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An outstanding contribution to our understanding of what happened in 1914,
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.