The sleepwalkers (non-fiction book)

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The Sleepwalkers - How Europe moved into World War I is the German title of a non-fiction book by the Australian historian Christopher Clark that deals with the events that led to the July crisis of 1914 and ultimately the beginning of the First World War . The book was published in 2012 under the title The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 ; the German translation in September 2013. In October 2013, the German edition was number 2 of the non-fiction books of the month and by early May 2014 had sold around 200,000 copies. The book was also published in French (2013), Italian (2013) and Spanish (2014) translations.


Based on the situation in the Balkans, the book presents the conflicts and alliances that determined European politics at the beginning of the 20th century. The content is divided into three parts with a preceding general introduction:

  • Part one describes the local events and constellations in the Balkans up to the fatal attack in Sarajevo ; Clark does not begin with the events of June 28, 1914, but with the long history of the assassination attempt since the regicide in Belgrade in 1903.
  • Part two is devoted to the domestic, foreign, security and alliance policy of the major European powers from 1887 to 1914. In particular, Clark examines how two alliance blocs were formed in Europe and what goals or “aimless interests” the individual “major actors” ”(Heads of state, ministers and diplomats of the great powers) as well as the staff of the“ smaller actors ”.
  • Part three begins with the assassination attempt in Sarajevo and then deals with the events of the July crisis from 1914 to the beginning of the First World War .

Clark emphasizes the extraordinary complexity of the crisis that a. can be traced back to the multi-layered and partially non-transparent decision-making processes of the powers involved. Clark refuses to name a culprit: “In this story there is no weapon used as irrefutable evidence, or more precisely, it is in the hands of every single major player. Seen in this way, the outbreak of war was a tragedy, not a crime. "(P. 716)

In this respect, the beginning of the war is rather the result of a chain of decisions by various actors that were by no means inevitable. At the same time, the author warns that similar escalations are also conceivable in today's crises. The title of the book, "Die Schlafwandler" (Sleepwalkers), corresponds to this interpretation: What is meant are actors who, with nightwalking security, balance on a rope over an abyss for a long time until their balance suddenly collapses.


The book met with a mixed response. John CG Röhl points out that Clark disregards essential documents in his sleepwalkers that prove that the highest German military had been pushing for war even before the Sarajevo assassination attempt, such as the report of March 11, 1914 by the Baden ambassador Sigismund Graf von Berckheim to his Minister of State Alexander von Dusch . Volker Ullrich struck a similar notch - referring to Röhl's biography of Wilhelm II. - when he contrasted the “geopolitical fuse” that Russia and France had laid through their Balkan engagement with the German government's unwillingness to intervene against their Austrian allies To hold Serbia. The decisive factor is not which of the powers involved has turned the "escalation screw" the most, but who has the ability to effectively de-escalate (namely the German Reich ). In the Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft , Klaus Wernecke finds nothing good in Clark's book: it is based mainly on printed sources, contains a whole series of contradictions in the argumentation, it simply follows a "primacy of diplomacy", so that important factors such as the interests of the Germans The arms industry or the cultural-historical change of enemy images remains underexposed, but above all Clark cites incomplete. From key documents such as the minutes of the Kuk Council of Ministers of July 7, 1914, he suppressed the central passages about the “firm intention” to allow war with Serbia and “the likely course of a European war”. Overall, Clark submitted a "methodically [...] defective book".

According to Hans-Ulrich Wehler , Clark presented a “worthwhile history of international relations before the autumn of 1914”, but the proportions are wrong with him, since one is given extensive information about Serbia, France, Great Britain and Russia, a separate section about them But momentous decision-making processes in Berlin are missing. The large German contributory factor in the outbreak of war, which has been clearly identified since the Fischer controversy , is "eliminated in a surprisingly one-sided manner". Wehler interprets the sales success of Clark's sleepwalkers on the German book market as "a deep-seated, now again flushed apologetic need" of the Germans to "free themselves from the accusations of guilt". Even Heinrich August Winkler sees the big consent to the Clark's book in Germany, "and only here," trust, the need for relief from alleged German "self-humiliation" that have used the Fischer controversy. He sees Clark's book together with the publications by Herfried Münkler , Jörg Friedrich and Dominik Geppert , Sönke Neitzel , Cora Stephan and Thomas Weber , who also question the German Reich's main responsibility for the outbreak of World War I, as part of “a wave of revisionism ". What all these authors have in common is “an old-fashioned concentration on the history of diplomacy , the history of the 'main and state actions'”, which blinds them to structural tendencies of the political system or society.

Lothar Machtan begins his review with words of praise about the book's readability, its clear hypothesis formation, the persistent multiple perspectives and the new sources it opens up, but then sharply criticizes its “blind spot”, namely the will formation of the German Reich leadership. Here “there can be no more talk of an analytical-critical perception [...]”. He is just as critical of Clark's “presenterism”, his tendency to draw parallels with the present, for example with NATO's policy towards Serbia in 1994 during the Yugoslav wars: “Such analogy models have no place in a serious political history”. Overall, the book is cleverly placed in the mood landscape, whether it will last beyond the hype, one has to wait and see. Klaus Gietinger and Winfried Wolf published Der Seelentöster in 2017 . How Christopher Clark freed the Germans from their guilt in the First World War is an entire book in which they criticize Clark's central theses. Her book was critically discussed by the historian Michael Epkenhans in the FAZ in July 2017 , which in turn led to the authors being corrected.

Holger Afflerbach, on the other hand, finds it gratifying that Clark is breaking the rigid fixation on the German role in the outbreak of war, which has been common in history since Luigi Albertini and especially since the Fischer controversy. His multi-perspective study, based on sources and specialist literature in a total of six languages, comes to a new, convincing result:

“The July crisis is not a crime novel by Agatha Christie , at the end of which the culprit is caught with a smoking gun in his hand. In the summer of 1914 there wasn't a single culprit with a smoking pistol in hand - everyone had one. "

Klaus Schwabe calls Clark's book “a masterpiece”: With its multilateral and at the same time comparative-generalizing approach, he liberates the war guilt debate from its nation-state constrictions, his focus on the Balkans is original, the use of very different sources is commendable, the presentation “additional originality and Authenticity ”. The book is well-balanced and written in a captivating manner for interested laypeople. In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Andreas Kilb emphasizes the "absolutely coherent way" with which Clark explains how the "united rampage of Europe" came about, and also points out daily updates. After Clark's book on Prussia, the book is his “second major attack on a dogma of historical science”, which sees the Prussian state as the “refuge of all evils in German history: militarism , imperialism , megalomania ”. This dogma has now been refuted. Jost Dülffer praises Clark's intensive study of archival material from all participating countries (“an achievement sui generis”) and the dense description of the mental maps of all actors and their interactions. His method finds a limit at most in the neglect of objective factors that represent the “framework that must always be considered in the background” of political communications and actions. The bestseller success of the book could probably not be explained by the Germans' need for self-relief, since a “systemic view of the international society of Europe and its dynamics” is standard in historical studies today.

Christoph Cornelißen praises the “meticulous international study of sources” and the “stupendous reading” on which the sleepwalkers are based, the analysis of the decision-making processes is “methodically cleverly reflected”. All in all, the book is "one of the best that has been published in recent years and months on the subject of the 'July Crisis 1914'". Daniel Marc Segesser finds in the historical magazine that Clark had "succeeded in creating a very dense and precisely researched book", even if he could have outlined the non-European context more sharply and presented the German position in a more differentiated manner. “A permanent place in every library of today's generation of World War II historians” is nonetheless certain. Even Jürgen Angelov is impressed by Clark's "consistently multiperspectival landscaped" work that tell "entertaining despite its daunting scope". The methodical access via the “experiences and narratives of the main actors” is convincing, the knowledge of the sources and literature is enormous, the analysis is brilliant. According to Angelow, Clark's book helped the intertwined approach to the prehistory of the First World War, which has become more influential for some years, to enormous impact. The sleepwalkers will no researcher come "in the coming decades" on the subject.

Michael Epkenhans occupies a middle position: in 2015 he also praised the broad basis of sources, some of which Clark had only recently opened up, and the breadth with which he treated the prehistory of the July crisis. What is new, however, is the shift in emphasis away from the question of war guilt towards an "explanation of how and why the catastrophe could occur". However, it should be criticized that Clark only briefly outlines the decision-making processes in Vienna and Berlin, measured by the detail and "smugness" with which he devotes himself to the Entente . In his abbreviated formula of sleepwalkers, he supplies the other side unnecessarily with ammunition, much like what Fritz Fischer had to experience at the time with his much-cited grab for world power .



  • Holger Afflerbach : Sleepwalking into battle - the Germans are to blame for the First World War - but no more than others . Der Spiegel 39/2013 ( online ).
  • Jürgen Angelow : Current presentations and perspectives on the outbreak of the First World War. In: Historisches Jahrbuch 135 (2015), pp. 569–583.
  • Cord Aschenbrenner: New Books on the First World War. Slid in and not come out. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , December 21, 2013, collective review, in which the book by Clark is also discussed ( online ).
  • Jost Dülffer : Review of: Clark, Christopher: Die Schlafwandler. How Europe moved into World War I. Munich 2013. In: H-Soz-u-Kult , November 21, 2013 ( online ).
  • Martin Ebel: How Europe moved into the First World War . Deutschlandfunk , Buchermarkt broadcast, December 1, 2013 ( online ).
  • Harold Evans: On the Brink 'The Sleepwalkers' and 'July 1914' . NY Times Sunday Book Review May 9, 2013 ( online ).
  • Dietrich Höroldt: Clark, Christopher, The Sleepwalkers. How Europe moved into World War I. In: Research on Brandenburg and Prussian History 24 (2014), p. 259.
  • Manfred HW Köhler: Christopher Clark: The sleepwalkers. How Europe moved into World War I. - Herfried Münkler: The Great War. Die Welt 1914 to 1918. In: Nassauische Annalen 125 (2014), pp. 471–475.
  • Gerd Krumeich : Among sleepwalkers . Review in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of November 30, 2013 ( online ).
  • Lothar Machtan : Review by: Christopher Clark: Die Schlafwandler. How Europe moved into World War I. Translated from the English by Norbert Juraschitz, Munich: DVA 2013 . In: sehepunkte 14 (2014), No. 1 [15. January 2014] ( online ).
  • Jakob Müller: Christopher Clark: The sleepwalkers. How Europe moved into World War I. In: Yearbook for Research on the History of the Labor Movement , 13th year (2014), p. 237.
  • Markus Osterrieder: Christopher Clark: The sleepwalkers. How Europe moved into World War I. Translated from the English by Norbert Juraschitz. Munich: DVA, 2013. 895 S., Fig., Kte. ISBN 978-3-421-04359-7 . Sean McMeekin: The Russian Origins of the First World War. Cambridge, MA, London: Harvard University Press, 2011. XII, 324 pp., 16 ills., 10 ctn. ISBN 978-0-674-07233-6 . In: Yearbooks for the History of Eastern Europe 62 (2014), 4, pp. 605–608. ( online )
  • Alexander Reichwein: Christopher Clark: The sleepwalkers. How Europe moved into World War I. In: Berliner Debatte Initial 25: 2, June 2014, pp. 157–163 ( online ).
  • Stefan Reinecke : A catastrophe without an author - Christopher Clark's brilliant study on the origins of the First World War questions the role of the German Empire. In: taz . September 14, 2013 ( online ).
  • Klaus Schwabe: Review by: Christopher Clark: The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914, London: Allen Lane 2013 . In: sehepunkte 13 (2013), No. 10 [15. October 2013] ( online ).
  • Daniel Marc Segesser: Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914. London, Allen Lane 2012. In: Historical magazine . Vol. 298, (2014), pp. 836-839.
  • Volker Ullrich : fuse and powder keg. British historian Christopher Clark's book The Sleepwalkers sparked new debates about guilt for the outbreak of World War I. Do we need to revise the picture of Germany's primary responsibility for the war? In: Die Zeit 38/2013 from September 17, 2013 ( online ).
  • Klaus Wernecke: Christopher Clark: The sleepwalkers. How Europe moved into World War I. Munich 2013. In: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft , 62 Jg. (2014), Issue 1, pp. 77–79.
  • Siegfried Weichlein: sleepwalker and flour scraper. New World War I literature. In: Hessisches Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte 67 (2017), pp. 231–263.


Individual evidence

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  2. John CG Röhl: First World War: Now it is time to strike! In: Die Zeit No. 22 of May 22, 2014, p. 18 ( online, accessed on July 19, 2017 ).
  3. Volker Ullrich: Zündschnur und Pulverfass , in: Die Zeit , September 12, 2013.
  4. Klaus Wernecke: Christopher Clark: The sleepwalkers. How Europe moved into World War I. Munich 2013. In: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft 62 (2014), issue 1, p. 77 ff.
  5. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Beginning of a new epoch in the history of the world war. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , May 6, 2014, No. 104, p. 10 ( online, accessed July 19, 2017 ).
  6. Herfried Münkler: The Great War. The world from 1914 to 1918 . Rowohlt, Berlin 2013
  7. Jörg Friedrich: 14/18. The way to Versailles. Propylaea, Berlin 2014
  8. Dominik Geppert, Sönke Neitzel, Cora Stephan, Thomas Weber: Politics: The beginning of many horrors . , January 3, 2014, accessed July 21, 2017.
  9. ^ Heinrich August Winkler: And deliver us from the war guilt. In: Die Zeit from July 31, 2014, p. 14.
  10. Lothar Machtan: Over-sophisticated - Notes on Christopher Clark's bestseller . In: sehepunkte 14 (2014), No. 1 (accessed on July 19, 2017).
  11. One sees less with the left eye, July 17, 2017,, accessed on July 21, 2017
  12. Correction to the FAZ discussion, schmetterling-verlag, accessed on July 21, 2017
  13. Holger Afflerbach: Contemporary history: sleepwalking into battle . In: Der Spiegel from September 20, 2012, accessed on July 20, 2017.
  14. Klaus Schwabe: Christopher Clark: The Sleepwalkers . In: sehepunkte 13 (2013), No. 10 (accessed on July 19, 2017); similar to Harold Evans: On the Brink "The Sleepwalkers" and "July 1914" . In: The New York Times , May 9, 2013.
  15. ^ Andreas Kilb: Outbreak of the First World War: The self-destruction of Europe . faznet , September 9, 2013, accessed July 19, 2017.
  16. Jost Dülffer: Review of: Clark, Christopher: Die Schlafwandler. How Europe moved into World War I. Munich 2013 / Clark, Christopher: The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914. London 2013 . In: H-Soz-Kult , November 21, 2013, accessed July 19, 2017.
  17. Christoph Cornelißen: “Oh! What a Lovely War! ”On the research results and the tendencies of selected new publications about the First World War. In: History in Science and Education 65 (2014), Heft 5/6, p. 276.
  18. ^ Daniel Marc Segesser: Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914. London, Allen Lane 2012. In: Historische Zeitschrift 298 (2014), pp. 836-839.
  19. Jürgen Angelow: Current representations and perspectives on the outbreak of the First World War. In: Historisches Jahrbuch 135 (2015), pp. 579–582.
  20. Michael Epkenhans: The First World War - Anniversary Commemorations, New Research and Debate One Hundred Years After Its Beginning. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 63 (2015), issue 2, pp. 150–155.