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

Christopher Clark
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (165 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 Sep 2012

In The Sleepwalkers acclaimed historian and author of Iron Kingdom, Christopher Clark, examines

the causes of the First World War.

SUNDAY TIMES and INDEPENDENT BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2012

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.

Drawing on many fresh new sources, this account reveals a Europe very different from the familiar picture, putting Serbia and the Balkans at the centre of the story. Starting with the brutal assassination of Alexander I of Serbia in 1903, Clark shows how, far from being the place of enviable stability it appears to us, Europe was racked by chronic problems: a multipolar, fractured, multicultural world of clashing ideals, terrorism, militancy and instability, which was, fatefully, saddled with a conspicuously ineffectual set of political leaders. He shows how the rulers of Europe, who prided themselves on their modernity and rationalism, behaved like sleepwalkers, stumbling through crisis after crisis and finally convincing themselves that war was the only answer.

Reviews:

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

'The arguments [Clark] sets out in this quite superb account of the causes of the First World War are so compelling that they effectively consign the old historical consensus to the bin ... a masterpiece. 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

'Impeccably researched, provocatively argued and elegantly written, his book is a model of scholarship' Sunday Times, Books of the Year 2012

'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

'A brilliant contribution' Times Higher Education

'Clark is fully alive to the challenges of the subject. Planting himself at the contingent end of the spectrum, he prefers to establish how the war happened rather than to explain why by means of hindsight ... It is a refreshing approach. 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

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.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (27 Sep 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 071399942X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713999426
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 15.8 x 23.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (165 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 213,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

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

The arguments [Clark] sets out in this quite superb account of the causes of the First World War are so compelling that they effectively consign the old historical consensus to the bin ... Clark's history of Prussia, Iron Kingdom, was a masterpiece. The Sleepwalkers surpasses it. 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 )

Christopher Clark has written the most readable account of the origins of the First World War since Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. The difference is that The Sleepwalkers is 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 )

Clark is fully alive to the challenges of the subject. Planting himself at the contingent end of the spectrum, he prefers to establish how the war happened rather than to explain why by means of hindsight ... It is a refreshing approach. 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 )

A brilliant contribution (Times Higher Education )

For decades, historians have argued about the origins of the first world war. For Cambridge professor Clark, however, the answer lies in a metaphor: far from consciously planning the war, the statesmen of 1914 were "sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world ... Impeccably researched, provocatively argued and elegantly written, his book is a model of scholarship (Sunday Times Books of the Year )

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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
132 of 144 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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23 of 25 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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59 of 67 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 An excellent in depth analsis of the national
An excellent in depth analsis of the national, international and personal issues that culminated in the biggest catastrophe in the history of Europe. Read more
Published 1 day ago by A Warwick
5.0 out of 5 stars Mud-Wrestling
‘The Sleepwalkers’ (2012) by Christopher Clark was recommended to me and I soon realised why it has become a controversial analysis of the origins of the ‘war to end all wars’. Read more
Published 4 days ago by BobH
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent
The book deals expertly with the multiple causes if war and the factors that influenced the key decision makers, and more importantly, the interaction of these casual and... Read more
Published 8 days ago by David Africa
5.0 out of 5 stars best of the current books
Excellent and detailed account of the origins of the First World War. Worth reading even if you have already read the Margaret Macmillan book
Published 11 days ago by C. ROXBURGH
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
have only read the first chapter, so far.
Published 26 days ago by ian lowry
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading
This book covers the run up to the First World War, with a heavy concentration on the Balkans, and in particular on Serbia and its various backers and opponents. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Peter White
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly incisive analysis
No-one contemplating WWI can fail to be puzzled at how the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand could have ignited such a conflagration so quickly. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Derek Pooley
4.0 out of 5 stars Really makes you think about how history is reported
A really comprehensive history of the first years ogf the 20th century.

Previously thought I had a pretty good knowledge of events but this bookmade me realise how... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Graham J Gorringe
5.0 out of 5 stars Read and understand
A wonderful book to read on the centenary of the outbreak of WWI. Full of detail, showing that the troublesome Balkans, was then and has been in recent history a place that can... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ampthill bookworm
5.0 out of 5 stars A somewhat revisionist account
The general consensus amongst historians is that the Germans were largely to blame for starting WW1 (with the Austrians close behind) indeed that they had a plan to do so. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr. Christopher Harris
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