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144 of 158 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account - but with caveats, 4 Mar 2013
This review is from: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Hardcover)
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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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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Nov 2013 07:13:03 GMT
Britain too was prepared and had war with Germany in mind - evidence of this are the massive military manoeuvres conducted in England using the newly formed British Expeditionary Force. Manoeuvres that included attendance by the French and Russians. I stumbled upon this in the J P Harris biography of Haig. What is striking in everything that I read, is that 'a soldier' or 'cavalry man' was in every respect an expendable artefact - like a bullet or shell. Strategy was thought through in terms of numbers of men put into the field and largely on the importance of the offensive over the defensive. Germany hankered after an empire of Mittel Europe and Mittel Afrika - they were itching for the right moment to progress this; Sarajevo gave them that opportunity. How are sales of Sleepwalkers doing in Germany? Rather well. Will we see a 'book' war in which each nation favours a voice that puts them in the right? Which historian is taking a comprehensive, non-nationalistic view?

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jan 2014 14:05:05 GMT
Last edited by the author on 25 Jan 2014 14:07:14 GMT
Sara Moore says
The British Expeditionary Force only numbered 150,000 men, the German standing army numbered over 750,000. The Germans were not cowed by Britain's military manoeuvres before the war. After Germany invaded Belgium and Britain declared war on Germany, General Moltke is said to have remarked to Foreign Minister Jagow 'We shall manage the 150,000 British'.
(Fritz Fischer, War or Illusions, 390.)

Posted on 16 Feb 2014 07:16:44 GMT
In the arguments related to mobilisation and whether or not this was an irrevocable more to war I was interested to stumble on the fact the at Fenham Barracks, in the North East of England the troops there were mobilised as early as the 28th July. Everyone appears to have been making a start. After several months of further reading I would now not agree with Christopher Clark's emphasis on removing blame from Germany - those in power who wanted the war got it. A combination of making a stand to become a global power and paranoia over Russia and France on their borders was enough to do this. Are there examples of countries that, though surrounded, were 'content with their lot'? Switzerland?

Posted on 5 Jul 2014 11:39:01 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 5 Jul 2014 11:41:00 BDT]

Posted on 5 Jul 2014 11:44:11 BDT
D A Winser says:
This book was massively recommended by Simon Heffer in the New Statesman this week. His four page piece on the histories of WW1 includes the following quote "Of all the recent works of history, one stands far above all others, and should be regarded as an indispensable read for anyone who wishes to understand why the war happened: Christopher Clark's Sleepwalkers, published in 2012."
Heffer's view is that Clark makes his arguments about the causes of the war successfully. He says "Without an army of research assistants, but relying on a grasp of the main languages involved and a serious study of foreign archives, Clark gets to the heart of the two principal questions: why Gavrilo Princip felt moved to shoot Franz Ferdinand and his wife when they went to Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, and why the ensuing quarrel could not be contained to one between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. After much inquiry, presentation of evidence and discussion, he reaches a judgement: that the kaiser didn't want war, and that a war occurred was largely down to the bellicosity, incompetence and weaknesses of others."

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jul 2014 14:34:34 BDT
Yes, by far the best and fullest assesment of the origins of the First World War though his linguistic abilities should not alone be a reason to suggest he has the final answer: there isn't one, as he says. This explains the enduring interest. The ne t step is to read the original sources yourself which I am doing - in translation. When you start to compare and question editorial choices and the translation then you may feel you are aking the subject seriously. It is easy to tip CC in a slightly different direction though - he offers the references and bibliography. In particular the thoughts and writings of the German Ambassador to Britain are worth reading as he suggests that there were several in Germany quite deliberately and deviously pushing for a major conflict. I find at this level CC is something of an apologist. Recommended. Forget Max Hastings. Better to start looking at Annika Mombauer's collections of original documents - also her mentor John Rohl. Yes, Russia and France aggrevated the situation, but Germany felt the moment had come and their behaviour once in Belgium was reprehensible, dispicable and made them culpable. In this respect CC gets it wrong - Germany was a monster in waiting.
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