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The Guns of August: The Pulitzer…

The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic about the Outbreak… (original 1962; edition 2004)

by Barbara Wertheim Tuchman

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3,595531,465 (4.31)2 / 369
Title:The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic about the Outbreak of World War I
Authors:Barbara Wertheim Tuchman
Info:Presidio Press (2004), Editie: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 640 pagina's
Collections:Your library

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The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman (1962)


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”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, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens---four dowagers and three regnant---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. 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.” (Page 1)

So opens Barbara Tuchman’s wonderful narrative non-fiction account of the events leading up to WWI and the first month of the conflict. First published in 1962, it’s easy to understand the book’s lasting legacy. As lovely as the prose in that paragraph is (some have called it the most beautiful opening paragraph ever written) the remainder of the book provides many instances of her ability to turn a phrase. And that made the reading of this summary of this sad period in history actually very enjoyable.

Tuchman concentrated on the Western Front with a small bit about Russian involvement in the East. She didn’t touch on the war in the Balkans. Her description of the German occupation of Belgium and the atrocities that ensued was so vivid that it literally leaped from the page:

”Von Kluck complained that somehow the methods employed ‘were slow in remedying the evil.’ The Belgian populace continued to show the most implacable hostility. ‘These evil practices on the part of the population ate into the very vitals of our Army.’ Reprisals grew more frequent and severe. The smoke of burning villages, the roads clogged with fleeing inhabitants, the mayors and burgomasters shot as hostages were reported to the world by the crowds of Allied, American and other neutral correspondents. They wrote of the debris of sacked houses, the blackened villages in which no human was left but only a silent cat on a shattered doorstep, the streets strewn with broken bottles and broken windowpanes, the agonized lowing of cows with unmilked udders, the endless files of refugees with their bundles and wagons and carts and umbrellas for sleeping on rainy nights along the roadside, of the fields of grain bending over with ripeness and no one to reap them.”

Then Tuchman laid out the difficulties of this war: the hesitation of the English to commit to the war and join France against Germany; the failure of all sides to prepare for a long war; the enormous and never before seen siege mortars of the Germans; the German justification for the atrocities their troops committed; the lack of a French defensive war; the trench warfare that determined the war of position that would last for four long years; and finally, the enormous egos of the generals who led the charge, especially the French General Joffre and the English general Sir John French whose refusal to cooperate and change their initial plan in order to implement a cooperative plan that might work, almost led to the defeat of the allies in the first month.

The Battle of the Marne turned out to be “one of the most decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would ultimately lose or the Allies ultimately win but because it determined that the war would go on.”

Beautifully written, carefully researched and compulsively readable, The Guns of August should be on your reading list. Very highly recommended. ( )
11 vote brenzi | Jul 21, 2014 |
While the ultimate outcome of The Great War was not decided in it's first month, the nature of the contest was as Barbara Tuchman so masterfully illustrates in "The Guns of August".

From the outset Tuchman shows that all the belligerents made crucial mistakes that slowly mounted resulting the Allied victory at the Marne then to total stalemate for four bloody years. The first 30 days of combat on the Western Front when the entire continent and possibly the world thought it would be a short war, after over 40 years of continental peace, changed everything and everyone it touched along with those it didn't.

In almost 450 pages of text, Tuchman gives an overview of how the war plans that both sides would use in that first month were developed and then showed the history of what happened when they were applied. She filled each page with dense material but with no frivolous words to get in the way. Although in a few places she must, along with the reader guess at what a particular individual commander was thinking at a particular moment she supports her conclusion with the overall situation he faced at the time. Tuchman quoted individuals in their native tongue, however for some one like myself who didn't now any French or German it meant nothing and I had to figure out what was implied by what Tuchman wrote before and afterwards. If leaving unexplained a quote in foreign language is the worst critique I can assess a book, then I'm literally grabbing at straws.

"The Guns of August" was an instant classic upon publication and for any student of history it is a must read. With the 100-year anniversary of The Great War's beginning fast approaching, now is an excellent time to do so. ( )
2 vote mattries37315 | Jul 11, 2014 |
This is a highly readable history of the years leading up to the First World War and of the first month of the war. Tuchman synthesizes events to show how a series of decisions by a handful of personalities led to one of the greatest and most influential tragedies of the 20th century. I like that she used only primary sources and was impressed that she was able to present the key players on all sides impartially. She is also very witty, a rarity in most histories. I highly recommend it for all history buffs and anyone who enjoys meticulous writing. ( )
1 vote NTPawelski | Apr 27, 2014 |
Tuchman's work on World War I shows events leading up to World War I and its beginning, focusing mostly on the month of August 1914. She spends a lot of the time describing the various strategies of the parties involved in the Conflict. It is easy to see why this work won the Pulitzer Prize when published. It has definitely stood the test of time. While I'm certain that other books cover the build-up to war and first month of it, this book needs to be read by anyone doing serious study of that time. ( )
1 vote thornton37814 | Apr 10, 2014 |
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Barbara Tuchman set out to describe the events which led up to the onset of the Great War. Focusing primarily on the heads of state and government, she describes what the dynamics were in the early years of the 20th century, in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war from which Germany emerged victorious and hungered for world domination. Until reading this book, I had always believed that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28th, 1914 was the spark that suddenly started it all. I had also been under the impression that the war could have been averted, but the picture Tuchman paints of those years leading up to August 1914 seems to show that the Germans were bent on invasion and domination and in effect forcibly provoked it's enemies to retaliate. I had not known the history of Belgium, nor that it was, up till the German invasion in August 1914, a neutral country as determined by a treaty which had been signed by Prussia in 1839. Tuchman describes how the Germans deliberately invaded Belgium and proceeded to brutalize the local population with the excuse that they were meeting violent resistance from the civilians, in what came to be known as the Rape of Belgium. Here, the assassination of Ferdinand is barely mentioned. In this version of events, it seems that the allied forced of France and Britain on the Western front, and Russia on the Eastern front, had no choice but to retaliate to stop the German forces from proceeding on to their targeted invasion of France and onward.

I can't say this is the kind of book I normally gravitate to. It's focus is on the military strategies, plans of action and commands, which is an aspect of war which is not of great interest to me. I am more interested in the human element, which is usually to be found in fictional novels, or stories about individual experiences, but it seemed to me important to read about the major forces which led to the onset of war so I could gain a bit more understanding of the political aspects which influenced an entire generation and were then responsible for tens of millions of casualties in that other war just a couple of decades later. I was quite fascinated with the first chapter, describing the pomp and ceremony of the Funeral procession of King Edward VII in May 1910, which presents all the major world-wide players of the day, at what was reportedly one of the largest gatherings of European royalty ever to take place, and one of the last before many royal families were deposed in World War I and its aftermath. Later on, I was much less enthused with the focus remaining on strategy and troupe movements, but instead of abandoning ship (so to speak) as I was tempted to do, decided to keep listening in a similar spirit in which I would have continued attending a lecture series in hopes of bettering my general knowledge, even if this meant listening distractedly at best though long bouts of the narrative.

It's hard for me to say whether Tuchman's is a biased view of events or not, as I have not yet read anything else comparable about WWI, but I did get the strong impression that the blame as to who was responsible for causing the war lay strongly on German powers . There followed detailed descriptions of decisions by the allied forces which might have turned things around, so the blame does not solely rest on the Germans, but one can hardly read this book and walk away feeling much sympathy for them, and for this reason I think I will have to make a point on reading works where the focus is quite different so I can form a more balanced view. As it is, I walk away quite angry, thinking that all this massacre could have been avoided had the Keiser and some of the 'great German intellectuals' not been obsessed with world domination. In other words, my prejudices are more or less intact thus far.

This is a rare case when I've decided to rate the book more on it's own merit than to reflect my private appreciation of it. As a history course, I think it is to be highly recommended. Those who tend to read non-fiction regularly and are comfortable in the realm of power plays and politics will definitely find full satisfaction here. For those like me who only occasionally read non-fiction and prefer to read about the day-to-day realities of living through war, this may seem too dry, but then there is a time and place for everything, and I thought 2014 was a good year to make room for reading the kinds of books about war I would not normally gravitate to. A last note about this particular audio version; I was very annoyed with John Lee, who insisted on adopting the various accents of whoever was being quoted. He is no Meryl Streep and his accents were far from convincing, besides which it took away from the serious tone of the work and was not at all appropriate. I know there is another audio version narrated by Nadia May, though I do not know whether or not she puts in a similar type of performance. ( )
2 vote Smiler69 | Mar 7, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara W. Tuchmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Massie, Robert K.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, NadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The human heart is the starting point of all matters pertaining to war.
--Marechal de Saxe
Reveries on the Art of War (Preface), 1732

The terrible Ifs accumulate.
--Winston Churchill
The World Crisis, Vol. I, Chap. XI
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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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345476093, Mass Market Paperback)

"More dramtatic than fiction...THE GUNS OF AUGUST is a magnificent narrative--beautifully organized, elegantly phrased, skillfully paced and sustained....The product of painstaking and sophisticated research."
Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman has brought to life again the people and events that led up to Worl War I. With attention to fascinating detail, and an intense knowledge of her subject and its characters, Ms. Tuchman reveals, for the first time, just how the war started, why, and why it could have been stopped but wasn't. A classic historical survey of a time and a people we all need to know more about, THE GUNS OF AUGUST will not be forgotten.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:09 -0400)

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A Pulitzer Prize-winning recreation of the powderkeg that was Europe during the crucial first thirty days of World War I traces the actions of statesmen and patriots alike in Berlin, London, St. Petersburg, and Paris: how the war started, why, and why it could have been stopped but wasn't.… (more)

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