Sleepwalkers is a very dense history but very well written. The text is scholarly and does not explain the contextual history for the reader. The reader is expected to be familiar with the basics of the period. A novice will become lost and confused.
This time period was very different structurally from the post WWII period. It was a truly multi-polar world. Most people have only experienced bi-polar worlds (e.g., West vs Nazi/Communist) and uni-polar worlds (US Hegemony). It's really very different to have genuine multi-polar situations without a simple structure. It can lead to some dangerous instabilities and requires much more work to understand. I now understand the authors lecture comments about his fears for the world and East Asia in particular.
Interesting insights for me include:
- The significant of the 1911 Italian invasion of the Ottoman territories that became Libya.
- The extent to which the Balkans drove politics and the war. The impact of the various Balkan conflicts is huge, and now mostly overlooked. The Balkans vanished from world consciousness when the war reached Germany and France.
- The irrelevance of the US, a very isolationist neutral country at the time.
- That in 1905 war between England and France was considered much more likely than between England and Germany.
It's also an illustration of how far and how diversely the collapse of an empire can ripple. The Ottoman collapse spans centuries. World War I was part of its final collapse. The present Middle Eastern conflicts are a continuation of the problems left behind by its collapse. World War I gave us the Nazis, Communism, World War II and the Cold War. It shattered the Hapsburg empire, which contributed to the problems in Eastern Europe.
If you know the basics of the time period and can juggle a couple dozen major and minor players working at cross purposes all at one time, this is a very informative read.