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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 April 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book concentrates on the actions which may have led up to start of WW1, but it does more than that, as I shall get to shortly.

There had been a number of incidents across Europe (mainly the "annexing" of outlying areas of other countries like France and Austria) which had left it teetering on the edge of war, but one stands out as the spark to the tinderbox - the murder of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

On the 28th June 1914 seven men, known as the "Black Hand Gang", assembled in Sarajevo, Bosnia, with the objective to assassinate the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. There were 2 attempts - one failure and one successful.

The first attempt happened when the Archduke and his pregnant commoner wife, Sophie, were on their way to a reception when gang member Nadjelka Cabrinovic threw a bomb/grenade at the car they were travelling in. This attempt failed because Cabrinovic hadn't taken into account the burning time of the fuse and that time delay allowed for the escape of Ferdinand, his wife and driver. Cabrinovic drank the cyanide that had been given to him but it did not work; he threw himself into a river, expecting to drown, but it was only a few inches deep and he was captured alive.

Ferdinand (who was a progressive and wanted to give more rights to the people) and his wife were travelling from a reception in the open car, still with little security, when the fatal attack took place.

The driver of the car took a wrong turn and passed Gavrilo Princip, a 19 year old Seribian radical. As the vehicle reversed slowly Princip approached the car and, at point blank range shot Ferdinand in the neck and the pregnant Sophia in the stomach before taking the ineffective cyanide - he too was taken alive.

Ferdinand, Sophie and their unborn child were all pronounced dead within an hour of the attack.

Assassination of leaders, even their heirs, were not surprising events, even in 1914, what turned the stomachs of many was the fact that Princip had deliberately aimed for Sophie's abdomen and the child she carried.

The weapons used were traced back to the Serbia; that, along with testimony from the conspirators, placed the blame firmly at the door of the Serbian government - and what better way to justify a war than to have the heir and his pregnant wife murdered so brutally and publicly.

As a result Austro-Hungary and Germany joined forces and declared war on Serbia on the 28th June 1914. Except they seemed to have forgotten, or ignored, that Serbia and Russia had an alliance; and that Russia had alliances with the UK and France.

On 1st August 1914 Germany declared war on Russia and launched an attack on France (both up to this point had merely used words and not weapons). In order to attack France Germany had marched through Belgium. Belgium had been neutral up to that point and the invasion of the British ally brought the UK into the war and so, less than 2 months after the assassination of the Archduke and the murder of his wife and child WW1 had kicked off and Europe descended the spiral into the 4 years of hell and, by the end, over 20 million lay dead on the battlefields.

Yet even this was not the entire story and it is here where Clark's starts to show his true colours.

He castigates counties for their actions in the decades leading up to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand but negates to point out that Germany had been militarising since the 1870s and had only a short time before the attack on Ferdinand and his wife the Kaiser had launched 14 new battleships, and it was this action of overtly threatening militarisation along with the sabre rattling of Kaiser Wilhelm which had Europe teetering on the edge of the abyss of devastation.

It was the Keiser's land grabbing which had caused consternation with the rest of Europe; he was empire building while others (such as the Ottomans) were "freeing" their conquests. He doesn't, for example, mention the vicious military taking of Bosnia which nearly lead to war only 6 years before.

As I read on it became uncomfortably obvious that Mr Clark had been selecting much of his material from the post WW1 German propaganda which overtly stated that WW1 was not Germany's fault but the fault of the "sleepwalkers" of Europe who should have seen what was going to happen and taken steps to stop it before it went too far! Hindsight, as they say, is a marvellous thing.

I am thankful that I have already read so much about WW1 that I was able to see though Mr Clark's smoke and mirrors.

By the end of the book Mr Clark came across as a strange form of apologist for Germany - his thesis can be summed up as `it was everyone else's fault but the Kaiser's'.
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on 17 May 2014
I am currently readind this excellent book as ell as doing other things. It will take a little longer to complete but i am not going to rush it, it clearly gives plenty of bakground information regarding the complex situation that the Serbs were in or thought they were in.Interestingly these problems did not end in 1918, there are trials still going on today with alleged atrocities being carried not too long ago.
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on 17 December 2012
The importance of events in the Balkans is properly emphasised.
The book is highly readable.
But itis longer than it might have been with a sharper
editorial blue pencil
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The run-up to the first world war is fascinating - the causes - how could so many nations wander into a war that was so destructive, so cataclysmic? I feel with the whole world on the brink of war over North Korea, there has never been a better time to try and understand how we wandered into the first world war, and how we might avoid repeating the mistakes of our collective past.
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on 14 February 2016
Excellent and well researched book. Explains how the war came about, while being reasonably careful to avoid apportioning blame. After reading this I came across an old copy of "The Twelve Days" by George Malcolm Thomson. A much lighter read about the final days before the Great War - and reassuringly close to the detailed account I'd read in "The Sleepwalkers".
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on 19 April 2014
It gave me a new insight into the causes of the First World War that I had not thought of before.
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on 27 January 2014
This book, like no other, really reveals the extraordinary complexity of relationships between the Great Powers, but also of the individuals leading their policies. The feeling that war might have been avoided right up to the last week of July 1914 emerges quite strongly, but in the event personal interpretations of circumstance led to its inevitability. A masterful review of each country's interpretation of the Sarajevo murder and the options that were open to them.
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on 17 December 2015
A widespread coverage of all the elements leading to the war, presented in a very interesting and readable fashion from start to finish. Presents a sad and appalling picture of missed opportunities and misguided leadership that led to war.

Will appeal as much to the general reader as to the specialist.

Highly recommended !
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on 20 July 2014
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 influencing factors. The book is rich in data and pointed in its analysis. Well worth reading, especially for students of security dilemmas and leadership studies.
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Clark begins his splendid account of the events leading to the outbreak of the First World War with a 96 page sections (nearly a fifth of the book) on the pre-war history of Serbia, beginning with the reigns of King Milan (1868 to 1889) and his autocratic son King Alexandar (sic) (1889 to 1903), of the Obrenovic dynasty. These two monarchs were pro-Austrian, ignoring the intense nationalist feeling of the Serb people and sections of the Serb army which wanted to reconstitute the greater Serbian Empire that had existed under the medieval Tsar Dusan. The unpopularity of the royal policy was one - but not the only - reason for a group of army officers putting a bloody end to the dynasty in 1903, installing the new figurehead Karageorgevic dynasty, and embarking on an anti-Austrian and pro-Russian foreign policy which had massive popular support. The military officers who had carried out the coup, led one nicknamed Apis, embarked on a policy of subversion of the Serb population inside Austria-Hungary and carrying out the occasional assassination of Habsburg notables. Prime Minister Pasic, though as nationalist as any, was worried by the illegal activities of Apis' agents, but powerless to stop him. Apis was actually the head of Serb Military Intelligence. (I was strongly reminded of the situation in today's Pakistan.) When Pasic learned of the intended assassination of Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo, he sent "a warning of sorts", through the Serbian minister in Vienna, to one of the Austrian ministers who did not take it seriously and did not pass it on to his seniors.

At this point Clark moves on to look at the wider European scene - the gradual and hesitant formation of the alliances which would be drawn into the war. Though this story is in outline familiar, Clark challenges several of the generally prevalent ideas. He argues, for example, that, though the British press encouraged fear of the German naval programme, British ministers were not particularly worried by it, nor had they any need to be: in 1905 the Germans had only 16 battleships compared with Britain's 44, and in 1913 Germany unilaterally called off the naval arms race. Nevertheless, key British policy makers had identified Germany as the main enemy, perhaps ever since the Kruger Telegram of 1895 (for which Clark also provides a perspective that I have not seen before). He brings out the arrogance of the British who justified every expansion of their own empire while resisting every German move that might give them any influence, protesting, for example, when Germany built a railway which would give the Transvaal an outlet to the sea in Mozambique. Curiously, there is no reference in this very detailed study to the three missions of Joseph Chamberlain to Germany, in 1898, 1899, and 1901 to negotiate a possible alliance with Germany. It was the failure of these negotiations which would lead Britain instead to turn to France, and later to Russia. But Clark also maintains that for Britain the Ententes with France and then with Russia were primarily directed against Germany. He sees the Entente with France in 1904 mainly as an attempt by Britain to weaken the alliance between France and Russia (always regarded as the biggest menace to the British Empire), and the Entente with Russia in 1907 as taking advantage of that country's weakness after her defeat by Japan, to end these threats which were seen at the time (and by some British politicians even in early 1914) as much more dangerous than any threats from Germany.

There is then a fascinating and detailed chapter showing that in all the Great Powers the conduct of foreign policy was hampered for long stretches of time by uncertainty about who was actually in charge of it - monarchs? chief ministers? foreign ministers? foreign service professionals? even ambassadors accredited to foreign courts? the military and naval establishments? finance ministers? - and this accounted for swings in policy, especially between hardline and conciliatory steps which tend to be forgotten when, with hindsight, we see a steady march towards the great showdown of 1914. The detailed account of the Agadir Crisis in 1911 is a striking case study of rival policies alternating within France, Germany and even Britain.

Clark shows how insecure the different alliances seemed in the three years before the outbreak of war: how Britain continued to be worried by Russian activities in the Middle and Far East and feared that Russia might leave the Triple Entente; how Britain and France resisted Russian wishes to open the Straits; how uncertain France was whether Britain would actually stand with her when the crunch came; how Austria had failed to back Germany in the Agadir Crisis and Germany had failed to back Austria during the two Balkan wars; how, even before Italy switched sides, she had coveted Habsburg Dalmatia and had ignored the interests of Germany and Austria, her partners in the Triple Alliance, when she attacked Turkey in 1911. Right until July 1914, though both blocks prepared for being forced into what each considered a defensive war, there was always the possibility that he tensions within the blocks might prevent a war between them.

The book ends with a gripping account of the period between the assassination at Sarajevo and the outbreak of the war a month later. Even during the very last few days, there were vacillations. Right up to Russian mobilization the Germans, having encouraged the Austrians to deliver the ultimatum to Serbia, hoped that the ensuring conflict could be limited to those two countries. In Russia there was dithering about whether to have partial mobilization against Austria only or total mobilization against both Austria and Germany. As late as August 1st Grey told the French ambassador that his Cabinet had decided against British participation. Especially because Clark focusses throughout on day-to-day diplomacy carried out by some people with very human anxieties and hesitations, nothing seemed pre-ordained.
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