Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Trigger

Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War

by Tim Butcher

“The most original of First World War centenary books. . . . A travel narrative of rare resonance and insight.” —Sunday Times (UK)

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 352
  • Publication Date June 09, 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2389-3
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 352
  • Publication Date June 03, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2325-1
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $26.00

About The Book

On a summer morning in Sarajevo almost a hundred years ago, a teenager took a pistol out of his pocket and fired not just the opening rounds of the First World War but the starting gun for modern history. By killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Gavrilo Princip, started a cycle of events that would leave 15 million dead from fighting between 1914 and 1918 and proved fatal for empires and a way of ruling that had held for centuries.

The Trigger tells the story of a young man who changed the world forever. It focuses on the drama of the incident itself by following Prinip’s journey. By retracing his steps from the feudal frontier village of his birth, through the mountains of the northern Balkans to the great plain city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, Tim Butcher illuminates our understanding of Princip—the person and the place that shaped him—and makes discoveries about him that have eluded historians for a hundred years. Traveling through the Balkans on Princip’s trail, and drawing on his own experiences there as a war reporter during the 1990s, Butcher unravels this complex part of the world and its conflicts, and shows.


“Riveting.” —Roger Cohen, New York Times

“Butcher, who covered the 1990s Balkans conflict for the Daily Telegraph, returns to Bosnia and Herzegovina to literally retrace the steps of young Gavrilo Princip. . . . Along the way, Butcher renders the countryside and cityscapes—and the people who inhabit them—in fine detail, while also moving back and forth in time, taking in the Ottoman rule, the political climate of the early 1900s, the recent Bosnian war, and the landscape as it looks today. Top-notch reporting by a journalist who knows the lay of the land.” —Alan Moores, Booklist (starred review)

“Engrossing. . . . A fascinating history of a complex region rife with ethnic rivalries and a vivid travelogue of a dangerous journey across a landscape marked by the minefields and devastation of the fighting of the 1990s. . . . A haunting and illuminating book.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In this book, a masterpiece of historical empathy and evocation, Tim Butcher goes in search of the person behind the myths. . . . A tour de force.” —Christopher Clark, The Guardian

“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.” —Ben Macintyre, Times (UK), “Best History Books of the Year”

“A triumph of punctilious scholarship and research. . . . Butcher has written a marvelously absorbing book on the nature of one man’s political grievance and its terrible aftermath.” —Guardian (UK), “Best History Books of 2014”

“Journeying to Princip’s birthplace, and finding new documents about his school life, Butcher follows his subject across the Balkans in a sometimes haunting book that is as much about the present as the past.” —Sunday Times (UK), “Best Biographies of the Year”

“Utterly absorbing. . . . If journalism is the first draft of history, Butcher marries both disciplines with boldness and originality.” —BBC History Magazine

“A superb account . . . A hybrid of travel and history, The Trigger gets inside the mind of the assassin and seeks to understand Balkan geopolitics on the eve of the first world war and after. Butcher . . . has written a marvelously absorbing book. . . . A triumph of research, it will appeal to the layman and historian alike.” —Ian Thomson, Financial Times

“The most original of First World War centenary books. . . . A travel narrative of rare resonance and insight.” —Sunday Times (UK)

“The finest contribution so far this year to the rapidly expanding literature on the Great War.” —Herald Scotland

“The most imaginative and singular book on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.” —Evening Standard (UK)

“It’s a challenge to stand out among all the works commemorating the centenary of WWI, but [The Trigger] offers something fresh. . . . Butcher proves he can navigate minefields, both historical and literal.” —Lonely Planet Traveller (UK)

“Evocative and ingenious. . . . A well-crafted mix of personal encounters, vivid descriptions and incisive musings on the landscape and its bloody history.” —Literary Review (UK)

“A page-turning exploration of how the forgotten past continues to inform the present.” —Independent on Sunday (UK)

“Extremely well written, taut and evocative. . . . Despite its complex subject, Butcher makes this an easy and engaging read with his breezy style and fascinating encounters. . . . Until now, Princip’s history has been largely obscure to an English-speaking audience. Thanks to Butcher’s timely book, this should now change.” —Daily Telegraph (UK)

“A triumphant and original account . . . Amid the vast tonnage of recent books about the first world war this must be the most unusual—and one of the most interesting. . . . [A] highly original gem of a book.” —Victor Sebestyen, The Spectator (UK)

“A significant contribution to the growing body of literature on the outbreak of WWI. . . . In the 1990s, Butcher covered Yugoslavia’s collapse into mutual genocide, and his evocative interfacing of his experiences with Princip’s is a highlight of the book.” —Publishers Weekly

“A compelling and fascinating read. . . . A shadowy assassin brought to life by a writer who gets to grips with a century of Balkan intrigue.” —Kate Adie, veteran journalist and former Chief News Correspondent for BBC News

The Trigger is a fascinating book, part history, part travelogue, that skillfully weaves the story of the Balkans in the run up to the First World War with the devastation caused by the fighting in Former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Tim Butcher is an astute and humane guide who writes with an expert eye for the telling detail that brings history alive.” —Professor Gary Sheffield, University of Wolverhampton

“A fascinating study of one of those rare individuals whose act of violence changed the history of the world. An incisive, shrewd, wholly compelling investigation of an assassin’s life and times.” —William Boyd, author of A Good Man in Africa, The Ice Cream War, and Any Human Heart

“Tim Butcher, one of the bravest and kindest foreign journalists who saw the Bosnian war, has written a splendid book, part-memoir, part history, of that country, ingeniously using the assassin of 1914 as an anti-hero. It takes its place among classics of Balkan history.” —Norman Stone, author of World War One: A Short History and The Eastern Front: 1914-1917

“No one has got closer into the mind of one of the key figures of the last century, Gavrilo Princip, than the journalist-turned-investigative-historian Timothy Butcher. Part travelogue, part history of the Balkans, part psychological insight into the motivation of History’s most famous terrorist before Osama bin Laden, this book brings an objective eye and flowing prose style to the story of what happened in Sarajevo on that June day a hundred years ago. He makes complex political and ethnic rivalries easy to comprehend, and gets to the heart of the issues, largely thanks to his personal knowledge of the region. Nor does the sheer poignancy of the tale escape his occasionally coruscating ire. This is first class history and in a year swamped with First World War centenary books, it’s the one you should read first.” —Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War

“Tim Butcher has re-written history with this evocative and moving journey in the footsteps of the assassin who sparked the First World War. Instead of a naive and misguided Serbian nationalist, he reveals an intelligent and determined South Slav patriot who gave his life for the cause. The Serbian state should not have been held to account. A superb and important book.” —Saul David, author of Military Blunders: The How and Why of Military Failure and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Warfare

“Take a measure of well-researched history, add indelible personal recollections of the Bosnian war, season with piquant vignettes of traversing rural Bosnia on foot and mix with a light touch. The result is consistently appetizing and occasionally controversial. Tim Butcher goes from strength to strength. I enjoyed every paragraph.” —Dervla Murphy, author of Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle and Through the Embers of Chaos: Balkan Journeys

“Rarely, if ever, can such momentous and tragic events have been sparked by such an unlikely and undistinguished a man, Gavrilo Princip. This insightful, useful and delightfully written book shines a unique spotlight on the trigger to the First World War, placing the assassin and his homeland in the wider strategic context. A great book—one to be recommended to professional and amateur historian alike.” —General Sir David Richards, Former Chief of the British Defence Staff


An Amazon Book of the Month pick
A Times (UK) Best History Book of 2014, chosen by Ben Macintyre
A Guardian (UK) Best History Book of 2014
A Sunday Times (UK) Best Biography of 2014