The Trigger

new paperback cover Trigger


On a summer morning in Sarajevo a hundred years ago, a teenage assassin named Gavrilo Princip fired not just the opening shots of the First World War but the starting gun for modern history, when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Yet the events Princip triggered were so monumental that his own story has been largely overlooked, his role garbled and motivations misrepresented.

The Trigger puts this right, filling out as never before a figure who changed our world and whose legacy still has an impact on all of us today. Born a penniless backwoodsman, Princip’s life changed when he trekked through Bosnia and Serbia to attend school. As he ventured across fault lines of faith, nationalism and empire, so tightly clustered in the Balkans, radicalisation slowly transformed him from a frail farm boy into history’s most influential assassin.

By retracing Princip’s journey from his highland birthplace, through the mythical valleys of Bosnia to the fortress city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, Tim Butcher illuminates our understanding both of Princip and the places that shaped him. Tim uncovers details about Princip that have eluded historians for a century and draws on his own experience, as a war reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s, to face down ghosts of conflicts past and present.

The Trigger is a rich and timely work that brings to life both the moment the world first went to war and an extraordinary region with a potent hold over history.

The Guardian

“A masterpiece … a tour de force … an extraordinary journey through landscapes and communities harrowed by history … a revelatory portrait of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassin … when Butcher begins his hike through the rough country of western Bosnia does the brilliance of the book’s underlying idea become clear. We begin to see the world through Princip’s eyes.’’

William Boyd

“The Trigger is 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.’’

The Sunday Times

“….the most original of First World War centenary books; it is a travel narrative of rare resonance and insight.…’’

Saul David

“A fabulous book that all First World War historians will now have to take account of. Tim Butcher has re-written history with his evocative and moving account of the assassin who sparked the crisis …. The research on Princip’s education and motivation is outstanding, completely at odds with received historical wisdom … superb.’’

The New York Times


Dervla Murphy

“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.’’

The Spectator

“A highly original gem of a book …. a triumphant and original account of the man who shot the Archduke …. a triumph of storytelling.’’

Norman Stone

“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.’’

The Daily Telegraph

“…extremely well written, taut and evocative … an important addition to the historical record…’’

Andrew Roberts

“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.’’

Evening Standard

“This is expeditionary journalism at its best – a historical inquest radiated through the mind and experience of an outstanding reporter.’’

Rory MacLean

“Lucid, passionate, urgent and above all a salient reminder that the past is not a place from which we must escape but a dynamic, living continuity to be given to our children.’’

The Express

“A super account.’’

General Sir David Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff

“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.’’

Gary Sheffield

“The Trigger is a fascinating book, part history, part travelogue, that skilfully 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.’’

Kate Adie

“A compelling and fascinating read – a shadowy assassin brought to life by an writer who gets to grips with a century of Balkan intrigue.’’