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149 of 163 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 24 months ago by Tim62

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104 of 132 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clarks Book:Weighing the evidence
Introduction: Christopher Clark writes what is a long revisionist (all were guilty or none were) type book on the origins of the first World War. Shortly after the war a number of Foreign Office sponsored publications in Germany cited the alliance-systems argument as the cause of WWI. Most in particular the 1920s' revisionists argue the binding character of those...
Published on 25 Oct. 2012 by History Reader


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149 of 163 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account - but with caveats, 4 Mar. 2013
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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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41 of 45 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A clear compassionate analysis prevails against playing the blame game., 9 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Paperback)
This is one of the most engaging, gripping and thought-provoking of WWI histories, superbly readable, and full of insights into this most complex of conflicts. I came away from it with my understanding immeasurably enlarged, impressed by Clark's compassionate and clear analysis of this most dreadful of tragedies from which so much further misery and suffering was to come. The author's occasional skillful parallels with the dilemmas faced by those in power struggling to make decisions in crises nearer to us in time helps bring home the way in which fallible human beings can precipitate whole societies into catastrophe The avoidance of demonising the many statesmen who collectively sleepwalked into war adds to the books readability and vastly aids one's understanding. A definite five star recommendation among the welter of 1914 books - an absolute must read for anyone wanting to really get to grips with how, as much as why Europe's leaders slid into what was right up to the last days an unneccesry and avoidable war.
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68 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The spark, 19 Mar. 2013
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reader 451 - See all my reviews
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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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9 of 10 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 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 first global 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 afterwards, what changed and to what extent, such that the question of what caused this conflict is still an issue today and such that ill informed politicians will attempt to politicize it in pursuit of their own ends.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A somewhat revisionist account, 16 Jun. 2014
By 
Mr. Christopher Harris "Chris in Brum" (Birmingham UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Paperback)
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. Clark takes a somewhat different line spreading the blame more equally amongst all concerned. His case is that the war started more by mistake than by design, hence the title of his book, he says Europe "sleepwalked" into the war.

Whether you buy his argument or not the book is very well written and is thought provoking. This is a must for the serious student of the period.

An afterthought: I've now read the book in much greater detail and I find it rather less convincing on a second reading. It seems to me that Clark's interpretation of some of the key pieces of evidence is open to question.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding contribution to our understanding of what happened in 1914, 18 Aug. 2014
By 
Teemacs (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Paperback)
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 important one than this one. In this magisterial account, Christopher Clark takes us behind the scenes of all the protagonists, showing the bluster, posturing, confusion, conflicting agendas (even within the protagonists) and pride that led to what is in essence history's biggest traffic accident. Who was to blame? Professor Clark points the finger at - everyone. A total failure of comprehension and imagination led to a war that nobody wanted, and ultimately the destruction of four empires and the mortal wounding of a fifth. Professor Clark's final sentence says it all:

"...the protagonists 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."

Be warned; this is a book with a huge cast and full of complex, interlocking events. It requires patience to read. It also requires one to ignore the fact that we know what the final result would be and put ourselves in the shoes of the leaders of those days, obsessed by contemporary power politics, full of national and imperial hubris, and fearful of decline and irrelevancy, especially in the eyes of the rest. It is well worth the effort. It also has surprising echoes of the present day. I hadn't realised that early 20th century Serbia was full of desires for the unification of all Serbs, including the holy ground of Kosovo in Bosnia-Herzogovina, scene of a mediaeval battle against the Turks, but which had never actually been part of Serbia. As a result, Belgrade was willing to countenance (unofficially) terrorist activity against the Austrian rulers of Bosnia-Herzogovina, which led directly to Gavrilo Princip and his gun in Sarajevo on that summer day in 1914.

100 years on, human beings have not really changed. States still foster national pride and still jockey for position to achieve what they see as their rightful positions vis-à-vis other states. One could see similar blunders and miscalculations happening again. We can only hope that, in this centenary year, all our alleged "statesmen" read this book and learn from it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an in-depth, detailed and lucid account, 11 Feb. 2013
By 
Uncle Barbar (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
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Christopher Clark has written an in-depth, detailed and lucid account of how the First World War came about rather than concentrating on the why. As anyone who has had a mild interest in the causes of this most horrific conflict will understand (I studied it at Degree level) the causes are multifaceted. It is too simply complex a subject to merely point at one nation as the culprit (i.e. Germany) or to decide that one single event (like the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife) was the single trigger for the outbreak of the war.

Clark describes the situation in the Balkans quite masterly and its place in the lead up to the conflict, the early 20th century wars in this region, the search for Serbia independence and Austria's position in relation to this. He puts into perspective the significance of the two blocks of allies and this

He doesn't exonerate the Germans but similarly does not give Fischer's thesis the prominence it has had in the past. He does not believe that any one nation or group of individuals sought war (and certainly not on this scale and devastation). He therefore does not hold with the view that any single country (or empire) should be wholly, or even mainly, blamed for the conflict. He sees the conflict as "a tragedy not a crime".

Clark therefore concludes without really giving anyone ultimate blame or seeking to list the nations' guilt in order of blame. Perhaps some will not be content with this outcome - a victim has been found but with no one convicted of the "crime" but for one I found this refreshing.
Personally yes I DO believe Germany deserved some, possibly the largest proportion, blame but each of the other nations involved - Austria, Russia, France, Serbia all played their part and were more intent on defending their own interests/power/empires than ensuring peace.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We all muddled into war." (Lloyd George on 1914), 8 Feb. 2013
By 
Susman "Susman" (London Mills IL) - See all my reviews
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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 Minister 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely thoroughly researched account of the events leading up to ..., 11 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Paperback)
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 Sarajevo, a convincing narrative. Also the highly complicated history of Serbia and its struggle against Austro-Hungary is clarified . I did find the long foreign policy intricacies somewhat less absorbing than the rest of the book but I learned a lot and the author has done an incredible amount of work to elucidate the mindsets of those politicians and leaders of the time to explain how the outbreak of war finally came about.
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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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