One of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (History)
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is historian Christopher Clark’s riveting account of the explosive beginnings of World War I.
Drawing on new scholarship, Clark offers a fresh look at World War I, focusing not on the battles and atrocities of the war itself, but on the complex events and relationships that led a group of well-meaning leaders into brutal conflict.
Clark traces the paths to war in a minute-by-minute, action-packed narrative that cuts between the key decision centers in Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris, London, and Belgrade, and examines the decades of history that informed the events of 1914 and details the mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals that drove the crisis forward in a few short weeks.
Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers is a dramatic and authoritative chronicle of Europe’s descent into a war that tore the world apart.
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About the Author
Christopher Clark is a professor of modern European history and a fellow of St. Catharine's College at the University of Cambridge, UK. He is the author of Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, among other books.
Read an Excerpt
By Christopher Clark
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Christopher Clark
All rights reserved.
Murder in Belgrade
Shortly after two o'clock on the morning of 11 June 1903, twenty-eight
officers of the Serbian army approached the main entrance of the royal
palace in Belgrade.* After an exchange of fire, the sentries standing
guard before the building were arrested and disarmed. With keys taken
from the duty captain, the conspirators broke into the reception hall
and made for the royal bedchamber, hurrying up stairways and along
corridors. Finding the king's apartments barred by a pair of heavy oaken
doors, the conspirators blew them open with a carton of dynamite. The
charge was so strong that the doors were torn from their hinges and
thrown across the antechamber inside, killing the royal adjutant behind
them. The blast also fused the palace electrics, so that the building was
plunged into darkness. Unperturbed, the intruders discovered some can-
dles in a nearby room and entered the royal apartment. By the time they
reached the bedroom, King Alexandar and Queen Draga were no longer
to be found. But the queen's French novel was splayed face-down on the
bedside table. Someone touched the sheets and felt that the bed was still
warm — it seemed they had only recently left. Having searched the bed-
chamber in vain, the intruders combed through the palace with candles
and drawn revolvers.
While the officers strode from room to room, firing at cabinets, tap-
estries, sofas and other potential hiding places, King Alexandar and
Queen Draga huddled upstairs in a tiny annexe adjoining the bedcham-
ber where the queen's maids usually ironed and darned her clothes. For
* Today the former palace houses the Belgrade City Assembly on Dragoslava Jovanovica.
Roads to Sarajevo
nearly two hours, the search continued. The king took advantage of this
interlude to dress as quietly as he could in a pair of trousers and a red
silk shirt; he had no wish to be found naked by his enemies. The queen
managed to cover herself in a petticoat, white silk stays and a single
Across Belgrade, other victims were found and killed: the queen's
two brothers, widely suspected of harbouring designs on the Serbian
throne, were induced to leave their sister's home in Belgrade and 'taken
to a guard-house close to the Palace, where they were insulted and bar-
barously stabbed'.1 Assassins also broke into the apartments of the
prime minister, Dimitrije Cincar-Markovic, and the minister of war,
Milovan Pavlovic. Both were slain; twenty-five rounds were fired into
Pavlovic, who had concealed himself in a wooden chest. Interior Minis-
ter Belimir Theodorovic was shot and mistakenly left for dead but later
recovered from his wounds; other ministers were placed under arrest.
Back at the palace, the king's loyal first adjutant, Lazar Petrovic, who
had been disarmed and seized after an exchange of fire, was led through
the darkened halls by the assassins and forced to call out to the king
from every door. Returning to the royal chamber for a second search,
the conspirators at last found a concealed entry behind the drapery.
When one of the assailants proposed to cut the wall open with an axe,
Petrovic saw that the game was up and agreed to ask the king to come
out. From behind the panelling, the king enquired who was calling, to
which his adjutant responded: 'I am, your Laza, open the door to your
officers!' The king replied: 'Can I trust the oath of my officers?' The con-
spirators replied in the affirmative. According to one account, the king,
flabby, bespectacled and incongruously dressed in his red silk shirt,
emerged with his arms around the queen. The couple were cut down in
a hail of shots at point-blank range. Petrovic, who drew a concealed
revolver in a final hopeless bid to protect his master (or so it was later
claimed), was also killed. An orgy of gratuitous violence followed. The
corpses were stabbed with swords, torn with a bayonet, partially disem-
bowelled and hacked with an axe until they were mutilated beyond
recognition, according to the later testimony of the king's traumatized
Italian barber, who was ordered to collect the bodies and dress them for
burial. The body of the queen was hoisted to the railing of the bedroom
window and tossed, virtually naked and slimy with gore, into the gar-
dens. It was reported that as the assassins attempted to do the same
with Alexandar, one of his hands closed momentarily around the rail-
ing. An officer hacked through the fist with a sabre and the body fell,
with a sprinkle of severed digits, to the earth. By the time the assassins
had gathered in the gardens to have a smoke and inspect the results of
their handiwork, it had begun to rain.2
The events of 11 June 1903 marked a new departure in Serbian political
history. The Obrenovic dynasty that had ruled Serbia throughout most
of the country's brief life as a modern independent state was no more.
Within hours of the assassination, the conspirators announced the ter-
mination of the Obrenovic line and the succession to the throne of Petar
Karadjordjevic, currently living in Swiss exile.
Why was there such a brutal reckoning with the Obrenovic dynasty?
Monarchy had never established a stable institutional existence in
Serbia. The root of the problem lay partly in the coexistence of rival
dynastic families. Two great clans, the Obrenovic and the Karadjordjevic,
Petar I Karadjordjevic
Roads to Sarajevo
had distinguished themselves in the struggle to liberate Serbia from
Ottoman control. The swarthy former cattleherd 'Black George' (Ser-
bian: 'Kara Djordje') Petrovic, founder of the Karadjordjevic line, led an
uprising in 1804 that succeeded for some years in driving the Ottomans
out of Serbia, but fled into Austrian exile in 1813 when the Ottomans
mounted a counter-offensive. Two years later, a second uprising unfolded
under the leadership of MiloÅ Obrenovic, a supple political operator
who succeeded in negotiating the recognition of a Serbian Principality
Excerpted from The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark. Copyright © 2013 Christopher Clark. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations xi
List of Maps xiii
Part 1 Roads to Sarajevo
1 Serbian Ghosts 3
Murder in Belgrade 3
'Irresponsible Elements' 13
Mental Maps 20
Three Turkish Wars 42
The Conspiracy 47
Nikola Pašic Reacts 56
2 The Empire without Qualities 65
Conflict and Equilibrium 65
The Chess Players 78
Lies and Forgeries 87
Deceptive Calm 94
Hawks and Doves 99
Part 2 One Continent Divided
3 The Polarization of Europe, 1887-1907 121
Dangerous Liaison: the Franco-Russian Alliance 124
The Judgement of Paris 132
The End of British Neutrality 136
Belated Empire: Germany 141
The Great Turning Point? 152
Painting the Devil on the Wall 159
4 The Many Voices of European Foreign Policy 168
Sovereign Decision-makers 170
Who Governed in St Petersburg? 185
Who Governed in Paris? 190
Who Governed in Berlin? 197
The Troubled Supremacy of Sir Edward Grey 200
The Agadir Crisis of 1911 204
Soldiers and Civilians 214
The Press and Public Opinion 226
The Fluidity of Power 239
5 Balkan Entanglements 242
Air Strikes on Libya 242
Balkan Helter-skelter 251
The Wobbler 258
The Balkan Winter Crisis of 1912-13 266
Bulgaria or Serbia? 272
Austria's Troubles 281
The Balkanization of the Franco-Russian Alliance 293
Paris Forces the Pace 301
Poincaré under Pressure 308
6 Last Chances: Détente and Danger, 1912-1914 314
The Limits of Détente 314
'Now or Never' 326
Germans on the Bosphorus 334
The Balkan Inception Scenario 349
A Crisis of Masculinity? 358
How Open Was the Future? 361
Part 3 Crisis
7 Murder in Sarajevo 367
The Assassination 367
Flashbulb Moments 376
The Investigation Begins 381
Serbian Responses 387
What Is to Be Done? 391
8 The Widening Circle 404
Reactions Abroad 404
Count Hoyos Goes to Berlin 412
The Road to the Austrian Ultimatum 423
The Strange Death of Nikolai Hartwig 430
9 The French in St Petersburg 433
Count de Robien Changes Trains 433
M. Poincaré Sails to Russia 438
The Poker Game 443
10 Ultimatum 451
Austria Demands 451
Serbia Responds 457
A 'Local War' Begins 469
11 Warning Shots 471
Firmness Prevails 471
'It's War This Time' 475
Russian Reasons 480
12 Last Days 488
A Strange Light Falls upon the Map of Europe 488
Poincaré Returns to Paris 498
Russia Mobilizes 506
The Leap into the Dark 515
'There Must Be Some Misunderstanding' 527
The Tribulations of Paul Cambon 537
Britain Intervenes 541
What People are Saying About This
“The most readable account of the origins of the First World War since Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. The difference is that The Sleepwalkers is a lovingly researched work of the highest scholarship.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
For the WW I relative novice like me, this astonishingly detailed, 584-page book (plus another 150 or so of notes) can be daunting at first. Just trying to keep track of the main characters (apart from the wild and wacky Wilhelm II or the allegedly dimwitted Nicholas II, apparently a nose-picker) was very difficult. However, immersing oneself in this book leaves one with a tapestry-like impression of the chaotic domestic politics of pre-WW I Europe, and, as another reviewer said, how the world bumbled into the war. For the history buff, I'd say this is overall a rewarding read.
Those imbeciles who choose to play (at times) vulgar story games with other imbeciles should be permanently blocked from writing reviews. Those of us who earnestly want to know other reader responses find you boring and useless. Also, you skew the reader ratings for everyone. Barnes and Noble should take more care about what goes on this spac! Excellent study of the beginnings o WWI. Diplomancy failed and too eager did the world plunge into a war with horrific consequences they could not have foreseen as up until this point there had never been a war of this scope at any time in human history.
Clark brings to life the myriad of characters that played a role in bumbling the world into The First World War. It would be comical how these macho men misunderstood each other expect for the catastrophe they wrought. The book shows how everybody involved,Serbian,Russian,French,German,Austrian were equally culpable.
From this book I learned that WWI was created by a few ego's and a fractal decision tree that branched into an odd but extreme position that became WWI. What was it 60 million casualties from a war that just sort of happened? This book convinced me the war could have just as easily not happened. It lays all of this out and the 'great powers' mentality of the day, something we of this age never experienced. The book is detailed and intricate, but this is necessary. What I read gave me insights to drivers in today's conflicts and the possible recurrence of competing great powers in the future.
A very good read that depicts many of the behind-the-screen stories that were never taught in history classes in school. I was especially surprised by the level of complicity of the "good guys" in helping to get the war started. The author apparently did a great amount of research and was able to paint a very different picture of the causes behind World War I. I must say I was greatly surprised at what was going on but as the saying goes. "History is written by the winners". My thanks to the author for a well documented eye opener.
I learned a lot, but at the cost of much fighting to keep my eyes open.
Excellent study of the origins of the Great War. You can reach your own conclusion about which country was most responsible for the apocalypse.
Written Like a history book.
Detailed and scholarly but tedious. I like history and was looking for a good review book about WWI. I found "Sleepwalkers" very well researched and detailed, but difficult to follow and meticulous to the point of being almost unreadable for an amateur like myself. I think I'll try Max Hasting's book Instead.I grade books as Buy and Keep ( BK), Read a Library Copy (RLC) and Once-I-Put-It-Down-I-Couldn’t-Pick-It-Up (OIPD-ICPU). This one, I'm sorry to say, was OIPD-ICPU.