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Meticulously researched and masterfully written, The Sleepwalkers is a dramatic and authoritative chronicle of Europe's descent into a war that tore the world apart.
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By Christoph L. on 07-13-15
Reexamining the Causes of WWI
What about Derek Perkins’s performance did you like?
Mr. Perkins' was a very straight forward reader - his tone for this book was spot on - and made enjoying the book very easy.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
The description of the death of the (young) King and Queen of Serbia - I had not heard this story before and it really set the tone of the book as understanding the ruthlessness of the Serbian revolutionaries leads to a completely different reasoning for the causes of First World War.
Any additional comments?
First off, for context, I would describe myself as a casual military historian. I enjoy reading (and listening) about military history - I tend to be most interested in Napoleonic history - but the late 19th century and WWI is a relatively new subject to me that I am enjoying learning more about. Mr. Clark has written a book which contradicts much of the "conventional" reasoning behind the cause of WWI. Conventionally, WWI is said to have been caused by German aggression - which is a narrative that tends to be enforced by the aggression of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. However, by setting the context for this specific time in history, late 1800s up to 1914, the readers begin to realize that it wasn't just Germany that was to blame, but that the Triple Entente had an equal share of blame. It seems that by challenging the conventional notion that Germany alone (or primarily) was to blame for WWI causes some to be uncomfortable.Any book on the cause of WWI will lead to a discussion on who was to blame for the war. This book is not the only book on WWI - and it appears that Mr. Clark is writing to those people who have at the very least a basic understanding of the causes of WWI and those (like myself) that believe (or believed until reading this book) that Germany, and German militarism and aggression, was the primary cause of WWI. However after listening to this book I feel that I have a more balanced view, and based on the facts Mr. Clark has presented it appears that at the very least France, Russia, and Britain share an equal amount of blame for the start of the war. I found myself on numerous occasions surprised to be hearing new quotes and information that contradicted the "conventional" narrative of Germany being primarily blamed for the war - which lead to me devouring this book. For anyone interested in learning more about the causes of the First World War this book is simply a must read (or listen).
16 of 16 people found this review helpful
By Steve on 01-24-15
Very interesting take on a complex problem
If you are really into political/diplomatic history, you will like this book. A more casual reader coming to the topic for the first time might be a bit overwhelmed by the length and detail. The narrator, who is British, does a very good job, including in pronouncing all the various names, place and foreign phrases, which usually is the key stumbling block in books of this type.
As the author notes, the origin of the First World War is one of the most complex and written about issues in political and diplomatic history. Depending on the era, historians and other have tried to answer such questions as: who was guilty for causing the war, and was the war inevitable due to structural factors of the political environment (rigid military alliance structures and war planning, militarist attitudes in Germany and other countries,for example) or was it largely due to contingent factors (chance events, interplay of personal factors among key actors, etc), which would imply that it could have been avoided.
The author's argument is a complex one that I won't summarize here, but, while acknowledging that structural factors were significant, he definitely comes down on the side of those who say the war could have been avoided. One valuable part of the book is that he goes into detail on the internal political maneuvers in each country and within the policymaking apparatus in each county. He notes that political shifts in each country often led to incoherent and shifting policy statements by each country, which made it difficult for the other countries to get a good read on what they were up to. He does this not only for the major powers, but also for Serbia, which you don't often see. His description of Serbia in 1914 reminded me of Serbia in the 1990s, and also of Pakistan from the 1980s to today.
Now on to a more controversial topic. The author claims he is not interested in the issue of war guilt. I suspect he is being disingenuous. I believe he comes down quite hard in blaming Serbia, Russia,France, and Britiain for primary responsibility for the war. He does this not by engaging in polemics against these countries or in favor of Germany and Austria, but by simply spending more time discussing the machinations of Serbia and the Entente powers, while spending less time on Germany. Paradoxically, this makes the book more interesting because most books on the subject do the opposite, perhaps with the opposite goal in mind. So you get insights on topics you might not normally see addressed. On the other hand, and maybe I'm too suspicious, I think he is being a bit sneaky here. When he does discuss Germany, he will offer a brief, bland acknowledgement of things he can't get out of (von Moltke's lust for preventative war, German militarism), but try to limit its impact by saying, it didn't have an impact on the policymaking process, other countries did the same thing, etc. Also he basically says that Austria had the right to deliver the ultimatum to Serbia and enforce it.
But in summary, I would say that this is a very valuable and worthwhile book to listen to, if you like this sort of thing a lot, even if you don't agree with all of his conclusions or even his approach in general
22 of 23 people found this review helpful