Reviews for Sleepwalkers : How Europe Went to War in 1914

Booklist Reviews 2013 March #1
The immense documentation of the origin of WWI, remarks historian Clark, can be marshaled to support a range of theses, and it but weakly sustains, in the tenor of his intricate analysis, the temptation to assign exclusive blame for the cataclysm to a particular country. Dispensing with a thesis, Clark interprets evidence in terms of the character, internal political heft, and external geopolitical perception and intention of a political actor. In other words, Clark centralizes human agency and, especially, human foibles of misperception, illogic, and emotion in his narrative. Touching on every significant figure in European diplomacy in the decade leading to August 1914, Clark underscores an entanglement of an official's fluctuating domestic power with a foreign interlocutor's appreciation, accurate or not, of that official's ability to make something stick in foreign policy. As narrative background, Clark choreographs the alliances and series of crises that preceded the one provoked by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but he focuses on the men whose risk-taking mistakes detonated WWI. Emphasizing the human element, Clark bestows a tragic sensibility on a magisterial work of scholarship. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2013 April
A look at the causes of World War I

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, there was no outpouring of collective grief. The archduke was not charismatic, had few friends and was selected as heir only because the emperor’s son had committed suicide. How could his death have led to a war into which the major world powers—Germany, Russia, France, Austria-Hungary, Britain, Italy, plus the Ottoman Empire and the states of the Balkan peninsula—were soon drawn? How did a conflict that was first known as the Third Balkan War mutate into what we now call World War I, a war in which more than 15 million people were killed and empires were destroyed? Noted historian Christopher Clark is keenly aware of the difficulties in finding answers to these questions. As he writes in his painstakingly researched, masterfully written and wonderfully readable new book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, “There is virtually no viewpoint on its origins that cannot be supported from a selection of the available sources.”

In this ambitious and richly textured overview, Clark is more concerned with how the war came about than why. Rather than focus on large concepts, such as nationalism, imperialism or an arms race, he deals with how the key decision-makers arrived at the choices they made when faced with the 37-day July Crisis that led to war. Clark goes back to the years before the war, in some cases many years before, to understand the alliances or treaties that bound certain states together. As he explains, “Alliances, like constitutions, are at best only an approximate guide to political realities.”

Readers are introduced to a large and diverse cast of decision-makers, many of whom had known each other for years. Because of these long-term relationships, Clark writes, “Beneath the surface of many of the key transactions lurked personal antipathies and long-remembered injuries[Thu Jul 24 09:11:48 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. .” The best known of these were the three imperial cousins: Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and King George V of England. As we see, though, the early 20th-century monarchs only had a relatively modest impact on actual policy decisions. Often it was ambassadors or military commanders who either developed policies or took policy-driving initiatives.

Article 231 of the Versailles Peace Treaty stated that Germany and her allies were morally responsible for the outbreak of the war. But Clark argues that “the Germans were not the only imperialists and not the only ones to subscribe to paranoia. The crisis that brought war in 1914 was the fruit of a shared political culture.” He brings that culture vividly to life for readers. The Sleepwalkers is certainly one of the best books on World War I to be published in recent times.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2014 January
Clark (Cambridge) has made stunning use of new diplomatic evidence in European archives to present a "new view" of the march to world war in 1914. The meticulous trail of diplomatic notes and telegrams increases the likelihood that the author's view of "blame all around" will become the prevailing theory. Key factors that Clark considers: even though the Great Power alliance system was in place (Triple Entente versus Triple Alliance), countries within these blocs had suspicions as to whether their "allies" would back them up in the event of war. The murder of Archduke Ferdinand in June 1914 may have lit the match, but the fact that war actually broke out in August 1914 shows that diplomacy failed in large measure to "localize" the conflict (as Germany hoped), and spotlights Russia's ruthless pan-Slav policy against Austria-Hungary, which forced German action against Belgium, drawing France and Great Britain into war. German historian Fritz Fischer may claim that German revanchism was key, and that diplomats who wrote the Versailles Treaty and Article 231 tried to pin war blame on Germany's "blank check" to Austria-Hungary, but Clark's measured approach shows in actuality that there was enough blame to go around. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Diplomatic scholars of the period, graduate level and above. Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Professionals/Practitioners. A. M. Mayer College of Staten Island Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 February #1
A massive, wide-ranging chronicle of the events, personalities and failures of the run-up to World War I. Clark (Modern European History/Univ. of Cambridge; Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947, 2006, etc.) lays out the long and violent history of Serbian nationalism, the confusion in the dying Austro-Hungarian empire and the struggle for dominance between the British and Russian empires. While explaining the irredentist mindset of Serbia then, the author also illuminates the causes of the Balkan unrest that erupted again in the 1990s. Surely he read every journal, letter, accounting and government document related to every nation and player in this period; indeed, there are points where some readers may wonder if this is a case of research rapture. Patience will be necessary to wade through the myriad details. However, given the vast amount of available material on World War I and the daunting task of trying to produce a readable account, Clark has succeeded admirably. The most remarkable fact about the crisis that led to this war is that none of those involved had any clue as to the intentions of not only their enemies, but also their allies. In fact, they weren't absolutely sure who the enemy would be. Consequently, many, including Czar Nicholas II and Kaiser Wilhelm II, tried to head off the conflict right up to the end, each waiting for someone to do something as the world stumbled into war. For readers who seek a quick overview of one of the most convoluted periods in history, look elsewhere. For those who enjoy excellent scholarship joined with logical composition and an easy style of writing, save a (wide) spot on your bookshelf for Clark's work. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 November #2

WWI is frequently described as a long-fused inevitable conflict, yet this comprehensively researched, gracefully written account of the war's genesis convincingly posits a bad brew of diplomatic contingencies and individual agency as the cause. Clark, history professor at Cambridge University, begins by describing the interactions of Serbia and Austria-Hungary, which sparked the conflict. He presents the former as a "raw and fragile democracy" whose "turbulent" politics challenged a neighboring empire held together by habit. Indeed, the instability across Europe further polarized alliance networks--foreign policies were shaped by "ambiguous relationships... and adversarial competitions" that obfuscated intentions. Nevertheless, the European system demonstrated "a surprising capacity for crisis management." But even the dtente years of 1912-1914 were characterized by "persistent uncertainty in all quarters about the intentions of friends and potential foes alike." Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that uncertainty informed the burgeoning crisis--Austria-Hungary's hesitation allowed Russia to frame the event as a tyrant "cut down by citizens of his own country"; Britain and France offered no challenge to the narrative; and Germany "counted on the localization of the Austro-Serbian conflict." Instead Russia escalated the crisis by mobilizing, Britain by hesitating, and Germany by panicking: Europe sleepwalked into "a tragedy." B&w illus., 7 maps. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Apr.)

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