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The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  2,127 ratings  ·  375 reviews
On the morning of 6/28/1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand & his wife, Sophie Chotek, arrived at Sarajevo railway station, Europe was at peace. 37 days later, it was at war. The conflict that resulted would kill more than 15,000,000, destroy three empires & permanently alter world history.
The Sleepwalkers details how the crisis leading to WWI unfolded. Drawing on
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Hardcover, 1st USA, 736 pages
Published March 19th 2013 by HarperCollins (NYC) (first published 2012)
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Community Reviews

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Kalliope
Feb 13, 2014 Kalliope rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kalliope by: MoonButterfly

In commemoration of the Centennial of WW1, we have also set up a reading group here in GR. Sleepwalkers is one of the suggested books. It deals with the period before the war and is consequently centered on the causes that led to, or I should say brought about, the disaster. But because it is my first book on the political aspects, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of information and baffled by the complexity of the considerations. My judgment has to be taken therefore with more than a pinch of
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Warwick
In a dugout in northern France, sometime in 1916, three British soldiers try to make sense of one of the most complicated questions of modern history:

PVT. BALDRICK: The way I see it, these days there's a war on, right? and, ages ago, there wasn't a war on, right? So, there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right? and there being a war on came along. So, what I want to know is: how did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?

CPT. BLACKADDER:
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Matt
For the longest time, I avoided reading about World War I because it seemed too complicated. It was fought for convoluted reasons among now-dead empires in a Europe – and a world – that is now vastly reshaped. I figured my time would be better spent reading another book about Gettysburg.

When I finally made a concerted effort to learn about the Great War (since the Centennial is fast approaching), I discovered its beginnings were actually deceptively simple. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian thro
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Hadrian
Tens of thousands of pages on the Great War have already been written. It has been almost one hundred years now since it started, and in other parts of the world it still rages onward. The current ethnic/religious conflicts in Iraq and Syria, for example, are directly influenced by the boundaries scribbled on the map by colonial powers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The standard narrative of the cause of the conflict is based upon Tuchman's The Guns of August. This was a world of mona
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·Karen·
While the dead are gone, they're not gone. While the dead don't speak, they speak.
St Paul

Which begs the question, what do they say to us? Last week saw extensive media coverage of the various commemorations of Britain's declaration of war against Germany on August 4, 1914. Naturally, understandably, inevitably, those dignitaries invited to hold speeches on this occasion turned most of their attention to the human cost. The sheer numbers are obscene, beyond anyone's understanding or imagination.
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Dimitri Laureys
Simply one of the best books on the origins of the Great War. Take it from someone who wrote his master thesis on the pre-war military strategies of Belgium and along the way devoted too much time to the European dimension. Christopher Clark’s summary of the transformation of Europe between 1879 and 1907 from non-committed alliances into two military ‘blocs’ in two pages plus maps is a thing of beauty. The author clearly belongs to the revisionist camp. His identification of the hawks within the ...more
Mal Warwick
Does history repeat itself? A Cambridge University historian’s study of the causes of World War I

Six little boys tussle in a sandbox, pushing and shoving, sometimes openly, sometimes when none of the others are looking. One of them, a runt, is getting the worst of it, but he’s a vicious little guy and manages to hold his own within his own tiny corner of the sandbox. The biggest boys exert the least effort but command the most space. They all look confident, but secretly they’re terrified of one
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Ms.pegasus
Oct 22, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in serious history
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: GR review by Mal Warwick
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Macedonia, Transylvania – the names float like ghosts over a map of early 20th century Europe. It was a map in flux. The Ottoman Empire was disintegrating. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was suddenly threatened by the unrest of it's numerous ethnic minorities: Croats, Slavs, Bosnian Muslims, Slovenes, Serbs, Romanians.... Major European powers were jockeying for colonial dominance: England in Egypt and India; France in North Africa and Southeast Asia. Russia sought co ...more
Rayrumtum
This was a fabulous history of the run-up to World War I. I must admit that I am a sucker for reading books about this period. It is like watching a slow developing train wreck over and over. Each time you think this time it will end differently but it never does.

The ideal thing about this book is that it places all of the figures in their bureaucratic process so that what looks like a really dumb decision seems logical in context. He cites ample evidence to support these points. Other authors w
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Andy
"What were the causes of World War One?" is perhaps the most common question in both A level and first year undergraduate history exam papers. As with most questions of this type, there is no simple answer. There are, though, themes and hard facts and, in this book, the distinguished historian Christopher Clark unpicks the complex, often obscure and contradictory, events leading up to August 1914.

This is not an easy read, nor should it be. His thesis, including the enticing thought that German
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Brian Warren
July - August 2014 will mark the Centennial anniversary of the start of World War I. In commemoration, there will no doubt be a lot written and said about the Great War and how the world was changed in its wake. Professor Christopher Clark of the University of Cambridge has written a book entitled "The Sleepwalkers - How Europe Went to War in 1914." In it, Clark scrupulously details the decisions of major and minor actors leading up to the outbreak of war and does something generally ignored by ...more
Jill
As Clark points out in his Introduction, historians started debating the cause of the First World War even before it began! For it did seem inevitable to many at the time, although the eventual scope – resulting eventually in the mobilization of 65 million troops and ending with the destruction of three empires, 20 million military and civilian deaths, and 21 million more wounded, was unanticipated. Clark notes that while a few leaders warned of “Armageddon” and a “war of extermination” and “the ...more
Jerome
No review could do this work justice, so this will have to suffice. Clark's book is an exhaustive and intriguing history of the war’s origins and outbreak. Clark’s story is meticulously detailed and quite dense, but still readable. Still, this is not for the casual reader: the narrative requires some concentration. You’ll get bogged down in a lot of parts, but I think it’s worth it.

Clark’s coverage of the European alliance system is particularly good. He gives us a readable account of all their
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Bruce Cochrane
A year from now, it will be August, 2014, 100 years after the beginning of World War I. How that war started and what was at stake was always somewhat of a mystery to me. I knew that it was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, and that somehow "the Balkans" were at the root of things, but beyond that all seemed remote. And of course the fact that the US did not become involved until 1917 made the war seem all the more remote.

Christopher Clark has done a remarkable job
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Jonathan Kranz
This exceptionally well-researched and scrupulously thoughtful book is not for the casual reader curious about the Great War. While the events described are certainly dramatic, Clark aims for the rigorous examination of causes, communications (and miscommunications) and diplomatic juggling rather than at drama or pulse-pounding narrative.

Even after reading this book, I cannot begin to summarize the war's causes within a brief review; in fact, that's part of Clark's point: he demonstrates time an
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Mosca
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Some tried to prevent this war.

Some aggressively pushed along the steps that were needed to made it happen.

Some watched, seemingly helpless, as the dominoes tumbled around them.

How that happened, this book lays out in detailed, compelling prose.

Why that happened is gingerly evaded. But the questions will not go away.

I will rethink this book often, I am sure. And I will probably re-read it in time.

Well done and well written.

Qwerty
I agree with the author that the First World War was a tragedy and not a crime, where one expects to find the perpetrator with a smoking gun in his hands. Although the author refuses to rank order the degree of culpability, based on my reading I would nonetheless do so as follows: (1) Serbia, essentially a terrorist state or state sponsor of terrorism; (2) Russia for calling a general mobilization against both Germany and Austria when only Austria had mobilized against Serbia; (3) France for pla ...more
Donald Luther
This is a book I wish I had read before I had covered the background of World War I in my courses. There is so much food for thought here that it has caused a re-evaluation of my approach to the material as well as a re-thinking about the significance of events in my understanding of what I called (with no originality) 'the Long Fuse to Sarajevo'.

Clark makes some outstanding contributions to the examination of the origins of the war. He broadens the approach: he discounts the search for blame--w
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Timo Ivanov
Theoretically, the book is about how the various governments of continental Europe got enmeshed in World War I. In fact, the book is an endless (and ad nauseaum) series of chapter-long mini-studies of a host of pre-WWI crises that convulsed Europe. Clark really doesn't get to the actual decision-making about WWI until the very end of the book, and then treats it as little different from the other crises.

Clark's theory is that foreign policy decision-making in the governments of Europe was diffus
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Elizabeth
What is the cause of World War I...Germany invaded Belgium. If it were that simple, Christopher Clark wouldn't spend over 600 pages describing the events that led to the war.

It's complicated...and that's an understatement. Each of the leaders were indeed sleepwalkers, working in a vacuum where their point of view was perfect and other countries wouldn't intervene. The war itself was going to last just a few months in their minds and somehow life would continue.

As Clark states, World War I starte
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Socraticgadfly
Simply fantastic book about the run-up to World War I.

Things I learned include:
1. The Triple Entente, especially from the British angle, was not exclusively an anti-German grouping, and was "unstable" at times up close to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
2. Even more than I knew before, the governmental organization of the Dual Monarchy was rickety. (I knew that many ministries were dual, but until reading this book, did not realize it had dual prime ministers, which was part of the delay of
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Edward Newman
So far, terrific. Highly readable diplomatic and social background to what was an eminently avoidable war. The stupidity of monarchs, the destruction wrought by their ambitious ministers...makes you grateful for representative democracy
Laura
From BBC radio 4:
Historian Christopher Clark tells the story of the crisis that led to the First World War.
Guy
A great book draws forth great reviews, and "Sleepwalkers..." is no exception. So, I'm not only recommending that you read the book, but also that you read some of the top reviews of it on goodreads. And because I have every confidence that you will follow my advice (:-), I'm not going to duplicate the yeoman's work other reviewers have already done (explaining what is in the book and why it is brilliant). Instead I'm going to focus on two key points that seem to me to be often misunderstood, bo ...more
John
Written by a historian at the University of Cambridge, "The Sleepwalkers" is a fresh account of the political and diplomatic decisions that led to the outbreak of the First World War. Unlike older accounts that attempt to assign blame to one party (typically, Germany), Clark attributes the outbreak of war to rapid changes in the international system and the complexity of the relationships that existed among the major powers; put differently, the war came from a systems failure.

I found the first
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Viktoria Michaelis
For many of us, history began in 1914 with the beginning of the modern times. We were taught that Germany invaded France by crossing through neutral Belgium, thus breaching various inter-nation conventions and forcing the rest of the civilized (western) world to protect their interests against the invading forces. If we wanted to know more about the background to the First World War it was either a passing reference to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo ...more
Fiona Hodgkin
Jun 12, 2013 Fiona Hodgkin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Fiona by: Harold Evans in the New York Times
Shelves: non-fiction
I bought a copy of Christopher Clark's 'The Sleepwalkers' at the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore after I read Harold Evans' review in The New York Times Book Review section on May 9. Many people, including me, are fascinated by the decisions of the European nations in 1914 to fight a horrific war for4 years over—what? Nothing. Interestingly, there's relatively little interest in the origins of the second world war. The second war has a much clearer narrative with respect to its immediate origins. Clar ...more
Daniel
Wer hat Schuld am ersten Weltkrieg?

Aus heutiger Sicht ist der erste Weltkrieg das schlimmste Ereignis, das dem beginnenden zwanzigsten Jahrhundert einen Stoß geben konnte. Ein Stoß in die falsche Richtung. Selbst wenn man ins Feld führt, dass der zweite Weltkrieg ein an Gräueln und Grauen nicht zu überbietender Ausnahmezustand der Weltgemeinschaft (oder -getrenntschaft, wie es sich vielleicht besser formulieren ließe) war, so ist es doch sein unmittelbarer, nur durch wenige Jahre getrennter Vorf
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JS Found
Clark argues in this superbly detailed and meticulous history of the origin of WWI that no single state and empire caused the war; he's not interested in causes, in assigning blame to one bad actor. He tells a story of how the conditions for a future war came to be and what they were. He describes the systems, acts, chance and personalities that led to the tragedy. There were many intricate parts and relationships that produced this conflict. What's striking is that there was no main passion of ...more
Judyta Szaciłło
It is a detailed, multi-layered account of the last years, months and days before the breakout of World War I. The narrative is engaging, the characters are well fleshed out, the sources are many and varied. Yet the greatest thing about this book is that it is not another propaganda story; it does not follow the familiar narrative of good and bad guys. Supporting his words with a thorough research of historical documentation, Clark demonstrates that the responsibility for the catastrophe of the ...more
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“For a time, the word Weltpolitik seemed to capture the mood of the German middle classes and the national-minded quality press. The word resonated because it bundled together so many contemporary aspirations. Weltpolitik meant the quest to expand foreign markets (at a time of declining export growth); it meant escaping from the constraints of the continental alliance system to operate on a broader world arena. It expressed the appetite for genuinely national projects that would help knit together the disparate regions of the German Empire and reflected the almost universal conviction that Germany, a late arrival at the imperial feast, would have to play catch-up if it wished to earn the respect of the other great powers. Yet, while it connoted all these things, Weltpolitik never acquired a stable or precise meaning. Even Bernhard von Bulow, widely credited with establishing Weltpolitik as the guiding principle of German foreign policy, never produced a definitive account of what it was. His contradictory utterances on the subject suggest that it was little more than the old policy of the "free hand" with a larger navy and more menacing mood music. "We are supposed to be pursuing Weltpolitik," the former chief of the General Staff General Alfred von Waldersee noted grumpily in his diary in January 1900. "If only I knew what that was supposed to be.” 6 likes
“The war of 1914–18 was the absolute negation of everything that Clausewitz had stood” 3 likes
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