- Paperback: 736 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (March 18, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061146668
- ISBN-13: 978-0061146664
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 731 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 Reprint Edition
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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. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“An important book. . . . One of the most impressive and stimulating studies of the period ever published.” (Max Hastings, The Sunday Times)
“Excellent. . . . The book is stylishly written as well as superb scholarship. No analysis of the origins of the First World War will henceforth be able to bypass this magisterial work.” (Ian Kershaw, BBC History)
“The most readable account of the origins of the First World War since Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. The difference is that The Sleepwalkers is a lovingly researched work of the highest scholarship.” (Niall Ferguson)
“This compelling examination of the causes of World War I deserves to become the new standard one-volume account of that contentious subject.” (Foreign Affairs)
“Clark is a masterly historian. . . . His account vividly reconstructs key decision points while deftly sketching the context driving them. . . . A magisterial work.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“A monumental new volume. . . . Revelatory, even revolutionary. . . . Clark has done a masterful job explaining the inexplicable.” (The Boston Globe)
“Easily the best book ever written on the subject. . . . A work of rare beauty that combines meticulous research with sensitive analysis and elegant prose. The enormous weight of its quality inspires amazement and awe. . . . Academics should take note: Good history can still be a good story.” (The Washington Post)
“A meticulously researched, superbly organized, and handsomely written account.” (MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History)
“Superb. . . . One of the great mysteries of history is how Europe’s great powers could have stumbled into World War I. . . . This is the single best book I have read on this important topic.” (Fareed Zakaria)
“A thoroughly comprehensive and highly readable account. . . . The brilliance of Clark’s far-reaching history is that we are able to discern how the past was genuinely prologue. . . . In conception, steely scholarship and piercing insights, his book is a masterpiece.” (Harold Evans, The New York Times Book Review)
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The causes and events leading to the outbreak of the War are indeed complex. Many countries were involved, major players (Germany, Russia, France, England, Austria-Hungary) and less major ones (the Balkans, Belgium, Italy, Turkey). European Wars were not a rarity, though they generally lasted for less than a year, sometimes only a few months. Many countries were ruled by monarchies, and the key player of the moment could be the king, prime minister, Foreign Minister, War Minister or an Ambassador - or some combination. And in some cases, the scorecard kept changing, rapidly. There were ententes, detentes, demarches, and inceptions. And Alliances. Most of the key players were involved in at least two alliances; I was particularly struck by how tenuous some of these alliances were as they became uncomfortable for some participants as events changed. I was amazed how dismissive government officials could be of time honored agreements that suddenly dictate unforeseen and costly entanglements. So part of the chess game became guessing how truly committed potential opponents (and partners) would be to alliances, formal and less formal.
Most of us know the simple answer to the question posed here - the assassination of Austria's Archduke. But where? by whom? and where was he from? But most importantly why? Clark begins his story with a few paragraphs on the event but then dives backwards into events leading up to that moment. 367 pages later, we now are treated to a more detailed, minute by minute account of the assassination, in reality a quasi black-comedy horror story. And then the chess game continues but at a much faster pace - incredibly WWl will be well underway in only 6 weeks. A war which will last four years and take twenty million lives. There were many moments in those six weeks when "if only" had truly occurred, war could have been paused at a minimum. Or perhaps limited to a local affair instead of a global one. Clark details all the reasons (and then some) why it did happen. Recommended.
What I liked right away about Christopher Clark's book is that he takes the Sarajevo assassination seriously, he takes the Serbian assassins seriously, he tells us more about that obscure Austrian arch-duke. He devotes the first two chapters of his book to the history of Serbia and its relationship to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With a few swift strokes he sketches in how the Austro-Hungarian Empire came to be, writing as if the reader knows nothing about central European history and needs to be brought up to speed. He elucidates great power tensions arising from the declining Ottoman Empire; what that decline meant for Russian interests in the Turkish Straits; the effect of that on Russia's relationship with Austro-Hungary.... I could feel myself relaxing into this book right away. Serbs, Russians, Hungarians, Austrians, Bulgarians and Ottoman Turks -- it reminded me of my favorite WW2 novelist Alan Furst who writes about the lesser-known venues of the war. A new perspective on the familiar story, and illuminating because of that.
The particular strength of Clark's history is elucidation of the great power alliance systems of pre-war Europe, starting in the 1890's. Providing a very smooth introductory overview of the calculations of the great powers, Clark embodies that rare blend of competent professional and talented teacher guiding the novice through the intricacies of a grandmaster chess game. A hard act to pull off but Clark makes it look easy. For long stretches his history reads like a bestselling novel of international intrigue with the writing geared well at the level of the general reader who has a strong interest in the subject. For the most part you don't need to be a history major or a WW1 buff to read the book easily, although it is densely written and requires concentration. You might get badly bogged down, as I did, slogging through the diplomatic intricacies of the Balkan Wars but this is about the only price to be paid for a superb understanding of the origins of WW1.
The "sleepwalkers" metaphor is somewhat lame. Sleepwalking into a general European war isn't much of an improvement over "Europe was a tinderbox waiting for the match to be struck". But the text belies the title. Clark gives sleepwalking lip service but he fails to make the case. Instead he clearly demonstrates two great powers, neither of them Germany, actively promoting a general European war -- because only in that milieu can each one hope to achieve its own particular "interests". It is possible that with 'sleepwalking' Clark is taking a gentlemanly step back from his powerful narrative. If history is the story of the winning side, this is an authoritative and persuasive rebuttal.
Where most WW1 historians begin with the mobilizations -- at that time acts of war in themselves -- Clark ends with the mobilizations. His history deals with the individuals who unleashed those armies, often after overcoming political opposition within their own governments. The most poignant moment in this entire convoluted story is when Tsar Nicholas II tries to call off the general mobilization: "I will not be responsible for a monstrous slaughter!" He has received a telegram from his cousin. The German Kaiser is not inclined to war if it can be avoided: "military measures on the part of Russia could be looked upon by Austria as threatening, would precipitate a calamity we both wish to avoid." A big "what-if" moment there, and a reflection on how real-life monarchs can be somewhat like chess kings -- weak pieces when it comes to aggressive combinations. The Tsar's order to cancel the mobilization lasted only 24 hours, he was prevailed upon by his government ministers and signed the fateful order.