Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War
reviewed by Ron Drees

The Trigger:
Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War

by Tim Butcher
Grove Press, 2014

In Custody

This book was very highly praised when first published two years ago. Both the Guardian and the Times designated it as one of the Best History Books of the Year, and the Sunday Times assigned it Best Biography of the Year. Ben Macintyre, in the Times (UK), aptly wrote:

Tim Butcher does a superb job of filling in [a] large and fascinating gap, with a book that is part travelogue, part biography, part history and part journalism, as well as an absorbing exploration of the way the overlooked past colours the present. Highly readable but profoundly researched, The Trigger represents a bold exception to the deluge of First World War books devoted to mud, blood and poetry.

The reader should be aware, however, that The Trigger is only secondarily a WWI book and primarily a book about the legacy of WWI in the Balkan region of Europe. It sheds light on a part of the world and tragic events with which our familiarity is inadequate. That makes it worthwhile reading. Moreover, the book has a number of useful maps, showing the general geography of the region, the route used to smuggle the conspirators into Sarajevo, and the streets where the assassination took place.

Butcher's book recounts the causes and events leading up to WWI, recaps the 1992–1995 Balkan War, and gives the author's reactions as he revisits war sites from when he as a reporter covered the more recent wars. The title is overly dramatic, as Austria used the 1914 assassination as an excuse to declare war. If not for this event, some other excuse would have been used, and Gavrilo Princip may have been the first to state that.

Order Now
The Trigger follows Princip from his very poor village to Sarajevo, where he obtained a secondary education. In the process, he became radicalized and dropped out of school. He was supported by the Black Hand with weapons, marksmanship training, and assistance in crossing the border into Bosnia. In Sarajevo, due to failed communications with motorcade drivers, he took advantage of a very close range opportunity to kill the Archduke and his wife, Sophia. In between, the author tells us of his own trek across the countryside, recounting some of the horrors of the 1992–1995 Balkan Wars-sieges, massacres, and mass escape attempts.

Princip's heritage has changed over the decades, as first he was a murderer, then became a hero with his firing location immortalized in cement footprints and a tomb where his remains were reburied. Later his memory would be trashed as the Yugoslavia he wanted had failed to protect his Bosnia, and as the author describes, his tomb became used as a toilet. An informative and pleasurable read indeed!

Ron Drees


  1. This sounds like a fascinating book--one that I'm going to have to get! Nice review, too.

  2. I bought the audio book and the reviewer is spot on. I liked it enough to give it a second listen and enjoyed as much as the first time. I highly recommend The Trigger!
    Steve Tapee

  3. Bravo..This is as good as your presentation. Too bad not everyone reading this review had the experience of that Saturday in Schulenberg. Cheers

  4. Overly dramatic title? Substitute, for example the United States used the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. If not for this event the U.S. would have used some other excuse to declare war.

    The same might be said of the sinking of the Lusitania.