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The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 [Paperback]

Christopher Clark
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (179 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 July 2013

The pacy, sensitive and formidably argued history of the causes of the First World War, from acclaimed historian and author Christopher Clark

SUNDAY TIMES and INDEPENDENT BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2012

Winner of the Los Angeles Times History Book Prize 2014

The moments that it took Gavrilo Princip to step forward to the stalled car and shoot dead Franz Ferdinand and his wife were perhaps the most fateful of the modern era. An act of terrorism of staggering efficiency, it fulfilled its every aim: it would liberate Bosnia from Habsburg rule and it created a powerful new Serbia, but it also brought down four great empires, killed millions of men and destroyed a civilization. What made a seemingly prosperous and complacent Europe so vulnerable to the impact of this assassination?

In The Sleepwalkers Christopher Clark retells the story of the outbreak of the First World War and its causes. Above all, it shows how the failure to understand the seriousness of the chaotic, near genocidal fighting in the Balkans would drag Europe into catastrophe.

Reviews:

'Formidable ... one of the most impressive and stimulating studies of the period ever published' Max Hastings, Sunday Times

'Easily the best book ever written on the subject ... A work of rare beauty that combines meticulous research with sensitive analysis and elegant prose. The enormous weight of its quality inspires amazement and awe ... Academics should take note: Good history can still be a good story' Washington Post

'A lovingly researched work of the highest scholarship. It is hard to believe we will ever see a better narrative of what was perhaps the biggest collective blunder in the history of international relations' Niall Ferguson

'[Reading The Sleepwalkers], it is as if a light had been turned on a half-darkened stage of shadowy characters cursing among themselves without reason ... [Clark] demolishes the standard view ... The brilliance of Clark's far-reaching history is that we are able to discern how the past was genuinely prologue ... In conception, steely scholarship and piercing insights, his book is a masterpiece' Harold Evans, New York Times Book Review

'Impeccably researched, provocatively argued and elegantly written ... a model of scholarship' Sunday Times Books of the Year

'Superb ... effectively consigns the old historical consensus to the bin ... It's not often that one has the privilege of reading a book that reforges our understanding of one of the seminal events of world history' Mail Online

'A monumental new volume ... Revelatory, even revolutionary ... Clark has done a masterful job explaining the inexplicable' Boston Globe

'Superb ... One of the great mysteries of history is how Europe's great powers could have stumbled into World War I ... This is the single best book I have read on this important topic' Fareed Zakaria

'A meticulously researched, superbly organized, and handsomely written account Military History

Clark is a masterly historian ... His account vividly reconstructs key decision points while deftly sketching the context driving them ... A magisterial work' Wall Street Journal

'This compelling examination of the causes of World War I deserves to become the new standard one-volume account of that contentious subject' Foreign Affairs

'A brilliant contribution' Times Higher Education

'Clark is fully alive to the challenges of the subject ... He provides vivid portraits of leading figures ... [He] also gives a rich sense of what contemporaries believed was at stake in the crises leading up to the war' Irish Times

'In recent decades, many analysts had tended to put most blame for the disaster [of the First World War] on Germany. Clark strongly renews an older interpretation which sees the statesmen of many countries as blundering blindly together into war' Stephen Howe, Independent Books of the Year

About the author:

Christopher Clark is Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St Catharine's College. He is the author of The Politics of Conversion, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Iron Kingdom. Widely praised around the world, Iron Kingdom became a major bestseller. He has been awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (4 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141027827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141027821
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (179 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Formidable ... one of the most impressive and stimulating studies of the period ever published (Max Hastings Sunday Times)

Easily the best book ever written on the subject ... A work of rare beauty that combines meticulous research with sensitive analysis and elegant prose. The enormous weight of its quality inspires amazement and awe ... Academics should take note: Good history can still be a good story (Washington Post)

A lovingly researched work of the highest scholarship. It is hard to believe we will ever see a better narrative of what was perhaps the biggest collective blunder in the history of international relations (Niall Ferguson)

[Reading The Sleepwalkers], it is as if a light had been turned on a half-darkened stage of shadowy characters cursing among themselves without reason ... [Clark] demolishes the standard view ... The brilliance of Clark's far-reaching history is that we are able to discern how the past was genuinely prologue ... In conception, steely scholarship and piercing insights, his book is a masterpiece (Harold Evans New York Times Book Review)

Impeccably researched, provocatively argued and elegantly written ... a model of scholarship (Sunday Times Books of the Year)

Superb ... effectively consigns the old historical consensus to the bin ... It's not often that one has the privilege of reading a book that reforges our understanding of one of the seminal events of world history (Mail Online)

A monumental new volume ... Revelatory, even revolutionary ... Clark has done a masterful job explaining the inexplicable (Boston Globe)

Superb ... One of the great mysteries of history is how Europe's great powers could have stumbled into World War I ... This is the single best book I have read on this important topic (Fareed Zakaria)

A meticulously researched, superbly organized, and handsomely written account (Military History)

Clark is a masterly historian ... His account vividly reconstructs key decision points while deftly sketching the context driving them ... A magisterial work (Wall Street Journal)

This compelling examination of the causes of World War I deserves to become the new standard one-volume account of that contentious subject (Foreign Affairs)

A brilliant contribution (Times Higher Education)

Clark is fully alive to the challenges of the subject ... He provides vivid portraits of leading figures ... [He] also gives a rich sense of what contemporaries believed was at stake in the crises leading up to the war (Irish Times)

In recent decades, many analysts had tended to put most blame for the disaster [of the First World War] on Germany. Clark strongly renews an older interpretation which sees the statesmen of many countries as blundering blindly together into war (Stephen Howe Independent BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

About the Author

Christopher Clark is Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St Catharine's College. He is the author of The Politics of Conversion, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Iron Kingdom. Widely praised around the world, Iron Kingdom became a major bestseller. He has been awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Sleepwalkers was shortlisted for the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History and finalist for the Mark Lynton History Prize, and is the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History, French Prix Aujourd¹hui, Cundill Recognition of Excellence Prize, Bruno Kreisky Prize for Political Literature and the Braunschweiger Geschichtspreis.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important but do read other books 14 Nov 2013
Format:Paperback
An important book, especially for those who may disagree with the views it implies on German War Guilt, who need to deal with the evidence prsented here.

The author does have a reputation for being more sympathetic to German views on how the war arose than is common amongst British historians at any rate.

The Sarajevo assassination and the Serbian entanglement with this is treated in great detail. There are also valuable discussions on the different ways that decisions were made in the major countries concerned. How Austria-Hungary for example to make a decision on anything will puzzle many modern political commentators. Much detail will surprise those not specialists on this historic period. For example the fact that the President of France was on a state visit to Russia at the end of July 1914, returning home only a few days before the outbreak of war.

It is a tough and complex read though. And even with this length and complexity a number of important matters are skimped over or not mentioned. The untenable strategic situation in the Polish lands for example following the partitions of Poland in the 18th Century, reinforced by the post-Napoleonic settlements. The Russian salient including Warsaw made a defence of Prussian lands very precarious in the case of hostilities. Only an international understanding such as the `Dreikaiserbund', defunct by 1914, could manage the situation in Poland. Stressing this might reinforce a more conventional interpretation of how the war situation arose.

The discussion of the politics in Britain will leave most lay readers puzzled, as there are frequent references to the Liberal Imperialists but no explanation of who they were, and how important in the politics of the time.
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140 of 153 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account - but with caveats 4 Mar 2013
By Tim62 VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I found the book a gripping read, and Clark's mastery of his sources satisfying. The issue that is dividing reviewers is the central one that Clark sets out to answer - were the Central Powers, in particular Germany, guilty of starting World War One?
Clark's argument is that such reasoning is simplistic, and that all the statemen of Europe in 1914 were in effect sleepwalkers - walking into the asbyss of a continental war.
Clark is the first to agree that the literature on 1914 is enormous and increasing - and that documentation exists to support many hypotheses about the causes and origins of the war.
Clark argues that it was not Germany that triggered the war, but a combination of factors: The development of the competing alliance system in Europe which tied Russia to France and France to Britain, versus Germany and Austria-Hungary's alliance, Serbia's extremist nationalists who were prepared to use violence on their neighbours, the aggressive mobilisation plans of most countries' military establishments terrified of being caught out by their neighbours mobilising first, and the preparadness of statesmen to risk war while pursuing foreign policy.
He has been accused of being an academic apologist for Germany (and worse by some) which only shows that 100 years on, the divisions and consequences of the war still run deep in Europe.
I should note that there are some excellent and detailed reviews here on Amazon which challenge Clark's thesis - which emphasises French and Russian war planning and mobilisation rather than the 'blank cheque' Germany gave Austria-Hungary.
For me, the essential point I took away from the book, was that too many statesmen on all sides were prepared to use war - and war on a massive scale if need be - as a policy tool.
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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The spark 19 Mar 2013
By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Which was most important, the spark or the powder keg? There are probably enough books on the origins of the First World War to rebuild the great wall of China with. Thanks to the influence of the 'annales' school and its long view of history, however, and then of Marxist thinking and its predilection for structural causes, most of that literature has focused on the powder keg. In Sleepwalkers, Clark chooses to ask about the spark: how the First World War came about rather than why, though how is of course also expected to inform the question why. The book thus devotes close attention to Balkan politics, and it includes what must be one of the most detailed accounts of the Sarajevo murders anywhere. In this sense and to a degree, it is a return to the 'battles and princes' history of earlier times. Look for irony in this if you like, but Clark makes the point that our twenty-first century multi-polar world, with its fluid politics and shock-prone environment - think 9/11 and its aftermath - resembles the pre-WWI era more than much of the twentieth century, and perhaps makes that era more approachable.

Sleepwalkers is actually divided into three sections. The first, which I found the best, deals with the Balkans, Serbian irredentism, the Black Hand, and the Habsburgs' fraught involvement and Russo-French investment in the region. The second teases out longer-term risk factors over the ten to fifteen years to 1914, and the third section puts the characters and events immediately leading to the war declarations under the microscope. Inevitably the book's second section rehashes already well-covered points: the hardening of the alliance system, mobilisation plans, colonial competition, though it does make the important argument that not every trend pointed towards military confrontation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Pig-headed politicians led their people into entirely avoidable...
A long book which goes into much detail, but gives a wealth of understanding how the greatest avoidable catastrophe overtook Europe.
Published 1 day ago by C. F. Boyle
5.0 out of 5 stars History without prejudice
Thorough, scholarly, and meticulously researched this multi-polar account of the origins of the Great War reads almost as a detective novel. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Malachy Cornwell-Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding contribution to our understanding of what happened in...
Of all the books that have come out to celebrate (if that's the word) the beginning of the First World War exactly a century ago, it is to be doubted that there will be a more... Read more
Published 4 days ago by Teemacs
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
an excellent account
Published 7 days ago by brian rowley
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
OK
Published 10 days ago by M Bowery
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely thoroughly researched account of the events leading up to...
Extremely thoroughly researched account of the events leading up to the outbreak of World War . I particularly appreciated the descriptions of the actual assassination itself in... Read more
Published 10 days ago by rhinemaiden2
5.0 out of 5 stars A clear compassionate analysis prevails against playing the blame...
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Published 12 days ago by Ektor
4.0 out of 5 stars Could war have been avoided?
A deeply informative account of the events that led up to the First World War. What was in fact a deeply complex series of events and political alliances is clearly laid out and... Read more
Published 14 days ago by Anthony W. Bates
3.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile read even if only for an understanding of ...
A worthwhile read even if only for an understanding of the roots of Serbian nationalism leading to the most recent Balkan wars (will there be more to come ? Read more
Published 15 days ago by David K.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff.
The foreward was very hard going. Now I'm in to the main text I have built up a head of steam. Good stuff.
Published 16 days ago by babblingboo
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