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132 of 144 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account - but with caveats
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...
Published 16 months ago by Tim62

97 of 123 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clarks Book:Weighting the evidence
Introduction: Christopher Clark writes what is a long book on the origins of the first World War. In the first half of the book he goes into a deep and often meandering summary of events in Serbia and eventually Bosnia which sent the events in motion. He also emphasizes French and Russian war planning and mobilization rather than the `blank cheque' Germany gave...
Published 20 months ago by Brigitte Muehlegger

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132 of 144 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account - but with caveats, 4 Mar 2013
Tim62 "history buff" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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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.
For any student of 1914 I would recommend this book. It is an important contribution to the debate and is worth studying. But I would not read it alone, there are other equally worthy books which reach different conclusions.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important but do read other books, 14 Nov 2013
This review is from: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (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. Briefly, the rise of the British Empire in the last third of the 19th Century was not without opposition. The Liberal Party often opposed new colonial adventures. The Conservative Party built up a populist pro-Empire movement which recruited many voters who might otherwise have supported the Liberals on certain other policies. Only when a faction in the Liberal Party friendly to the Imperial State came to an accommodation with more sceptical Liberals could the Liberal Party put together an internal coalition that won General Elections and introduced social reforms to the UK. The Lib Imps as they were known were eventually the faction that prevailed in the debates on British intervention in WW1.

Entirely omitted in this book is any discussion as to how the Nederlands avoided being forced into the war, and how it remained neutral throughout. This is important as at one stage the German General Staff envisaged a variation on the Schlieffen Plan including an invasion of Belgium via Dutch territory. The Nederlands however mobilised its forces at the end of July 1914 following an intelligence tip-off on July 25th that Europe-wide hostilities were imminent. Did this cause disruptions to German planning?

For me, one lesson learned is how views on `Europe' began to change in those years. At the start there was a kind of Bismarkian dismissal - Europe was just a 'geographical expression' a space over which powers tried to establish a balance of forces. Europe was nobody's common home. At the end something perhaps a little new, expressed in the dignified Belgium rejection of the German ultimatium of 2 August 1914: that acceptance would "betray Belgium's duties towards Europe".

A "Geographical Expression" or something shared between all its peoples. Can we see here the seeds of the debate over the nature and existence of the European Union in our own day?

In short this is an important book which is in no sense the final word on the issues it raises. Four stars only because it is frankly heavy going at times.

(Those interested in the Dutch experience should read Maartje Abbenhuis `The Art Of Staying Neutral: The Nederlands in the First World War)
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59 of 67 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The spark, 19 Mar 2013
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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. The originality of the third section is probably that it restores the roles of a variety of second-line characters. It also remains, as any account of these last few weeks, morbidly fascinating. I thought, finally, that Clark might have expanded a little on the interesting cultural factors he touches on, such as militarism and male insecurity, or the role of defensive discourses in blunting diplomatic initiative - perhaps at the cost of a shorter second section - but this is already a long book. Sleepwalkers' chief merit, anyhow, is to remind us that WWI originated in the Balkans and that, if we want to understand why it happened, we need to grasp why the Balkans came to assume such an overblown importance in Great Power thinking.

One last point: as many of the Amazon reviews seem to confirm, Clark to a large extent argues with the 'German adventurism' historical school. My wish is not to engage in polemics with fellow reviewers. My impression is that this school of thought, having originated with post-WWII German historians, was more about guilt over what happened after rather than before 1914. Nor do I privately understand how it can all be blamed on the Germans: my own, French countrymen were sufficiently fixated on Alsace-Lorraine to share in the responsibility. Whatever the case may be, though, it should be mentioned that Clark is an Aussie who teaches at Cambridge University. Though he has written a history of Prussia, there is no reason to brand him a German nationalist. It is correct that Sleepwalkers dilutes the blame, and it does paint - rightly in my view - the Habsburg reaction to the Sarajevo murders as legitimate. But if the book tends to absolve the Germans of excessive blame for WWI, this should be taken as a serious contribution to an academic debate, not as an opinion piece.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant unravelling of a mystery., 1 Jun 2014
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My family was radically affected by WW1 and I have never thought that I had been given a satisfactory explanation of its causes. This book provides that explanation. I cannot forgive the politicians who let it happen but I can understand how they let it happen.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A seminal work on World War I, 23 Feb 2014
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All books on history that are worth reading, will require the reader to exercise judgment and Christopher Clark's work is no exception. He does not enter the "blame game" save that if blame is to be attributed it is not to one country or one faction it is to the international class of diplomats, financiers and militarists consistently seeking its own ends whether of personal advancement, chauvanistic nationalism or ill formed notions of the interests of one state or another driven by internal jostling and squabbling
If one wishes to understand this arcane world which the war did much to end then this book is one that must be read. Works that apply simplistic analysis to World War I do not serve understanding of the events. Similarly, works that present the War as a war largely between Germany, Britain and France fail to grasp the real nature of the conflict or place it in its proper context. Clark without advancing it as a thesis demonstrates that a global war could have started by reason of the Agadir crisis in which Britain despite the main actors being Germany and France demonstrated a far greater belligerence than either of those. If war had broken out then the question "What were the origins of WWI?" would have a very different answer and were blame being attributed Britain might well have to accept far more responsibility than it did in 1914. Similar points could made about the critical relations between Austria/Hungary and Russia which always entailed the menace of German involvement in 1912 as the Balkan Wars escalated. Had war started then would Britain even have been involved given the ambivalent nature of its commitment to France and France's own ambivalent relationship (and treaty terms) with Russia?
Clark places the Balkanization of Great Power politics in clear context; this aspect of European history of the time is often undeservedly marginalized partly by reason of it arcane nature and the linguistic problems in dealing with primary sources faced by later historians. Clark does not (as indeed Max Hastings does not) make this error. The Balkan "crisis" or succession of crises over the five years preceding the assassination of Franz Ferdinand is critical to understanding how European and World war became almost inevitable at some point. When one looks at the Agadir crisis it is perhaps the fact that the politics of the time had not become "Balkanized" to the extent that occurred by 1914 that prevented the crisis assuming greater proportions than it did. The cause of itself was inadequate for the German and French people to embrace a war that all knew would be catastrophic. With the rolling war of the Balkans which "ended" in the Treaty of London added to the mix the scale of events assumed a far larger perspective than perhaps they deserved. It still remained a large puzzle to many in every country involved in July 1914, with the possible exception of Serbia, why the great powers were entered on a war for such a remote cause with in many cases allies that only a few short years before were suspect at best and enemies at worst.
Clark elaborates that puzzle with great clarity and adds back to the historical lexicon events that have been overlooked such as the Italo-Turkish War which could with reason be cited as the real cause of the later global conflict. His skill and the detail of his work is compelling making it impossible for others to ignore the real world of international relations and politics that created the crisis. Because it does not seek to lay blame the work is all the more instructive; he does not appear to advance one cause or another nor does he seek to do other than elucidate what have been dark corners of history until now.
The book is not without humanity or character; the likes of Lord Grey are carefully analyzed as are those of Sazanov or Hartwig or Pasic. It might be an aid for Kindle readers to have a hyperlink to the cast of characters section with each name referred to as the cast is enormous and as the politics ebb and flow some, like Conrad to take an example, appear and disappear to reappear later when a reminder of whom and what they were might be useful. In general however the alert and concentrating reader will get through and such is the skill of the writing that individuals do indeed emerge as real personalities. Moreover they are kept as characters in and of their time without attempts to apply too many psychological analyses not available at the time.
If this book is considered too detailed and too concentrated on the arcane world of international relations then the answer is to read Max Hastings book "Catastrophe" at the same time. It is written with his usual skill as a story teller and his superb knowledge and research. He, too, does not allow the reader to fall into easy assumptions or jingoistic justifications but presents a clear and cogent account of some of the same events. Nor does Hastings offer easy answers or dilute the scholarship that is required if one wants to come to some understanding of why the governments of Europe committed their peoples to a war that ultimately led to the destruction or drastic transformation of each of the states involved.
For both then five stars and a suggestion that they are read in tandem. They are works of the highest calibre and present us with real and fresh insights into questions that are still troubling and relevant. Perhaps that is the next book from either or both; what happened, what changed and to what extent such that the question of what caused this conflict is till an issue today such that ill informed politicians will still attempt to politicize it in pursuit of their own ends today.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, dense and scholarly, 8 Feb 2013
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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"The outbreak of war was a tragedy, not a crime"

This is a deep and rigorous account of the background and run-up to the outbreak of war in 1914. Clark is no apologist for Germany as some reviewers have claimed and, equally, avoids allocating blame to any other single party. As he himself states `the outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in the conservatory with a smoking pistol' (p.561). Instead, this charts the complex, intricate and conflictual interactions of the major European powers - the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire, Russia, Germany, France, Britain.

Going back to the transformation of European alliances from 1887 which had created two European `super-blocs' of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy, facing Russia, Britain and France , this also sites Serbia and the Balkan Crisis at the centre of the story. One important strand of the story told here traces how the local assassination of a Hapsburg Archduke by Serbian nationalists could lead, so fast, to the conflagration which engulfed Europe for four years. One of Clark's arguments is that the Sarajevo murders `were not a pretext for a pre-existing policy of invasion and warfare', but a `transformative event' to which all the European powers were forced to react.

This isn't a simple or linear story - if it were, there would be no ongoing academic debate about the causes of the first world war almost exactly a hundred years later - and Clark marshals the multiple threads of his narrative with enviable ease.

At 560 pages, with 100 pages of endnotes, this isn't an easy or undemanding read - but it is a deeply intelligent, nuanced, and enlightening one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We all muddled into war." (Lloyd George on 1914), 29 Nov 2013
Sussman "Sussman" (London CA) - See all my reviews
As we approach the first 2014 and, what will be the first centennial, I am sure there will be a plethora of academic publications that will deal with all aspects of the `Great War' also known as the `First World War'. Mr C Clark's book at some 697 pages long is not a light read by any means that said it is readable, with good referencing and research. The start of the book deals with an exploration, in depth, of the players and triggers which brought the Balkans situation/crisis as the pre-eminent catalyst that lead to World War.

Two thirds of way through the book the language of the narrative, for me seemed to get convoluted and I seemed to have stumbled in the arena of a chauvinistic nature of early 20th century male dominated areas of power play and politics of Europe, while I could understand the need explain and flesh out the greater background, I found narrative flow was way off course. I guess I will need to re-read this book. Still this a well done piece of research and presented not in dry and mundane fashion, as some I have read. If this period of history is something that interests you, then I would recommend purchasing this book, or at the very least, getting it from your local library.

Lastly returning to Lloyd George, who was Prime Minster during the WW1, his comments some 22 years later on Hitler and his leadership of Germany was very supportive to say the least, in `Appeasement of Germany', 1919-1945 (published 2011) page 247 Lloyd George says Hitler was "the greatest living German". So maybe quoting him, as my title for this review may not have been such a good idea?
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well-written and interesting read - but don't take what's written as absolue gospel, 9 May 2013
Chris Hall "DLS Reviews" (Cardiff, Wales) - See all my reviews
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Professor of Modern History, Christopher Clark's book on how WWI broke out entitled 'Sleepwalkers' is certainly an interesting and utterly compelling read that offers up an alternative perspective on the actions that led up to this devastating first world war.

In order for Clark to assess the probable reasoning behind how the war was able to break out as it did, much attention is given to the examination and explanation of Balkan politics at the time. Obviously, the key incident that we all attribute as the 'trigger-point' - that of the murder of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife - is told in quite a substantial amount of detail. However, it's very much the lengthy run-up to this undoubtedly key-moment that is perhaps of most interest. The culminations of many factors - not just one incident - are brought into play. Absolute responsibility is suddenly not such an easy finger to point. Or is it?

To be honest, throughout the book Clark attempts to bring into question, or wholeheartedly discredit, a number of aspects about the escalation of events that brought the world to WWI. And it must be said that Clark has a very convincing voice. In his retelling of the events that led up to WWI, Clark muddies the water somewhat, before adding in his own angle to the events. It soon becomes clear after having read only a number of chapters in this quite lengthy book, that Clark's version of events is merely that - just of version of what 'might have happened'. As the book progresses, this possible take on events weaves an even tighter net, gradually, piece-by-piece, edging the absolute blame away from Germany.

It's true to say that Clark has obviously done a great amount of research in writing this book. The vast swathes of 'facts and figures' and snuggly inserted arguments against what is commonly thought to be the truth, shows a strong knowledge of the intricacies of the subject - much more than the likes of an everyday Joe like myself with only a reasonable passing interest in the subject. But one can't help but think that perhaps this re-examination has an ulterior motive behind it over than to attempt to set the record straight. At times there seems to be a slight desperation in clinging to certain aspects of the events whilst breezing over other equally important points.

However, whether there is a basis of truth or not in the many points raised on the book does not take away from the fact that it is nevertheless an entirely engrossing and entertaining read. Clark can write and he writes particularly well. At all times he keeps a very tight leash on the subject, keeps a good momentum behind the series of events being portrayed, and manages to successfully hold the reader's interest throughout the entire 562 pages.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sleepwalkers, 21 Oct 2012
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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On the 28th June 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assasinated - thirty seven days later, Europe was at war. Recent accounts of how WWI began, have tended to discount the importance of the political assassination which triggered such bloodshed in Europe. In this account, the author attempts to tell the story of how war came to Europe, leading to the loss of three empires and twenty million lives, and placing the Balkans at the very centre of the story.

In the first part of this book, the author focuses on Serbia and Austria-Hungary, whose quarrel ignited the conflicts and follows their interactions from 1901 to the Sarajevo assassinations. We read of the 1903 palace attack by the Serbian army and the murder of King Alexander and Queen Draga. Of why the monarchy never had a stable existence in Serbia, the military conspiracy led by Dragutin Dimitrijevic and how, after 1903, the Serbian nationalists focused mainly onthe struggle between the Serbs, Bulgarian and Turks, unfolding in Macedonia. How Bosnia and Herzegovinia was annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908 and how Dimitrijevic was the pricipal architect behind the plot to assassinate the Archduke. It is fair to say that Balkan politics were very complex and this is not a light read, although the author explains things so well that you do not really need background knowledge about the period and people involved to follow what is going on.

In the middle of this illuminating book, the author looks at four questions: how did the polarization of Europe into opposed blocs come about, how did the governments of European states generate foreign policy, how did the Balkans come to be the theatre of such crisis and how did the international system produce a general war? Europe was at that time a continent of monarchies, with France the only major power that was a republic. The three Emperors: Kaiser Wilhelm, Tsar Nicholar II and George V were a trio of imperial cousins. At the end of WWI, only one of them would still retain power. If you are interested in the close relationships between these three men you will enjoy The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One which looks at their lives in detail.

Lastly, the book takes a detailed look at the assassination, the July 1914 crisis and the interactions between the various decision makers. Despite all the borders and alliances, Europe at that time was a place where you travelled with ease between countries - only needing a passport when you came to Russia. This section of the book is full of ultimations and demands, dispatches, diplomacy and misunderstandings until war is finally declared and the situation escalates. Many of the decision makers and those involved in the armed forces greeted war with delight. The Duma (Parliament) in Russia were assured that "everything will be superb" and Churchill, then First Sea Lord, wrote to his wife about how "happy" he was about the "collapse" of diplomacy. However, for most men called up to fight, regardless of which country they were in, the war was a shock. Were those in power really "Sleepwalkers" - did they not really see the horror they were to unleash, in a war of a scale never imagined? The author presents his arguments with clarity and this is a thought provoking and fascinating account of how the war came about. If you like this, you may also enjoy Thirteen Days: The Road to the First World War. Lastly, I read the kindle version of this book and illustrations were included.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Coherent and Readable Narrative, 27 Nov 2012
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Firstly I am grateful for the reviews which precede this one. They display a depth of knowledge that I do not pretend to rival. I recommend that their opinions on the partiality of this account are taken into account by anyone reading this book, as I did.

The author states two clear objectives in his opening preamble.

The first is to present the participants shorn of the images of period clothing and grainy, jerky moving pictures that distance them from our modern world and instead let them appear as our near contemporaries, as indeed they are. In this he is wholly successful. The characters we meet are real and their impact undiminished by the period trappings, in marked contrast to the murky images from the past that are sometimes presented.

His second objective was to present a coherent narrative that explained how, rather than why, the events he describes led to the outbreak of war. There is no doubt that he has been selective in his choice of material with the intention of providing a plausible and connected series of vignettes that are easily followed by his readers. Objectivity and completeness inevitably suffers in this process but I doubt that a complete account is possible and their sacrifice is justified by the clarity that his account brings.

I found it a compelling and worthwhile read and look forward to discovering some alternative perspectives in the future.
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The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark (Paperback - 4 July 2013)
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