The Sleepwalkers Book Summary - The Sleepwalkers Book explained in key points
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The Sleepwalkers summary

Christopher Clark

How Europe Went To War in 1914

4.6 (169 ratings)
22 mins
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    The Sleepwalkers
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    The many alliances and connections between policymakers played a crucial role in the war’s outbreak.

    The First World War was one of the biggest catastrophes of the twentieth century. It pitted the armies of most European countries and their empires against each other and led to millions of deaths.

    But why did it start in the first place? Which country was to blame?

    Although there is no simple answer, many historians have put much of the blame on the alliance system, a network that aligned each country either with another or against it. Most of the European powers had alliance treaties with others, meaning that if one country in the chain should be attacked, that country could depend on its allies to come to its aid.

    For instance, the tiny country of Serbia was allied with Russia, which protected it from an attack by Austria. Austria itself was allied with Germany, which promised to respond if it were attacked. And Russia was allied with France, against the threat of a German attack.

    However, while the purpose of the alliance system was to combat the threat of conflict, it actually increased the inherent risk in European power politics. If a war broke out in one region, the alliance system could trigger a chain reaction that would lead to a Europe-wide conflict.

    The risk was further amplified because the alliance system had associations with some of Europe’s most unstable regions, such as the Balkans.

    The Balkans, in the south-eastern corner of Europe, had once been dominated by the Ottoman Empire. But the Ottoman Empire was in the process of collapse, and in the power vacuum, both Austria and Russia aimed to expand their interests to the area and were prepared to use force.

    However, their objectives were complicated in that many different nationalities shared the same space: Slavs, Germans, Bosnians, Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians all lived, unsegregated, in the area. This made the area hard to control, and volatile.

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    What is The Sleepwalkers about?

    Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers takes a fresh look at the outbreak of the First World War, focusing on the alliances established among Europe’s nations in the years leading up to 1914. In his compelling and masterful account, Clark examines the decisions, both big and small, that led to the outbreak, and investigates the common belief that the war was an inevitability.

    Who should read The Sleepwalkers?

    • Anyone who wants to learn more about the outbreak of the First World War
    • Anyone interested in European history and international relations
    • Anyone interested in how wars can start

    About the Author

    Christopher Clark is a historian from Australia, who is currently Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge. Among his other books, he is also the author of Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947.

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