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The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  7,207 ratings  ·  803 reviews
The moments that it took Gavrilo Princip to step forward to the stalled car and shoot dead Franz Ferdinand and his wife were perhaps the most fateful of the modern era. An act of terrorism of staggering efficiency, it fulfilled its every aim: it would liberate Bosnia from Habsburg rule and it created a powerful new Serbia, but it also brought down four great empires, ...more
Kindle Edition, 682 pages
Published September 27th 2012 by Penguin
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Bill I'm about 75 pages in. As someone else said, the writing is dry, the detail is thick, and the unfamiliar names can be tough to keep straight. You'll…moreI'm about 75 pages in. As someone else said, the writing is dry, the detail is thick, and the unfamiliar names can be tough to keep straight. You'll learn (and, if you're like me, mostly immediately forget) more about turn-of-the-century Serbian politics than you really wanted to know. But the payoff is, I finally understand what the heck happened in Sarajevo in 1914 and why. I look forward to finally understanding the next events leading to the war as I continue reading. Definitely worth the effort.(less)
Mschu001 b.Germany, Russia, Austria.

This alliance ended in the 1890's when Alexander III wanted to go his separate way and Bismark's successor didn't attempt…more
b.Germany, Russia, Austria.

This alliance ended in the 1890's when Alexander III wanted to go his separate way and Bismark's successor didn't attempt to renew the alliance. Once Russia made an unlikely alliance with France, a war of some sort was inevitable. (less)

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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?

May 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-i
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
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
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--The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914

howl of minerva
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, ww1-ww2
"‘I shall never be able to understand how it happened,’ the novelist Rebecca West remarked to her husband as they stood on the balcony of Sarajevo Town Hall in 1936. It was not, she reflected, that there were too few facts available, but that there were too many."

I have a masochistic, puritan streak that tells me a serious book should be long, dry, dense and exhaustively referenced to flagellate learning into my ignorant body and soul. Barbara Tuchman's sinfully enjoyable The Guns of August left
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.
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwi
For Austria-Hungary, the Balkan Wars changed everything. Above all, they revealed how isolated Vienna was and how little understanding there was at the foreign chancelleries for its view of Balkan events, St. Petersburg’s hostility to the empire and its utter disregard for Vienna’s interest in the region could be taken for granted. More worrying was the indifference of the other powers.

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War in 1914, by Christopher Clark. as its title suggests covers the
Tristram Shandy
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
”The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in the conservatory with a smoking pistol.”

Christopher Clark’s choice of the first bit of the title The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914 may indeed be considered slightly awkward in that it suggests that those who were in charge in European governments at that time are not really to blame for the decisions they took, but nevertheless Clark’s book itself
Mal Warwick
Jun 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Jun 07, 2013 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Apr 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Tim Evanson
Aug 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Gumble's Yard
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
A much quoted book (*) which seems to have been something of a landmark in the study of the causes of the Great War. The book concentrates solely on this and closes exactly as war is declared between all the parties. The book is well written and enjoyable to read despite its length with the known final declaration of war giving the book a clear end point and structure and adding a slightly "whodunit" type nature to the narrative.

One of Clark's key contentions is that in fact the story doesn't
Brian Warren
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"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
E. Kahn
Dec 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
Four stars and change, guys? Really?

The issue of who "really" started the First World War has been the topic of a hell of a lot of books. The immediate assumption (Germans did it), based on a simple reading of universally acknowledged facts, has been challenged in a lot of those books. Some of those books make a pretty solid argument. This is not one of them.

This volume tries to revive the thoroughly discredited theory that the war was the result of miscalculations by statesmen and diplomats on
Jul 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Scriptor Ignotus
What are you?


You are not Bulgarian. Fuck your father.

- Repeated exchange between Crown Prince Alexandar of Serbia and Bulgars in Serb-occupied Macedonia during the First Balkan War

It had never occurred to me until reading this book how strange it is that the assassination of the archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by an ultra-nationalist Serbian terrorist organization with close ties to the Serbian military and intelligence services—a shocking crime which elicited
Sotiris Karaiskos
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, world-war-i
For many reasons I prefer the more contemporary historical books and this I have just read confirms this preference. The main positive thing is their attention to detail and the need of their writers to present as much data is possible about the causes that led to the historical events described. In this book, the author does a very good job in this area, showing us all the underlying causes that led to the beginning of the World War I. For example, to talk about the murder of Franz Ferdinand, ...more
Jonathan Kranz
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
One of the ironies of the First World War—the Great War, the War to End All War—is that if the major belligerent powers could agree on one thing it was that no one intended to fight a continental war over Serbia. Yet, in the event, they all did, with catastrophic consequences. A conflict that should have been limited to a dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia wasn’t because Serbia had an agreement with Russia and Austria-Hungary had one with Germany. And Russia had one with France and ...more
Bruce Cochrane
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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.

JoséMaría BlancoWhite
This book at times reads like a crime novel, and a really good one at that. We follow the sequence of events that led to the Great War at very close distance and from every angle of the story; we follow the main characters in the story, the emperors, the prime ministers and their cabinets, the ambassadors... quite a feat of investigative work and literary skill combined. The best part is right at the beginning: the story of Serbia and how the assassination in Sarajevo came to happen, the plannng ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
The book attempts to untangle the complicated dynamics of Russia,Austria-Hungary,Germany, France and Britian in the years leading up to the assasination of Archeduke Franz-Ferdinand and the July crisis which started WWI. The book talks about the dangerous realignment that was in place by 1907 with the Central powers precariously facing off the entente. The military build up. The sting of crises in the years before 1914 where good crisis management kept the peace in the short term without any ...more
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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Christopher Munro "Chris" Clark is an Australian historian working in England.
He was educated at Sydney Grammar School between 1972 and 1978, the University of Sydney where he studied History, and between 1985 and 1987 the Freie Universität Berlin.

He received his PhD at the University of Cambridge, having been a member of Pembroke College, Cambridge from 1987 to 1991. He is Professor in Modern
“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.” 9 likes
“The war of 1914–18 was the absolute negation of everything that Clausewitz had stood” 4 likes
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