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The Guns of August

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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

The Proud Tower, the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Guns of August, and The Zimmerman Telegram comprise Barbara W. Tuchman’s classic histories of the First World War era

In this landmark, Pulitzer Prize–winning account, renowned historian Barbara W. Tuchman re-creates the first month of World War I: thirty days in the summer of 1914 that determined the course of the conflict, the century, and ultimately our present world. Beginning with the funeral of Edward VII, Tuchman traces each step that led to the inevitable clash. And inevitable it was, with all sides plotting their war for a generation. Dizzyingly comprehensive and spectacularly portrayed with her famous talent for evoking the characters of the war’s key players, Tuchman’s magnum opus is a classic for the ages.

Praise for The Guns of August

“A brilliant piece of military history which proves up to the hilt the force of Winston Churchill’s statement that the first month of World War I was ‘a drama never surpassed.’”—Newsweek

“More dramatic than fiction . . . a magnificent narrative—beautifully organized, elegantly phrased, skillfully paced and sustained.”—Chicago Tribune

“A fine demonstration that with sufficient art rather specialized history can be raised to the level of literature.”—The New York Times

“[The Guns of August] has a vitality that transcends its narrative virtues, which are considerable, and its feel for characterizations, which is excellent.”—The Wall Street Journal

658 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 1962

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About the author

Barbara W. Tuchman

92 books1,768 followers
Barbara Wertheim Tuchman was an American self-trained historian and author and double Pulitzer Prize winner. She became best known for The Guns of August (1962), a history of the prelude and first month of World War I.

As an author, Tuchman focused on producing popular history. Her clear, dramatic storytelling covered topics as diverse as the 14th century and World War I, and sold millions of copies.

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Profile Image for Matt.
918 reviews28.3k followers
May 2, 2020
“[General Joffre] signed the order that would be read to the troops when the bugles blew next morning. Ordinarily the French language, especially in public pronouncements, requires an effort if it is not to sound splendid, but this time the words were flat, almost tired; the message hard and uncompromising: ‘Now, as the battle is joined on which the safety of the country depends, everyone must be reminded that this is no longer the time for looking back. Every effort must be made to attack and throw back the enemy. A unit which finds it impossible to advance must, regardless of cost, hold its ground and be killed on the spot rather than fall back. In the present circumstances no failure will be tolerated.’ That was all; the time for splendor was past. It did not shout ‘Forward!’ or summon men to glory. After the first thirty days of war in 1914, there was a premonition that little glory lay ahead…”
- Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August

Let’s start with a couple items.

First, there is nothing left to be said about Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August.

Second, that is not going to stop me.

The Guns of August is not only the most famous book written about World War I, it is one of the most famous history books on any topic whatsoever. It won the Pulitzer, became a bestseller, was name-checked by politicians, and still provides a tidy sum to Tuchman’s heirs and designees. Even today, if you do a general search for “World War I” on Amazon, this is the first thing to pop up, even though it was originally published in 1962.

This actually isn’t my first time reading this. Ten years ago, I tore through it during the weekend I was waiting for my bar exam results. A weekend, I hasten to add, with not a little anxiety and cocktail consumption. I’m pretty sure I loved it; I’m also pretty sure it didn't penetrate very far. I decided to read it again as part of my WWI centenary reading project to gauge if my vague, decade-ago recollections were correct.

They were. This is an awesome book.

The Guns of August covers the first month of World War I as fighting erupts on both the Western and Eastern Fronts. Famously, however, Tuchman begins in May 1910 with the sight of nine kings riding in the funeral of King Edward VII of England.

[T]he crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braids, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal high-nesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regent – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last.

Tuchman uses the chapter on King Edward’s funeral to give a brisk overview of the troublesome context that brought Europe to cataclysm in 1914. The next section covers the operational plans and purposes of the four main belligerents: Germany, wedded to the grand sweeping offensive devised by Schlieffen; France, haunted by defeat in the Franco-Prussian War; Great Britain, blessed with a mighty navy and small Regular Army; and Russia, the feared steamroller with legions in numbers like the stars. Each of these nations had engaged a delicate balancing act in which old friends became enemies, old enemies became friends, and all sides seemed simultaneously convinced that war would never come and war had to come.

Tuchman’s setup is relatively quick. In well less than 100 pages, she broadly sketches the strategic situation at the time of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo. The July Crisis is handled even faster. In a page in a half, Tuchman dispenses with a fraught month over which thousands of gallons of ink have been expended.

This brings us to the heart of the book – the events of August 1914. The early days of the month are spent on Great Britain’s decision to uphold both Belgium neutrality and their tacit wink-wink-nudge-nudge “understanding” with France. Once Great Britain made it clear she would not sit on the sidelines, German troops began crossing the border into Belgium, beginning what Moltke called “the struggle that will decide the course of history for the next hundred years.” (Moltke, otherwise a failure, certainly pegged this right).

Thus begins the battle section of The Guns of August, which comprises the bulk of the narrative. Tuchman covers the siege of Liege, the French thrust into Alsace, the Battle of the Frontiers, the arrival of the British Expeditionary Force, the invasion of East Prussia by Russia, and the Battle of Tannenberg. When the book ends, the pieces are all in place for the Battle of the Marne, which transformed the conflict from a war of maneuver into a war of trenches, barbed wire, and mechanized slaughter.

(You might have noticed the absence of events involving Austria-Hungary or Serbia in that list. For some reason, they are almost entirely left out of the book).

Belgian troops fighting outside Liege

World War I battles are overwhelming. I’ve found that it’s a rare author who can make them even partly imaginable. Earlier battles – like Waterloo or Gettysburg – took place on comprehendible fields that you can walk to this day. Not so with these titanic clashes. Here, you have fronts of 40 to 80 miles, with armies of upwards of a million men. Often times the recounting of these fights devolve into a confusing Roman numeral soup of Armies, Corps, and Divisions moving hither and yon, crossing rivers and capturing intersections and moving through quaint little villages. Unless you have a very good map sitting next to you, it’s nearly impossible for any but the most devoted to fully grasp all the troop movements. Here, Tuchman makes the wise choice to take a pretty macro view of the battles, usually at the Corps level. Even so, it can be a lot to absorb. Moreover, her choice to look at things with a wide-angle lens means that the proceedings are filtered through the eyes of God and the generals, rather than the more tactile experiences of soldiers.

As military history, this might come up a bit short. But in other areas, Tuchman excels. She is excellent at the personalities, bringing a dry, sardonic wit to the characters populating this crowded stage. Take, for instance, her brilliant evocation of General Joseph Joffre, the French Commander-in-Chief:

Every morning at eight o’clock Joffree presided at meetings of the section chiefs, a majestic and immobile arbiter but never the puppet of his entourage as outsiders, misled by his silence and his bare desk, supposed. He kept no papers on his desk and no map on his wall; he wrote nothing and said little. Plans were prepared for him, said Foch; “he weighs them and decides.” There were few who did not tremble in his presence. Anyone who was five minutes late at his mess was treated to a thunderous frown and remained an outcast for the remainder of the meal. Joffre ate in silence with a gourmet’s entire devotion to the food. He complained continuously of being kept in the dark by his staff…He used to rub his forehead, murmuring “Poor Joffre!” which his staff came to recognize as his way of refusing to do something that was being urged upon him. He was angered by anyone who tried too openly to make him change his mind. Like Talleyrand he disapproved of too much zeal.

Joffre: Lover of good food and rest. Not to be confused with the evil boy-king of the Seven Kingdoms

Tuchman can be pretty sharp, noting continuously how Joffre never missed a meal or an hour’s sleep. But at the same time, she is sympathetic to the humanity of all involved. She presents a very mechanistic view of the outbreak of war, how dogmas like “the cult of the offensive” and master plans such as Schlieffen’s right wing dictated the early stages. At the same time, she recognizes that these were only plans, and that at any point, someone could have changed them. She also recognizes that many of these men were not capable of that.

Tuchman is also the master of the literary set piece. Her opening paragraph, quoted partially above, is Exhibit A in how to hook a reader and deliver a scene. Her handling of the escape of the German battle cruiser Goeben (an incident Tuchman initially wanted to devote an entire book to) is masterful, and shows how individual decisions can greatly affect the outcome grand events. (The Goeben and the Breslau both escaped the Germans by entering the Dardanelles and presenting themselves to the Ottomans as a gift. This helped pull the Ottoman Empire into the war on Germany’s side. What followed – Gallipoli, Sykes-Picot – has ramifications that are still felt today).

The Goeben sails off into history

For whatever reason, I had it in mind that this was a good WWI starter book. Upon rereading, I don’t think that’s the case. It’s fantastic, but complex enough to require a bit of background reading in order to fully engage it.

I could go on, but I’ve already gone on longer than necessary. It’s all been said before. The critics are right. The Guns of August lives up to its lofty reputation.
Profile Image for Lilo.
131 reviews360 followers
October 28, 2015
“The Guns of August” is the first book I read about the Great War or, as I knew it, World War One. “The Guns of August” is also the first substantial information I obtained about this war.

I was born in Germany, in 1939. My family, then containing of my parents, my biological maternal grandmother, and my adoptive maternal grandmother (my biological grand-aunt), talked very little about WWI, probably because WWII was raging, food as well as all other supplies were scarce, and we were surrounded by Nazis, some of them murderous SS criminals. In other words: My family had plenty of present issues to worry about; WWI was history, snow of yesterday.

When I went to school/college, history education stopped before 1900. Teachers shied away from recent history. It was too touchy a subject. I never even saw related books in bookstores or libraries. For these reasons, I was totally ignorant of European 20th century history. Once I joined Goodreads and discovered Amazon, I started to devour non-fiction books about the Third Reich, WWII, and the Holocaust, and I am still not finished reading about this era. Yet when August 2014 arrived, I thought it appropriate to read, at least, one book about WWI. So I read “The Guns of August”.

This book had me in shock. My family members had disliked Kaiser Wilhelm II and had mentioned more than once that he had been rather stupid. However, nothing had me prepared for what I read in “The Guns of August”. I had not had a clue that he had been a warmonger with zero regard for human lives. Neither had I had a clue that his chancellor and his generals had not been any better. I had known these prototypes of rigid, narrow-minded Germans (you can still find some today), yet to find a German emperor and the politicians and generals surrounding him not only caricatures of dislikable Germans but also evil warmongers and indifferent about human suffering is something I have not been able to get over, six weeks after finishing reading the book.

Yes, most politicians and generals of the other countries who would get involved were not exactly saints either. Yes, the German armies were more functional than the rather dysfunctional French, British, and Russian armies. What more is there to say? I came away with great admiration for the King of Belgium, who seemed to be the only head of state of participating countries who was totally innocent, who cared about human lives, and whose decisions were guided by wisdom and common sense. What utterly surprised me was the incompetence of the French leadership and its lack of organization. Any business owner would go bankrupt in no time being as dysfunctional as the French war machine, not even to speak of the Russians, whose incompetence would have been a joke, had it not cost so many lives. Yet whatever I read, my thoughts returned to Kaiser Wilhelm II and his generals, especially general Moltke. How can anyone plan and start a war with so little reason and with total disregard for human lives? How can anyone send millions of young men to their deaths without a solid cause? — Was Wilhelm II the main culprit? I would say so. And to think that he was not hanged as a war criminal (along with a bunch of his generals), but comfortably retired! This makes my blood boil.

I know I should say something about the superb writing style of Barbara Tuchman, her ironic wits, and the thoroughly researched contents of the book. So I’ll try. Yes, the book is superbly written, even though I, occasionally, found it going a bit too much into military details for readers with no military background and I also had trouble with a number of tapeworm sentences which remained unclear to me. (A few more commas would have helped.) This is why I rated the book only 4 stars. It just didn’t make it to the full 5 stars on my scale. Yet if the system allowed for it, I would have given 4 1/2 stars.

Oh, I almost forgot: My adoptive grandfather (my biological grand-aunt’s husband) was drafted as a reserve officer, a captain, into the Bavarian army. He fought in the Vosges. He returned uninjured, after the war. I still have two carved walking sticks he brought back from the Vosges as souvenirs. Yet this is all I know about my adoptive grandfather’s engagement in WWI, other than that he and his wife (my grand-aunt) adopted my mother when the war broke out. This was for financial reasons. Had my mother's uncle been killed in the war, my mother, as his adopted daughter, would have received an orphan’s pension. This would have enabled my mother's aunt, had she been widowed, to keep up her lifestyle, which would have meant continuing to employ her sister, my biological grandmother, as her cook and what we would call nowadays “household manager”. (My mother’s biological father had died, at age 42, before the war, while only been engaged to my grandmother. He had been an atheist, and my great-grandmother, a devoted Catholic, had forbidden the marriage.) I do not remember my adopted grandfather. He died in 1940, when I was a baby. I only know him from photographs and from tales of my family members. I was told that he had been a good man, kind and compassionate. So I am sure that he was not the prototype of a German officer, such as those described in "The Guns of August".

I know this is not much of a review, but this is all I could think about when reading this book that shook me in my bones.

For more sound accounts of the book, please see the following reviews:




Profile Image for Kalliope.
691 reviews22 followers
February 16, 2016

On the night of the 13th of August 1961 the Government of East Germany began to build the Wall that divided Berlin isolating its Western part within the Communist Eastern block.

In 1962, Barbara Tuchman published her Guns of August and the following year it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

As many years separate Tuchman’s book from the events she discusses as years separate us from the time its publication: about half a century.

Those two lots of five decades each may explain two different reactions. On the one hand Tuchman’s choosing as her premise the accountability of Germany and her (sole?) responsibility for the horror of the war, and on the other hand our wider questioning and possibly a more skeptical reception of her views.

The stereotypical view of the Germans as supremely efficient and dangerously single-minded is well alive in Tuchman’s interpretation when she wrote her account during the Cold War. This coined idea is still alive but in a different mode. Currently it induces us to think that thank god we have Merkel (originally from the communist Germany) to steer Europe democratically through its (capitalistic) mess, and alleviates us when having to accept Germany winning the World Cup for the fourth time this year.

Our understanding of that war has also moved away from focusing on one-sided culpabilities.

Tuchman begins her book with the stages that led to the outbreak of the war concentrating on the four great powers only: UK, Germany, France and Russia. Even Austria and the Balkan troublesome maze are just perfunctorily mentioned. For a broader look at the geographic extension of the conflict we have to look elsewhere. The bulk of her history is what the title says, the combat that took place at the very beginning of the war, starting with the last week of July and ending with the first of September of 1914.

In that she does an excellent job. She dissects the period spelling out the accumulation of decisions, many mistaken, which clumsily succeeded each other during those dreadful days. She focuses on three arenas: the Eastern and Western Fronts, and the Mediterranean. After explaining very well two of the major military strategies, the Schlieffen Plan for both the Eastern and Western fronts and the Plan XVII--with all their quirks and twists as well as the aberrations in the personalities of those who designed them--, she proceeds to show how they failed.

Her chapters on the invasion of Belgium and northern France are unforgettable. The brutality of the German armies in the way they treated the civilians and the cities, leaving in our memories the unforgivable destruction of Louvain and its treasures, as well as the emblematic Reims cathedral in ruins, is the strongest support she could use for postulating Germany as the nation responsible for the war.

She devotes less attention to the Eastern front. She focuses on what has been called the Battle of Tannenberg , and in her account it serves mostly to prove how the Schlieffen plan had a faulty design. To support the Eastern front the Western was too quickly weakened.

She closes in with the Battle of Marne and she again proves to be an engaging narrator. Building up tension with the approach to Paris she provides a felicitous ending to that episode with the striking story of the heroic taxi drivers transferring the men to the front.

The section I found most instructive was the one devoted to the Mediterranean. She creates great suspense in the way she narrates the persecution of the German battle cruiser Goeben by the various ships of the Allies. The British blundered; they did not realize the direction the Goeben was pursuing until it was too late. When the German cruiser succeeded in its race and reached the Dardanelles, this prompted the Ottoman Empire, until then neutral, to side with the Central Powers. The result was that Russia was cut-off from her access to the Mediterranean ports and her trade was blocked. Her exports/imports dropped by 98/95% respectively paving the way for the continuing growth of domestic troubles until three years later their revolution exploded.

This episode has an additional interest. In its chapter one can read:

That morning there arrived at Constantinople the small Italian passenger steamer which had witnessed the Gloucester’s action against the Goeben and Breslau. Among its passengers were the daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren of the American ambassador Mr. Henry Morgenthau.

One of those three children was Barbara Wertheim (later Tuchman).

Apart from the Pulitzer this book is exceptional because it played a determinant role. Margaret MacMillan has underlined in one of her recent interviews that John F. Kennedy read it during the time when he had to deal with the Cuban missile crisis, and it made him much more aware of the difficulty of controlling when the unexpected happens, so that he made everyone else in his Cabinet and his top military leaders read the book.

Tuchman’s tendency to rely too much on national stereotypes, which detracts from the credibility of her research and interpretation, is thereby compensated by the role her analysis played in later events. And to use another cliché, books that do change people’s lives, have to have their own special place in our libraries.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,471 followers
August 15, 2010
Well, how d'you do, Private Willie McBride, First Class - do you mind if I sit down down here by your graveside? It's so nice to rest for awhile in the warm summer sun... I've been walking all day and I'm nearly done in. Well. So, Willie - I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen when you joined the glorious fallen. 1916 - a long time ago now. Well I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean. But Private Willie McBride, it could have been slow and obscene. Let's not think of that. And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind? In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined? And, though you died back in 1916, to that loyal heart you'd be forever nineteen. Or some bollocks like that. That's what they say, isn't it. Sorry to have to tell you but you're probably a stranger, without even a name, peering out from some forgotten glass pane, in an old photograph, in a drawer, torn and tattered and stained, or fading to yellow in a brown leather frame. Well, take a look around now. It's a beautiful day. The sun's shining down on these green fields of France. Feel that, Willie? No, I suppose you don't. The warm wind blows gently, and look, the red poppies are dancing just like they're supposed to. The trenches have all gone, all ploughed under. It's a lovely place now. There's no gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now. But I suppose here in this graveyard it's still No Man's Land - see how many white crosses there are - well, I couldn't count them all. But at least you're not alone, Willie, eh? There was umpteen thousands like you. But you know I can't help but wonder now, Private Willie McBride, First Class - do all those who lie here know why they died? I mean, did you really believe that your war would end wars? Because that's what they said. You'll remember that. Because, you know, the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame, the killing, the dying, it was all done in vain, Willie. It all happened again. And again, and again, and again, and again. Anyway, that's enough from me. I'll bid you good day. I've got another five miles to go. Thanks for your time.

(with many apologies to Eric Bogle and his great song The Green Fields of France)
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,293 reviews21.7k followers
May 6, 2009
You could almost be excused for thinking that the highest praise one could give a work of non-fiction would be that it reads like a work of fiction. I haven’t looked at any of the other reviews for this book yet, but I would be prepared to bet that many of them say this read like a novel. And it is an incredibly dramatic story and some of the characters are larger than life – but this is no novel.

I say that because in a novel you expect at least some of the characters to develop during it – and the horrible thing about this story is how few of the characters learnt a bloody thing.

As a case in point. It might sound like I’m anti-French, I know, but I can’t help it. All of the countries were stupid, but the French were absurd, and that is something else. I’ve been telling people about this book and these have been the things I have been telling them. A Frenchman goes over to watch the Japanese beat the Russians in a war that was held just before the First World War, a mere decade before the date this book is set. What did he notice in his watching? He noticed that it is generally not a good idea to charge against people with machine guns. After, when he mentioned this to other French generals they decided that he was a coward. He said that wearing a uniform that featured a bright blue coat and bright red trousers might be the equivalent of wearing a bull’s eye tied around your neck and a neon sign saying ‘shoot here’. His saying this was considered not only utterly outrageous but also an insult to French soldiers. When there was a suggestion that the French should use BIG guns, the commanders in charge of infantry rejected the suggestion as big cannons would only ‘slow them down’.

The lesson is that you can change the technology, but people might not understand what that change will mean. In fact, they probably won’t. They may still want to charge in front of machine guns wearing red trousers and showing the world how ‘brave’ they are. Or they might assume that the new communications technology that worked so well in training will work just as well in the chaos of war.

This is a book about a world that has just changed forever and how hard it was for people to realise just what changes had been wrought. It is about how fixed people are in their views, particularly when those views are based on ‘plans’ that have been worked out in detail for years. It is about how hard it is to admit you are wrong, even when all evidence is pointing to the fact. It is about how sometimes people will (effectively) choose death rather than admit they made a mistake.

There is a horrible sense in which this book will help to confirm all of your worst fears about humanity. World War One was the opening nightmare of our modern world. And this book looks at the first month of the war, how that month raced towards war and nearly rushed towards the fall of Paris, and left me despairing for humanity.

I couldn’t get over how many generals were supporters of Nietzsche and his views on the ‘will to power’. The idea that a great man will use his will-power to create a world in his image. That it does not matter how many enemies you face, that all it takes is courage to prevail. And when their armies were beaten back by superior fire power, larger armies and crippled by there being no supplies these same generals put it all down to their soldiers’ lack of courage or lack of will.

All I knew about the start of the war before reading this book was that some Prince got killed in the Balkans, Austria and Germany had a pact that meant if one was attacked the other would have to fight with them – Russia, France and England were in much the same situation. The world started fighting, soldiers dug tranches and everything stayed like that until they called it quits. Oh, and lots and lots of people died.

I had no idea how close Germany came to winning the war against France in that first month. This really is a gripping story, but it is still not a novel. In fact, I kept thinking that this would make a much better film than a novel. And it would make an amazing film. The conversations between members of parliament and generals and kings are invariably remarkable.

This is well worth getting your hands on. Thanks to Richard for recommending it to me.
Profile Image for Gadi.
167 reviews12 followers
July 1, 2012
I let go at around page 280 (out of 440 in my edition), when I started realizing that every paragraph is so chunked up with minute details about this general moving these troops out of this place and into this wing on this day because of these emotions and this miscommunication and this people's overconfidence that it just all became so trivial and so unbelievably lifeless--which in a weird way completely contradicts all of the GR reviews I've read about how this book brings life to the first month of the war. I also think the writing just slowly, gradually became less and less vigorous and more rote as the war left its initial stages and moved to the actual fighting of month 1.

I realized I didn't want to finish this book when it struck me that it's all just pointless military maneuvers, some of them more successful than others, almost all of them led by a bunch of overconfident idiots, and that I had nothing to gain from learning about these dumb poops and their meaningless military decisions.

I actually really liked the first part of the book, and liked the second part. It was the third part, "Battle", that just gutted me with its unbelievable tediousness. And I hate giving up on books, but there are only so many free seconds in my life to dedicate to things I don't enjoy.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,654 followers
March 1, 2017
This is an impressive work on the buildup to World War I and the first month of fighting. I wanted to read this book after a re-read of All Quiet on the Western Front, to better understand the war. I've heard The Guns of August described as one of the best books about WWI ever written, and while I haven't read enough to testify to that, I do think it was an interesting and insightful work, and I'd recommend it to history buffs.

I listened to The Guns of August on audio, and I enjoyed the narration by Nadia May. My one frustration with this book is that Tuchman had so many countries to cover -- the French, Germans, British, Russians and even Belgians were included -- that sometimes Tuchman would be relating a long story, and by the end I'd be confused about which government she had been talking about. This problem probably would have been eased had I been reading in print, where it's easier to flip back a few pages and be reminded about the context. Frequently I had to hit rewind to try and catch up with the narrative.

Overall, I enjoyed learning more about the first world war, and especially the events that led up to it. One of my big takeaways was how gung ho Germany was to invade France, and they had elaborate (and unrealistic) plans about how quickly they could win such a war, despite warnings to the contrary. In hindsight, the world seemed destined to fight this war, because not even common sense was able to stop it.

Favorite Quote
"In Whitehall that evening, Sir Edward Grey, standing with a friend at the window as the street lamps below were being lit, made the remark that has since epitomized the hour: 'The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.'"
Profile Image for sAmAnE.
494 reviews84 followers
April 26, 2021
کتاب تاریخی، که مثل برج فرازان نیاز به حوصله و تمرکز بالایی داره، جزییات زیادی از جنگ جهانی اول گفته شده، از شرایط اروپا در آستانه‌ی جنگ جهانی اول گفته شده، قدرت طلبی و انحصار طلبی آلمان‌ها و قصدشون از زمین زدن فرانسه و روسیه، درگیری‌های داخلی و نقشه‌های خارجی و سیاست‌گذاری‌ها، و کلا کتاب دنیایی است از سیاست‌های داخلی و خارجی. داستان شروع جنگ جهانی اول ، اشتباهات نظامی، سیاسی، تفکرات و ... داستانی جالب از شروع جنگ توسط آلمان‌ها و وارد شدنشان به جنگی دو طرفه هم از جانب روس‌ها و هم از جانب فرانسوی‌ها
Profile Image for Maziyar Yf.
492 reviews240 followers
June 21, 2019
برای ما ایرانی ها که هنوز 30 سال از جنگ نگذشته هم چنان هم نمی دونیم که چند چند شدیم چقدر تلفات دادیم و اصلا جریان جنگ چطور بود
. اما این کتاب و باربارا تاکمن چنان ماه اول جنگ 100 سال پیش رو با جزییات مو شکافی کرده و چنان افراد و افکار آنها رو تجزیه و تحلیل کرده
که واقعا میتونه الگویی برای محققین ایران باشه . ضمنا این کتاب فقط 80 صفحه فهرست منابع داره

Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,548 reviews1,822 followers
April 12, 2020
Perhaps you can forgive me for saying so but on the one hand I feel conflicted about this book about the First World War, every opinion, it seems to me, from five star to throw the damned thing on the fire and never speak of it to me again, is entirely justifiable. On the other hand I am unconflicted, its strengths are its weaknesses .

This book to my mind is not popular history, because it is not history at all, it is more in the way of a painting, designed for a certain occasion and to be seen from a certain distance and in a certain light. Standing at the right place when the right light falls on it, its broad brush strokes and bright colours work perfectly, however if you stand just to the left or the right or if the light does not fall just so, then, well, you are looking at a mess.

Tuchman's book is not history it is entertainment. Judging it as history is akin to watching a Western and complaining about the tactics of the plains Indians or doubting the veracity of the timing of the arrival of the 7th cavalry. The point is that it is a spectacle displaying wonders of horse riding and sharp shooting, the apparent historicity of the setting and one or two of the characters is neither here nor there.

Those who praise and like this book for being like a novel are quite right, Tuchman, I feel, borrows strongly from the techniques of fiction, perhaps more specifically from pantomime, or maybe the Western. Therefore in this story the Germans are the black hatted, moustache twirling villains, to the extent that anything German is bad from Fichte onwards (p.26) German singing is especially brutal in her opinion, born and brought up in Britain I was of the innocent impression that all soldiers during the First World War sang marching songs, but according to Tuchman those sung by Germans were horrific and the worst aspect of the WWI battlefield . German badness is further demonstrated by her because all German soldiers were issued with a flask of whisky as part of their kit, leaving to one side the inherent unlikeliness of German soldiers being issued with whisky, I don't think that issuing soldiers with spirits was unusual during WWI.

The French although among the white hats, are presented as dunghill cockerels, magnificently colourful, but a bit ridiculous, particularly because they take themselves and their Elan so seriously, the British, or English as she generally calls them, fail to realise that earlier decisions have consequences and are fantastically divided among themselves, with most if not all of the generals plotting against each other - but Churchill, perhaps inevitability, can do no wrong in her eyes. The Belgians are respectfully treated. King Albert in particular seems to have been a cross between sliced bread and Jesus Christ, a better person, who was not American, cannot be conceived of. The Russians in her account are a joke, purely there for grim comedy value. The Turks are dismissed in much the same way. The implication is that this First World War is going to be an incompetent mess until the USA gets involved and starts sorting out the World's problems .

To give you an idea of what this book is, at the top of page 522, Tuchman tells us "the BEF...stopped the Germans in Flanders", the very next paragraph begins "The Schlieffen plan had failed, but it had succeeded far enough to leave the Germans in occupation of all of Belgium...". So maybe Tuchman did not know that Flanders is in Belgium, or she knew but thought her readers wouldn't? I suspect it is a matter of drama, 'all of Belgium' sounds more dramatic than most or much of Belgium, in this book rhetoric wins, facts come second . A little earlier, pp494-7 there is an interesting discussion, weighing up the post war accounts of the participants on the dismissal by Joffre of Lanrezac as commander of the French 5th Army, which left me with the impression that Tuchman was of the opinion that Lanrezac was dropped because his criticisms of Joffre, of his strategy and Joffre's opinions on German numbers turned out to be correct, and that trying to take the offensive against superior numbers - shockingly- did not work out successfully, and indeed many of us can recognise that being known to be right when are Bosses are proved to be wrong is a dangerous place to be in, however by page 521 Tuchman has flipped her position and accepts Joffre's opinion that Lanrezac had to go because he was broken. In terms of the dramatic story of course it makes better sense to have a calm, imperturbable, wise Joffre in charge rather than another aged General, out of his depth, failing around, refusing to believe the intelligence reports he is getting.

Page 71, Tuchman states as a fact that in 1911 Russian Prime minister Stolypin was assassinated by police agents - some people have made such an assertion - but it really is more of a conspiracy theory and certainly not a fact , but in terms of drama it contributes to presenting Russia as a complete basket case, as does stating that the Russian army was dependent on horsepower for its logistics once it moved beyond a railhead, implying that it was peculiarly backwards rather than absolutely typical of WWI armies, which is why of course the use of Parisian taxis to bring soldiers to the front during the Battle of the Marne was so important as they could arrive merely car sick rather than exhausted from marching.

I did wonder who I might recommend this book too - not as a first book about WWI, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, was I think mentioned twice, one obliquely, and not explained, and Tuchman decides not to discuss anything about Serbia or Austro-Hungary , since trouble in the Balkans was the motor of the crisis which ended in WWI I felt her decision made her opening chapters about the diplomatic manoeuvres between Germany, France and Britain confusing - but the decision strengthens the basic narrative of German wickedness I suppose. Had I been her editor I would have gone further and cut the chapters on the Russian campaign and on the Goeben, and left this as a book about the unfolding of the German attack through Belgium into France.

No, if you are going to read this, it has to be for the entertainment, Tuchman is excellent at the cutting observation, some of which are funny, I think for her rhetoric rules, and she writes things because they sound good that really don't stand up if you are mildly critical of the sources she relies on, or if you have read any other book on WWI. I have sympathy with those reviewers who point out the importance of WWII to her understanding of WWI. This is entertainment, alternatively you could watch Oh what a lovely war, it will take you less time, covers the middle and end of the war as well as its opening, and it has far more songs. Both will give you skewed (but from different perspectives) impressions of the war, but maybe openness to a variety of skewed and flawed perspectives is more reasonable than believing that there is a "wie es wirklich war" that could be achieved.

PS apparently there are at least two boardgames called "the Guns of August" about WWI, I have not played either and have no opinion on their entertainment value.
Profile Image for Ann-Marie "Cookie M.".
1,110 reviews121 followers
January 22, 2019
A truly remarkable account of the first month of WWI. If history were taught to high school students the way Barbara Tuchman presents it, perhaps we would not be doomed to repeat it so often.
"The Guns of August" is a very readable account of how the Allies almost lost the war in the first 30 days through the bungling due to ego, jealousy, misunderstanding and territorial disputes.
The Germans were not immune to senseless error, theirs resulting more from Teutonic belief in blindly following order and their insistence on the inferiority of any way but the German way.
How many global errors of these types are being made today by world military leaders, and what will be the consequences?

I was six years old when this book first came out and I remember it causing quite a stir amount my parents' friends as they passed their one copy from couple to couple.
I spoke to my mother about it this weekend, and she said her reaction to it was shock.
She and I agree that all we were taught about WWI was that Kaiser Wilhelm got too big for his britches, some minor Prince got shot by a nutcase and Germany used it as an excuse to invade France. England magnanimously came to France's rescue. Not. what. happened.

Do read this, even if you have to draw the battle plans out on graph paper like I did to understand parts of it. So much of our 21st century world makes sense when you understand the beginning of the last century.
Profile Image for Paul Haspel.
543 reviews66 followers
August 4, 2022
The guns of the "Great War" first roared to life on August 4, 1914, when Germany invaded Belgium; and in a way, those guns of mechanized modern war have never really fallen silent in more than a century since that day. Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August sets forth in a powerful and resonant manner the story of how the First World War began.

The roots of war, as Tuchman describes it, go back to the longstanding national rivalry between Germany and France. Frenchmen and Germans had met on many battlefields, and both countries anticipated the possibility of future conflict. While France relied on what came to be known as the doctrine of élan -- “the all-conquering will”, or “the spirit of la gloire, of 1792, of the incomparable ‘Marseillaise’” (p. 31) – Germany adopted a very organized, very Prussian plan for the next war.

It came to be known as “the Schlieffen plan,” for Count Alfred von Schlieffen, the Prussian strategist who developed it. The plan involved a massive strike by a German right wing across Belgium, overwhelming the French left and ensuring France’s fall before Germany could become bogged down in a two-front war with France and Russia. Yet the key complication was that Prussia had joined with Austria, France, Great Britain, and Russia in an 1839 treaty promising to respect Belgian neutrality. Following the Schlieffen plan might bring Germany victory over France, but it also involved Germany publicly breaking her word, on a global scale.

The Schlieffen plan took on a life of its own, with German officers like General Helmuth von Moltke insisting that the plan must go forward, even as problems with the plan became ever more apparent. The German invasion went forward, on schedule, as August began, and German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg declared to the Reichstag in Berlin that “Whatever our lot may be, August 4, 1914, will remain for all eternity one of Germany’s greatest days!” (p. 128). While Bethmann’s words may have thrilled his nationalistic audience, Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality guaranteed that its war would be not a swift four-month lightning campaign against France alone, but rather a protracted two-front war with Great Britain and Russia as additional enemies.

In her review of the opening days of World War I on the Western Front, Tuchman devotes considerable attention to atrocities committed by the invading Germans. In Tuchman’s reading, the cruelty of the German army at the outset of World War I has its roots in the German experience during the Franco-Prussian War, forty years earlier, when francs-tireurs, civilian guerrilla volunteers, had challenged not only the Prussian army but also the Prussian mind itself -- or, more specifically, the Prussian idea of how war should and should not be fought. “Fear and horror of the franc-tireur sprang from the German feeling that civilian resistance was essentially disorderly. If there has to be a choice between injustice and disorder, said Goethe, the German prefers injustice” (p. 319).

Some readers might find that interpretation to be overly essentialist; but there is no question that Tuchman, in presenting the horrors of the First World War, is calling upon her readers to look ahead to the Second. After presenting a sort of catalog of German mass executions of Belgian civilians -- 150 at Aerschot, 664 at Dinant -- Tuchman sums up the whole litany of horrors thus: “In Belgium there are many towns whose cemeteries today have rows and rows of memorial stones inscribed with a name, the date 1914, and the legend, repeated over and over: 'Fusillé par les Allemands' ('Shot by the Germans'). In many are newer and longer rows with the same legend and the date 1944” (226).

The overall theme that emerges from The Guns of August, for me, is that for all the best-laid plans that politicians and generals may devise, war is a beast that will take a path of its own – a path that no human being can anticipate, a path where the only certainty is that there will be more blood and more pain and more death than anyone expects. We all know what lay beyond the horrors of the First World War and its more than 40 million casualties among soldiers alone: the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet regime, a catastrophic worldwide economic depression, a Second World War even more hideous than the first, the introduction of nuclear weapons, and a Cold War that was still very much in progress when this book was first published in 1962.

Small wonder that, at the end of the book’s afterword, Tuchman describes the Battle of the Marne, in progress as of the end of the period covered by this book, as a trap for all of the nations involved – “a trap made during the first thirty days out of battles that failed to be decisive, a trap from which there was, and has been, no exit” (p. 440; emphasis added). I thought about Tuchman’s words while my wife and I were traveling between Paris and Reims a few years ago, on our way to see our son, then a United States Marine, participate in a joint French and American commemoration of the Battle of Belleau Wood. Those Marne battlegrounds from a century ago are green, peaceful, well-tended farm fields today; but on some battlefield somewhere in the world, the guns of mechanized war have been thundering away, more or less continuously, since August of 1914. Truly, there has been no exit.

This 1994 edition of The Guns of August benefits from well-chosen photographs and well-drawn campaign and battle maps. A foreword by fellow historian Robert Massie – like Tuchman, a historian whose work achieved great popularity among the general public – helpfully sets forth the magnitude of Tuchman’s achievements as an historian, and emphasizes well Tuchman’s belief in the importance of presenting history as a story that should be interesting and compelling for both the reader and the writer. The Guns of August achieves its goals effectively and powerfully, and should be required reading for any leader, civilian or military, who may be inclined to shoot first and ask questions later.
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,794 reviews220 followers
March 4, 2023
For The Centenary Of The Great War

The year 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of WW I, and many books are being written in commemoration. I read Barbara Tuchman's famous book, "The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I" (1962) after reading some of the more recent histories and becoming interested. Her book remains an invaluable study. The book has attained a life of its own. Tuchman (1912 -- 1989) was a popular historian. She wrote for a broad audience in a way that emphasized character, description, drama, and narrative writing rather than scholarly analysis.

The book covers the events leading to the outbreak of WW I, but its focus is on the military history of the first month of the war, August 1914. Tuchman describes in great detail actions on the Western front of the War. In August, 1914, the large armies of Germany and France faced each other in what each side thought would be a rapid and offensive war of annihilation. The German army moved through Belgium and France but received a check at the Battle of the Marne in early September and was forced to retreat. A long war of four years in the trenches set in.

Tuchman sets the stage for her story and displays her formidable writing skills in the book's opening paragraph. Here are the paragraph's opening two and concluding sentences.

"So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd waiting in hushed and black-clad awe could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, god braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. .... The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history's clock it was sunset; and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again."

The book is full of descriptive, dramatic, and beautiful writing. As Tuchman introduces the participants from all sides of the Great War, she displays a gift for capturing the heart of an individual's character in pithy. well-chosen words. She continues to develop the strengths and weaknesses of individual characters in following their actions through her story.

Much has been written on the reasons for fighting WW I, and little has been found convincing. Tuchman describes the long, tense, history of Europe and the fears of one another that developed in Germany, France, Russia, and Britain. She describes the military plans long in preparation by each of the European powers that were to be impacted and tested in the conflict. The assassination in Serbia and the subsequent brief attempts in July, 1914 to resolve the crisis diplomatically receive relatively little attention in Tuchman's history. She sees the source of the war in broader and underlying tensions and aims.

Tuchman's military history begins with Germany's ultimatum to Belgium and the subsequent invasion which brought England into the war. She makes a great deal of the unanticipated resistance of the Belgians, of the German atrocities, and of the decisive turn against Germany in world public opinion. The book includes detailed, dramatic discussions of the campaign in the West. Germany seemed on the verge of triumph, and Tuchman tries to show how its opening campaign ultimately failed. She integrates her discussion of the Western front with shorter but essential discussions of the early battles between Germany and Russia on the Eastern front, with a treatment of the fateful entry of Turkey into the War on the side of Germany, and with a short discussion of the war at sea. Her history is developed in extensive detail and with a strong sense of military realities in addition to her beautiful writing. With her attention to detail, Tuchman also makes the reader feel the broad tragedy of the first month of the Great War together with its impact in sowing the seeds for the Second War and beyond. She concludes: "Afterward there was no turning back. The nations were caught in a trap, a trap made during the first thirty days out of battles that failed to be decisive, a trap from which there was, and has been, no exit."

Although written for a broad audience, "The Guns of August" is slow, well-documented and thoughtful. It is hardly an easy book to read. The continued success of the work speaks well both for the book and for its persistent readers. The book helps readers think about and understand a pivotal event in history and its continued impact. It thus fulfills the critical goals of writing history.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for Sue.
1,242 reviews533 followers
September 8, 2014
After reading this book 100 years, sometimes to the day, after some of the events happened, it is difficult to know what to say. Others have written so many excellent reviews. I believe that I will focus on reaction for my review---reaction 100 years after the fact to the apparent ease with which the European world, and then much more, slid into an horrific spilling of blood, the ease with which several leaders gave orders which condemned millions of people to death; cities, towns, even small nations to near or total destruction.

The pressure for this war had been building for years from what I have read. The Germans feared being encircled within Europe. They feared that the rest of Europe was excluding them from various treaties. The war of brinksmanship had been underway for some time. The British had the best Navy and also had no intention of allowing that fact to change.

Ego. Power. Money. Yes they are the same reasons that wars are fought today. Just different weaponry. Then it was mud-filled trenches. Men being mowed down by machine guns or by hand thrown "bombs", early grenades. The wounded, if lucky might live to fight again. If horribly unlucky, might die out in No Man's Land, alone and unaided, between lines.

This went on for four years as generals on all sides pushed their men to impossible lengths. It was devastating. And also devastating to civilians, especially those who happened to be in the path of the German army who adopted a policy of, essentially, "teaching all a lesson."

I had intended to write a review making note of Tuchman's excellent writing and scholarship, with examples of both, but I find I cannot. I am simply too tired, too worn out by the reading, too worn out by this horrible war. (Of course I also read Chevalier's excellent Fear: A Novel of World War I which brought the general down to the specific and perhaps tired me more.) But in the end perhaps Tuchman achieved her purpose in me. I hate what I saw in that world of August, 1914.

I do recommend this book to any who have not read it.
Profile Image for Ian.
390 reviews65 followers
August 9, 2021
I understand why this is a classic. It's a clear, compulsively readible account of the convoluted politics and policies that led to the First World War. I also think this is why the book has proved to be so popular. Growing up in the early 60's, when the book was written, my contemporaries and I had some idea of what WW2 was about, through popular culture and the accounts of fathers, mothers, uncles, etc. WW1 was much more dim and distant, not to mention nebulous. Some Arch Duke guy got shot. So?
Tuchman makes the people in the sepia photos come to life, with all their foibles, foolishness and mistaken assumptions. As many, many before me have pointed out, the key lesson in the book is how the world blundered its way into a disastrous war. That's a lesson every generation needs to learn. If it isn't the results are Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Profile Image for Michael Perkins.
Author 6 books357 followers
August 6, 2022
Before the outbreak of The Great War, there were two distinct competing forecasts represented by two new books.

In "The Great Illusion," author Normal Angell argued that because of the "interlacing" alliances formed amongst major powers there could be no new war. Because of this interdependence the victor would suffer equally as the vanquished. It could not be profitable, which turned out to be true.

At the same time, a German, General von Bernhardi, was writing his own book, titled "Germany and the Next War" which would prove as influential as Angell's book. As Tuchman explains....

"Three of its chapter titles, “The Right to Make War,” “The Duty to Make War,” and “World Power or Downfall,” sum up its thesis." Another of his chapters was titled "Germany's Historic Mission." He had authored a previous book based on the thinking of Clausewitz, Treitschke, and Social Darwinism.

He wrote.....

"War is a biological necessity, it is the carrying out among mankind of the natural law, upon which all the laws of Nature rest, the law of the struggle for existence.” Nations, he said, "must progress or decay; there can be no standing still,” and Germany must choose “world power or downfall.”

“The heart of France lies between Brussels and Paris.” (Clausewitz)

But everything depended on a quick decision against France. Clausewitz condemned "gradual reduction" of the enemy, or a war of attrition as "the pit of hell."


Tuchman's writing is good, but not as sensational as the promoters of that era make it out to be.

She projects WW II heavily on to her book. I'm sure this was part of the appeal of a book that came out in 1962. And certainly the two wars were connected. But this approach feels very dated now. I think this projection clouds the WW I narrative, rather than enlightening it.

From an essay that explains the serious flaws in her work.....

"Tuchman leaves out the Eastern and Balkan fronts. As in completely. The actual, you know, causes of the Great War are covered in about a page."


It's not an independent treatment along the lines of Paul Fussell's "The Great War and Modern Memory," which is clearly superior to this book.

Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,688 followers
April 16, 2016
The Guns of August which I read in September


“Nothing so comforts the military mind as the maxim of a great but dead general.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August

What an amazing piece of historical writing. Tuchman shows how August, 2014 was impacted by two failed plans (Plan 17 & the Schlieffen Plan), Generals and politicos who were either overly optimistic at the wrong time or overly pessimistic at the wrong time. She detailed how inadvertent acts by disgraced Generals might have saved France, how the politics and the national moods of France, Germany, Russia, and Great Britain may have contributed to the length of the Great War.

After the Civil War and the War of Franco-Prussian War of 1870, war had morphed into a whole new beast. Few leaders grasped this at the beginning of August but by September 1914 there were very few living on the European continent who could avoid recognizing that war would never be the same again. The vitality and the drama of Tuchman's narrative made this book seemed delivered by 420-millimetre siege howitzers. Chapter after chapter would absolutely devastate me as I read. I am very glad I wasn't in the French (or Belgian or German or Russian) military in August of 1914.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
March 28, 2010
6.0 stars. WOW!! This book was AMAZING!! I have always been very interested in World War II and have read quite a few books on the subject. However, until reading THIS book I had never endeavored to learn anything more than the basics of World War I. With the reading of this incredible book, I have taken a tremendous step towards correcting that deficit.

Focusing on the first 30 days of World War I (hence the title), this beautifully written book addresses in great detail the causes for the conflict, the preparations made by the future combatants and the incredible chain of events that led to the war. At over 600 pages and dealing with only the first 30 days, you might think this book would be overly dry and long-winded. NOTHING could be further from the truth. This was incredibly entertaining as well as informative. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!!
Profile Image for Anthony Taylor.
166 reviews29 followers
February 24, 2023
Father Time is Fading the Print.

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is one of the most famous books written on the First World War. Arguably one of the most famous narrative history books published. First written in 1962 and still in print long after the author has sadly passed away. The book is closer to the war and the events described, then we are now to the book. Times change, ideas develop and the world rotates. For me this is clear in this book, some of the ideas are now outdated or new scholarship has turned the opinions of some of the events described. I agree this is well worth reading as a classic on WWI, but could you be an expert without ever touching it? Absolutely. Some books on certain subjects are must reads (Citizens by Simon Schama on the French Revolution or A Peoples Tragedy by Orlando Figes in Russia come to mind), The Guns of August is not a First World War benchmark.

The book covers the first month of the war, the radical and military aspects of the German invasion of France and Belgium up until the First Battle of the Marne, the failure of both the Schlieffen Plan and the French Plan XVII and the beginning of the stalemate. The focus of the book is not to explain the origins of the war or the July Crisis. It is well written, if dense in my opinion. I found it hard to follow in places as Tuchman definitely gets bogged down in detail. Other areas are written masterfully, so for me, the book is like riding a bike up and down a hilly landscape. A sweaty slog meeting a breezy reward.

Too much emphasis and time is added to the thrilling chase of the warships Geoben and Breslau and the seizure of the Ottoman warships by Winston Churchill, both events which drove the Ottomans to the Central
Powers and into the war. I also think there is new light shed on the events of the Battle of Mons, the Ballplatz and Chorister’s Bridge. So as I have said above the print is slowly fading and becoming outdated. This isn’t to take away Tuchman’s achievements, she brings to life many of the characters so well that the book is worth visiting for this alone. Such a complex subject cannot be delivered in one book alone. She also does a good job in provided the size and scale of the battles and number of people involved and shows why German soldiers murdered Belgian civilians (she equally does not defend these actions).

I have heard that The Distant Mirror is Tuchman’s best work and reading this book had definitely peaked my interest in that. This is a classic for a reason and you should read this one that alone, I just feel that there are other books that are more ‘essential’ to understanding WWI.
Profile Image for howl of minerva.
81 reviews399 followers
April 15, 2016
I've been reading a fair bit about dubya dubya 2 recently but my knowledge of dubya dubya 1 consists of what I dimly recollect from school. That is: arms race, Franz Ferdinand, something something, the Somme, gas gas quick boys, Versailles. I also remember visiting the massive marble monument the Canadians built at Vimy ridge.

The 21 years separating 1918 and 1939 are not a great length of time. There's something to be said for the thesis that the two world wars should be understood as one extended conflict with a brief breather in the middle. Hitler's invasion of France in 1940 bears more than a passing resemblance to the Schlieffen plan. With the fall of three major empires: the Ottoman, the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian, the first world war probably has a greater claim than the second to the title of "the defining event of the twentieth century".

Tuchman is gifted at spinning a narrative and at vividly describing the key personalities. The book is extremely readable, even rollicking. On the other hand she has a fetishistic obsession with the minutiae of troop movements where I would be more interested in overarching and underlying socio-political themes. There's relatively little here about nationalism and imperialism, domestic politics or popular opinion of the war. Practically all we get on the assassination of Franz Ferdinand is Bismarck's prescient quip that the Great War would be kicked off by "some damn foolish thing in the Balkans".

As an easy introduction for someone who knows little about the first world war, it's excellent. For more depth and substance there are doubtless other places to look (I'll take recommendations).
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,715 reviews1,242 followers
July 28, 2012
This is an excellent but somewhat odd book; odd because the emphasis is so much more on the military than the political that you're left wondering why, how, precisely, this war was so inevitable. Granted, the political leaders are discussed in the first few chapters, the German Kaiser and the Russian Czar more so than the French and the British. But the stress is on the generals, and the war planners, on Schlieffen, whose plan had been prepared in 1905-06 and seemed to be restlessly waiting for enactment. Political alliances were there, and military alliances - it was understood that Britain would come to France's aid if France were attacked, and that Germany would assist Austria-Hungary, and that France, Britain and Russia were allied. All that was necessary apparently was a mechanism to ignite; and yet, to ignite what? What seems to be missing from the equation is actual hostility, actual reasons to fight. There's no Hitler here, no rampaging evil. Just a bunch of nations at the ready, with their war plans, their generals, and their armies.

I was expecting this to be a lighter read. It was a Pulitzer winner, after all. Tuchman is a superb writer, writing in an elegant, sometimes effervescent way that probably few historians today could match: "Doubting Lanrezac's mood, Joffre arrived early in the morning at Laon, now Lanrezac's headquarters, to lend him sangfroid out of his own bottomless supply." She has a charming, dry wit: "Their new Secretary for War was a barrister with a passion for German philosophy, Richard Haldane, who, when asked by the soldiers in Council what kind of army he had in mind, replied, "A Hegelian army." "The conversation then fell off," he recorded." Yet the book is also extremely dense, thoroughly and magnificently researched. No contemporaneous account or memoir has gone unplumbed. If you lose focus for a paragraph or two, you'll be lost. She has a way of not explaining much back story. Things will be referenced obliquely, such as "Kitchener of Khartoum." You'll have to research it yourself, if you're unfamiliar with it. There is an entire chapter titled "The Shadow of Sedan" where she never explains what Sedan was, or why we need to know about its shadow. (The Battle of Sedan (1870))

The maps in my edition, in tones of gray and grayer, were nearly impossible to read. If you really want to know what the outlines and events of these battles were you'll have to consult other sources.
Profile Image for Tom.
198 reviews41 followers
August 6, 2022
Witness the marriage of evocative writing and a problematic perspective. As popular histories go, Tuchman's own A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century is superior. As for books on the origin and opening of WWI: I'm no expert on the war but I think it's safe to conclude that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand warrants more than a single sentence. And wasn't there more to it all than Germany, France, Great Britain and (eventually) Russia? Reviewers who know more than me have called The Guns of August outdated. Others see it as brilliant on its own terms. Both sides have a fair argument. Maybe I'll return to this after I've read a few more exhaustive WWI books..
Profile Image for Ray.
576 reviews115 followers
May 19, 2018
This is a superb read. It is a tightly packed book, full of detail about arcane goings on in the corridors of power and on the battlefield. Europe in 1914 was divided into two armed camps, a rising power in Germany shackled to an Austro-Hungary about to succumb to the lure of nationhood amongst its subject peoples, and an encircling status quo alliance of France, Russia and probably perfidious Albion.

The murder of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian empire, by uppity Serbs provided the spark for a European and colonial war. Millions died, three empires were toppled, the first communist state born, resentments raised, and an Austrian corporal found his metier and his tribe

The guns of August details the first month of the war, where the failure by a close margin of the schleiffen plan and the annihilation of the Russian thrust into Prussia meant that a war which would be over by Christmas somehow became a four year attritional slog.
Profile Image for Max.
343 reviews309 followers
July 14, 2013
The Guns of August is history that reads like a novel. This compelling read delves into personalities and connects them to events with skill and verve bringing alive what could easily be just dull recitation. I am not a war novel buff, but this detailed account of the first month of WWI maintained my interest throughout. Tuchman’s style kept it suspenseful even though I knew the final outcome.

Christopher Brassard of the National War College summarizing Clausewitz called war “a dynamic, inherently unstable interaction of the forces of violent emotion, chance, and rational calculation.” That succinctly describes Barbara Tuchman’s depiction. I was overcome by just how dicey history and our future are. Any one of a countless number of things from a miscommunication or intercepted communication or rash act or indecision or single personality flaw sent years of planning awry.

My knowledge of events increased but more importantly so did my understanding of their interrelatedness. In the first section, The Guns of August describes how policies and attitudes resulting from the Napoleonic wars through the 1870 Franco-Prussian war and the 1905 Russo-Japanese war and more immediate causes culminated in WWI. In turn I could see how WWI would be part of this continuum leading to WWII and ultimately to the shaping of the world of today.

Barbara Tuchman is a very gifted writer who gives you a feel for the underlying flow of history. She does so in a style that is both pleasurable while reading and rewarding when finished. I look forward to enjoying many more of her books.
Profile Image for Iman Majdi zadeh.
89 reviews9 followers
March 29, 2021
خب بالاخره تونستم این کتاب رو تموم کنم، متوجه شدم که همچین هم کتابخوان نیستم😀😀😀
توصیه ای که میتونم به دوستان در مورد این کتاب بکنم اینه که قبل از خوندن حتما یه ریویو درباره جنگ جهانی اول بخونید. که چهارچوب کار دستتون باشه، همچنین سعی کنید برای خوندنش وقت بذارید و با دقت مطالعه کنید، میتونید بین خوندنتون برای تسلط بیشتر یه سری اسم ها رو گوگل کنید. بهر حال خوندن کتاب تاریخی میتونه خسته کننده و کسل کننده باشه. ولی کتاب خوب و قابل احترامیه و خوندش رو توصیه میکنم.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,737 reviews1,469 followers
July 11, 2013
Phew, this was a difficult book to digest in the audiobook format. Neither is it easy to digest in a paper book format. It is dense. It is detailed. Names and places and battles are thrown at you in rapid succession. You have to remember who is who, which corps is fighting where and its number, the title of each commander and more. You do not have time to stop and think and recall what was told to you minutes/pages or even hours/chapters before. You need more than a detailed map because you don’t have much time to spend looking at that map. What you need most of all is a good memory, a good knowledge of history and geographic knowledge before you even pick up the book. OR you can read this book to begin learning and accept that there will be parts that go over your head. That is what I did, and I enjoyed much of it, but I also spent time exasperated since there were sentences I had to think about and ponder before I understood their implications. I had to rewind and write notes and search on the internet.

Does this mean I regret reading it? My response is emphatically no.

Much of the book is set in Belgium and France. (It also covers the Eastern Prussian Front.) I have been to many of the towns, cities, citadels, squares, forests and rivers named. Knowing the history of what happened where I have walked is special to me. I am a bit unsure if it would mean as much to one who has not been there. If you have been in the Ardennes you immediately understand the difficulty of moving artillery around there. Having walked in Leuven, Dinant, Mons, Charleroi and Namur, to name a smattering, when you hear of the burning and sacking and murder of hostages, you more intimately understand. I believe my own experiences, rather than the writing made the events real.

It is important to know that this book is focused primarily on the military battles of the first month of the war. Why? Because what happened then set the course for the four years that followed. You might as well be told that the primary focus is military because that will not appeal to all. The start of World War One is all about the idiosyncrasies of generals. It is about a lack of communication. It is about men who have decided on a plan and from that they will not budge.

The narration by John Lee was fine, but he does not speak slowly and that might have made things a bit easier. Some say he speaks with a Scottish dialect. That is fine by me!

I will tell you why I liked this book. I now have the basics for how the war started. I appreciate knowing what has happened to the people living around me here in Belgium; I understand them better. I understand why they so quickly capitulated in the Second World War. Today there is so much squabbling going on between the Flemish and the French people of Belgium. It was wonderful to see how in the First World War they fought united, as one people, for their independence and very existence. I needed to learn of this.
Profile Image for Mostafa.
332 reviews30 followers
April 22, 2021
دو گروه از مردان
هیچگاه به حالت عادی باز نخواهند گشت
آنان که به جنگ رفته اند و آنانکه عاشق شده اند
رومن رولان

نمی دانم اگر دو واژه ناسیونالیسم و ناسیونالیسم دینی از دایره فکری بشر
حذف می شد ، و انسان عملا درکی از این دو واژه نمی داشت جلوی چه میزان از جنگ ها، تجاوزها، خشونت ها و خودبرتربینی ها که منشاء بی عدالتی و تعدی به روح و جسم بشر است، گرفته می شد

به حق که جهالت ، بزرگترین گناه بشر است. این جهالت نه ناسیونالیسم آلمانی می شناسد و نه ناسیونالیسم دینی (طالبان، القاعده) ر

پان ژرمنیستی که ادعای تفوق بر فرهنگ اروپا را دارد، و سایرین را مشتی انسان درجه دو می شناسد ، که فقط باید در خدمت آنها باشند، تسلط بر دیگران را رسالت خویش می داند و با فلسفه ( نیچه ) و علوم طبیعی( نظریه داروین) جنگ را یک نیاز طبیعی برای بشر می داند. دگماتیسم ژرمنی در ۲۵ اوت ۱۹۱۴ کتابخانه شهر لوون در بلژیک را به آتش می کشد و جالب اینجاست که این تجاوزها مورد تایید قشر برجسته و فرهنگی آلمان قرار می گیرد ... باورتان می شور که افرادی مثل توماس مان جنگ را تطهیر، رهایی و امیدی عظیمی می دانند!! و صلح را عنصری از فساد مدنیت! چگونه می تونه باور کرد که اینها از نسل گوته اند؟
حال این مدنیتی که مد نظر پان ژرمنیست ها بوده است را که در آتش زدن کتابخانه تجلی پیدا کرده مقایسه کنید با ناسیونالیسم دینی طالبان که در ۲۱ مارس ۲۰۰۱ مجسمه های بودا را در ایالت بامیان منفجر می کند تا مجسمه هایی که بنابر قوانین دینی آنها موجب انحطاط است را تخریب کند....
.به راستی چه تفاوتی بین آلمان تحت سیطره ویلهلم دوم و طالبان است
و باز هم تکرار سوال اول که اگر انسان نمیدانست ناسیونالیسم چیست( چه از نوع دینی و چه از نوع میهنی آن) این دنیا چه تفاوتی با الان می کرد

چه کسی جوابگوی فلیکس فیوه ، کودکی که سه هفته از عمرش گذشته بود و در کشتار دسته جمعی شهر دینان( در بلژیک) کشته شد،،،، هست
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
750 reviews202 followers
November 20, 2014
Nope. Maybe it is this particular audiobook version, but I'm really not feeling the love for this book.

With The Guns of August, Tuchman wrote this incredibly detailed account of the first month of WWI - and the detail is staggering, so much so that it might even be somewhat overwhelming and that somehow this detail detracts a little from what otherwise looks like a one-sided portrayal. I mean the detail staggering (and the only aspect that kept me reading this far) and includes a lot of detail of the politics, personalities, military strategy, philosophical motivations, etc. of all parties involved.
However, what I cannot get passed is that the well-known (western) figures (Foch, Churchill, etc. - even Haig and French of whose short-comings Monty later wrote without holding back) come out pretty well, whereas the less well known (and for the most part Russian and German) personalities seem to be caricatures. There is a lot of national stereotyping - but maybe this is just exaggerated by the narration of this particular audiobook version which aims to read different characters in actual accents. (Why???)

It is seriously making me dislike the book.
Profile Image for Evan Leach.
460 reviews135 followers
April 20, 2013
"Dead battles, like dead generals, hold the military mind in their dead grip, and Germans no less than other peoples prepare for the last war."
Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August.

img: German Cavalry

In her Pulitzer-Prize winning classic The Guns of August, the story of the first month of World War I, Barbara Tuchman argues convincingly that August 1914 was when the Gilded Age died and the modern era really began. The book opens with a famous depiction of Edward VII’s funeral in 1910, attended by all the kings and princes of the west: “the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last.” Other than a few details, this scene would not have been out of place in 1610. But by September 1914, it was clear that the world had changed in a fundamental way. And not necessarily for the better.

World War I is most famous for the years of bitter trench warfare that took place on the Western Front. But at the beginning of the war, in August 1914, the leading generals had other ideas. The Germans were determined to execute the Schlieffen Plan, a strategy where the bulk of their forces would attack France from the north, sweeping down the Atlantic coast, crushing French resistance, and taking Paris within 30 days. This necessitated an invasion of Belgium, and in all likelihood would drag England into the conflict, but this was a price the Germans were willing to pay.

img: The Schlieffen Plan

For their part, the French had never really gotten over their humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, a loss they blamed on a lack of sufficient offensive spirit, or “élan.” French leaders refused to sit back and fight a defensive war. Instead, largely ignoring the German menace to their north, they charged east in a fit of medieval gallantry that would have made Charlemagne proud.

img: French Armored Cavalry WWI

Although most of the German forces were attacking from the north, plenty remained in the east, and they were perfectly content to hunker behind their machine guns and let the enemy come to them. The French, dressed in the same bright red and blue uniforms that Napoleon’s soldiers wore a century before, suffered terrible losses and during the Battle of the Frontiers (August 14-24) were driven back to where they started. Meanwhile, French forces in the north (along with the British Expeditionary Force) fought hard to delay the Germans’ advance, but were forced to give ground before the overwhelming German assault. On the Eastern Front, the Germans had annihilated the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg, and in the west their armies were getting closer to Paris by the day. The reeling French chose to make a desperate last stand at the Marne. Every man was needed; famously, the taxi drivers of Paris were used to ferry troops from the capital to the front in order to plug a hole in the line.

img: Marne Taxis

The Germans had been pushing their men hard to reach Paris, and in the “Miracle at the Marne” the French and British were able to repel the exhausted Germans and win a historic victory, ending the Germans’ hopes for a quick and decisive war. Instead, the two sides spent the next four years in brutal trench warfare, the Germans were ultimately defeated, and the table was set for round two in 1939.

The Guns of August covers a lot more ground than this in its 600+ pages, from the naval buildup to reactions in America and beyond. But throughout the book, there is a sense that the world changed forever in August 1914. World War I was a dumb, senseless war in a lot of ways. There were a number of causes, but at the end of the day Germany basically wanted to fight a war for the hell of it. After all, that’s what the nations of Europe had been doing for as long as they’d existed. Some territory would change hands, some lives would be lost and some glory would be won, and everyone would be home by Christmas. But by September 1914, it was clear that advances in technology had forever changed the nature of war. In the Battle of Marne, there were approximately 500,000 casualties. To put that in perspective, there were less than 47,000 total casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. The age of élan was officially over.

The history in this book is fascinating and well researched, but the writing on display is simply superb. Tuchman was one of the best prose stylists of her generation, fiction or nonfiction, and she makes this book an absolute pleasure to read. I went into this book with very high expectations, as The Guns of August has the reputation of a nonfiction classic. I was not disappointed: this was one of the 2-3 best nonfiction books I’ve ever read and a true masterpiece. 6 stars, highest possible recommendation.
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