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Review: "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914"

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

"The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914"

"The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914"

How Europe Went to War

Christopher Clark’s book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 explores the causative factors behind Europe’s descent into the First World War. Rather than focusing on a singular explanation for the war’s causes (such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand or the destabilization of the Balkans), Clark demonstrates that multiple factors must be recognized and acknowledged to fully comprehend the overall buildup of hostilities across Europe.

Clark argues that Serbian nationalism, an intricate network of alliances and treaties, conflict in the Balkans, as well as the competitive and often contentious personalities of political leaders all played an intricate role in the buildup and culmination of conflict across the European continent. In making this argument, Clark argues persuasively that it is fallacious to lay blame for the war on one single event, individual, or country (such as Austria or Germany). Rather, he asserts that all of the major European powers, in one form or another, equally contributed to the creation of an atmosphere conducive to war. It was precisely this atmosphere that fueled (and resulted) in destruction on a scale nobody anticipated or foresaw in the years leading up to (and following) 1914.

My Review

Clark does a great job at tracing the fundamental causes and development of the Great War in a manner that is both informative and compelling. Clark’s ability to implement vast amounts of detail within the confines of a narrative-style account makes his book appealing to not only scholars but to a very general and broad audience as well. Moreover, Clark’s extensive use of primary documents adds a high level of credibility and veracity to his overall argument.

The only negative aspect of Clark’s work is that his overarching thesis is not explicitly stated in the initial sections of his book. This, in turn, keeps the reader guessing as to what his main points are alluding to. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as his overall thesis does eventually manifest itself in later sections of the book.

Overall, Clark's book is both an enlightening and fun book to read! I highly recommend it to both scholars and the general public alike; particularly if you are fond of early 20th Century European History and World War One.

I give this book a 5/5 star rating!

Definitely check it out!

Germans Operating Machine Gun During World War I

Germans Operating Machine Gun During World War I

Questions for Discussion

1) According to Clark, how did World War One come about?

2) Do you believe that Clark marginalizes the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand too much? More specifically, did you find it strange that the assassination was only briefly discussed in his book?

3) What does Clark mean by the phrase, "the sleepwalkers?"

4) Why did a conflict in the Balkans eventually engulf the entire continent?

5) Was the First World War inevitable, given the atmosphere of Europe before 1914?

6) Could European leaders have taken steps to delay or avoid the prospect of war, altogether?

7) Is it logical for Clark to assert that Austria and Germany do not deserve to receive a large portion of the blame for World War One? In other words, is it true that other countries played an equally substantial role in bringing war to the European continent?

8) Did you find Clark's overarching thesis/argument to be persuasive? Why or why not?

9) Was Clark's work engaging and easy to follow from start to finish?

10) What sort of primary source materials does Clark rely on? Give specific examples.

11) Did Clark organize his chapters in both a logical and consistent order?

12) What were the strengths and weaknesses of this book? Can you identify any specific areas that could have been improved?

Suggestions for Further Reading

  • Fay, Sidney Bradshaw. The Origins of the World War. New York: Macmillan Company, 1930.
  • Hastings, Max. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.
  • MacMillan, Margaret. The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. New York: Random House, 2013.
  • McMeekin, Sean. July 1914: Countdown to War. New York: Basic Books, 2013.
  • Tuchman, Barbara. The Guns of August. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

Work Cited

  • Clark, Christopher. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Harper Collins: New York, 2012).
  • "Machine gun." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed December 21, 2016.

© 2016 Larry Slawson