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The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. Christopher Clark. Allen Lane. [pounds sterling]30.00. xxix + 697 pages. ISBN 978-0-713-99942-6. Prof. Clark follows his history of Prussia's rise and fall with a new and most important examination of the events which led up to the Great War. He writes for readers more attuned to conflict between states and to terror as a means to achieve national aims. He is more concerned with how war began than with why, thereby putting the 'guilt' question to the side, and he is concerned with the question of 'inevitability'. He begins with the vicious assassination of the Serbian King Alexandar and Queen Draga in Belgrade in 1903, reminding readers that this noble nation of pig-farmers had a history of butchery in high places. His background chapters then consider the Austro-Hungarian Empire in detail after which he discusses the growth of alliances, the nature of various countries' foreign offices, and the 'crisis' of the Balkans from 1912-14. (If there is a 'key' to the outbreak of war it was the effect of the Balkan wars on Austria, Russia and Germany.) After this he turns to the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and then gives a detailed history of the events which occurred in the wake of this: it is here that his mastery of the sources and his willingness to look afresh at what happened come to life. Throughout he eschews simplified explanations to show readers how incredibly 'complex' (his term) were the problems and choices. There were too many players and too many perspectives to make simple judgement easy. Each country's leaders were coping with domestic demands and with situations constantly on the move. He reverses much interpretation by reasserting the importance of Austria-Hungary and her genuine fear of Serbian terrorism: the Empire was not declining and was a great power. Her action was no more 'right' or 'wrong' than other countries' reactions to threats. He uses modern comparisons, e.g. the Eurozone crisis or Syria, to illustrate his arguments, all of which will make readers aware of the difficulties involved when one sets out to understand how complicated events occurred. (T.B.)

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Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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