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Clark (Cambridge) has made stunning use of new diplomatic evidence in European archives to present a "new view" of the march to world war in 1914. The meticulous trail of diplomatic notes and telegrams increases the likelihood that the author's view of "blame all around" will become the prevailing theory. Key factors that Clark considers: even though the Great Power alliance system was in place (Triple Entente versus Triple Alliance), countries within these blocs had suspicions as to whether their "allies" would back them up in the event of war. The murder of Archduke Ferdinand in June 1914 may have lit the match, but the fact that war actually broke out in August 1914 shows that diplomacy failed in large measure to "localize" the conflict (as Germany hoped), and spotlights Russia's ruthless pan-Slav policy against Austria-Hungary, which forced German action against Belgium, drawing France and Great Britain into war. German historian Fritz Fischer may claim that German revanchism was key, and that diplomats who wrote the Versailles Treaty and Article 231 tried to pin war blame on Germany's "blank check" to Austria-Hungary, but Clark's measured approach shows in actuality that there was enough blame to go around. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Diplomatic scholars of the period, graduate level and above. A. M. Mayer College of Staten Island

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

The immense documentation of the origin of WWI, remarks historian Clark, can be marshaled to support a range of theses, and it but weakly sustains, in the tenor of his intricate analysis, the temptation to assign exclusive blame for the cataclysm to a particular country. Dispensing with a thesis, Clark interprets evidence in terms of the character, internal political heft, and external geopolitical perception and intention of a political actor. In other words, Clark centralizes human agency and, especially, human foibles of misperception, illogic, and emotion in his narrative. Touching on every significant figure in European diplomacy in the decade leading to August 1914, Clark underscores an entanglement of an official's fluctuating domestic power with a foreign interlocutor's appreciation, accurate or not, of that official's ability to make something stick in foreign policy. As narrative background, Clark choreographs the alliances and series of crises that preceded the one provoked by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but he focuses on the men whose risk-taking mistakes detonated WWI. Emphasizing the human element, Clark bestows a tragic sensibility on a magisterial work of scholarship.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2010 Booklist

Publishers Weekly
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WWI is frequently described as a long-fused inevitable conflict, yet this comprehensively researched, gracefully written account of the war's genesis convincingly posits a bad brew of diplomatic contingencies and individual agency as the cause. Clark, history professor at Cambridge University, begins by describing the interactions of Serbia and Austria-Hungary, which sparked the conflict. He presents the former as a "raw and fragile democracy" whose "turbulent" politics challenged a neighboring empire held together by habit. Indeed, the instability across Europe further polarized alliance networks-foreign policies were shaped by "ambiguous relationships... and adversarial competitions" that obfuscated intentions. Nevertheless, the European system demonstrated "a surprising capacity for crisis management." But even the detente years of 1912-1914 were characterized by "persistent uncertainty in all quarters about the intentions of friends and potential foes alike." Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that uncertainty informed the burgeoning crisis-Austria-Hungary's hesitation allowed Russia to frame the event as a tyrant "cut down by citizens of his own country"; Britain and France offered no challenge to the narrative; and Germany "counted on the localization of the Austro-Serbian conflict." Instead Russia escalated the crisis by mobilizing, Britain by hesitating, and Germany by panicking: Europe sleepwalked into "a tragedy." B&w illus., 7 maps. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.