From the 1960s onward, evidence has accumulated that German leaders took advantage of a Balkan crisis to deliberately launch World War I. Moreover, the Reich clung to such ambitious war aims that, despite the tragic bloodletting, no compromise peace stood a chance. Christopher Clark’s thought-provoking book boldly challenges the prevailing consensus.

An Australian teaching at Cambridge who previously authored an admiring history of Prussia, Clark apparently reads every major language spoken from the Atlantic to the Urals. He brings vast knowledge of the secondary literature to his task. He writes fluently. He etches landscapes and people with a novelist’s sensibility.

Clark deploys his literary virtuosity to make two fundamental arguments, one implicitly at variance with the other. First, he declines to play “the blame game” concerning the 1914 slide into war. When nations have...


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