European history required all candidates to write an essay on the following question: which work of historical significance do you wish you had written, and why? This was quite annoying to your typical college student, since none of the other graduate programs required such additional labor. In hindsight, however, the exercise was brilliant, as it made one think deeply about what makes for good history and how historians enrich, and complicate, our understanding of the past. If I were writing that essay today, I might choose John Zametica’s book Folly and Malice: The Habsburg Empire, the Balkans and the Start of World War One.

I say that with two major caveats. First, I disagree ardently with the author’s overarching argument that the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire—the “sick man on the Danube,” as the prologue is...

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