Well read: Christian Kerckhoffs on lessons from history

Every week we ask SBE scholars to recommend an academic paper or book from outside their discipline. This week, Christian Kerckhoffs, lecturer in economics and quantitative methods in the Departments of Economics and Quantitative Economics, recommends Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (HarperCollins, 2013).

What is the book about?

The outbreak of the First World War in July-August 1914 is the seminal catastrophe of 20th century Europe: the rise of Communism and Fascism, the Second World War and the Cold War can all be traced back to this origin. Clark gives a breathtaking account of how the murder of the Austro-Hungarian heir Franz Ferdinand, an event which would seem to have only regional significance, could escalate into an all-out European war within a few weeks.

What is particularly impressive about Clark’s book?

The conventional narrative is that unconditional support by a war-eager Germany allowed Austria-Hungary to confront Serbia with an unacceptable ultimatum; its rejection then activated the European alliance system. Clark convincingly shows how much more complex the sequence of events, and the political context in which they took place, actually was. You cannot read this book without feeling that the “usual suspects” are not the only (or even the major) culprits in this drama.