If you want a lengthy account of the month of August 1914 from an Anglo-Saxon point of view, this book is for you.
While a lot of sources are cited, this is more of a narrative than a scientific account. It tells a good, if somewhat one-sided story. In this sense, the book feels a bit outdated as the last years of thinking about WWI are not reflected. In language and content, it is still in the tradition of the WWII generation, meaning more anti-German in spirit, language and interpretation of events than recent historians. If you don't mind this and you want to be entertained by history in a detailed account, this is a good (audio-)book.
About the audio: The narrative is likeably and I feel the speaker matches the writers style. Unfortunately the pronunciation of French and German is poor and where foreign accents in English are emulated from supposedly native Russian, German and French speakers it becomes simply annoying. Somebody who obviously does not speak these languages simply cannot bring across the accents properly (especially to someone like myself who is not a native speaker of English). It would have been a much better – if more costly – choice to have these parts spoken by foreign (and male) speakers to contrast narrative and citation.
I am a bilingual high school teacher. I mostly read non-fiction, especially history, but I am also a sucker for science-fiction and fantasy novels.
It's no surprise that this book is widely thought of as the definitive work on the critical first month of the First World War. I listened to Tuchman's The Proud Tower first and it was immeasurably helpful in following the people and the references to events leading up to 1914. I highly recommend doing the same - it makes this book much easier to follow and the motives and perspectives of the people much clearer.
Like in The Proud Tower, Nadia May does excellent narration. After listening to two (and currently listening to a third - The Zimmerman Telegram) books narrated by her, I wish all the books I listen to were done by her. The pace is excellent, the accents are spot-on, foreign-language words are pronounced expertly, and it is easy to follow dialogue versus narration and speaker versus speaker within dialogue.
If, like me, you have only a long-ago high school history class level of knowledge about the First World War, be prepared to learn a lot. This book is extremely well-researched and detailed - literally day-by-day and from British, German, French, and (though not as completely) Russian perspectives. It covers both the German fronts on land as well as the naval perspective and is as complete as you could ever ask for in covering all the key events that created the war of attrition that lasted until the Americans got involved in late 1917.
However, by far the best part was the coverage of the perspectives of individual actors in the events. You really feel like you know the personalities of the people, particularly (but not exclusively) those at GQG and OHL making the decisions and the most important commanders of the armies in the field. Tuchman does an excellent job of evaluating the actions of all the players fairly and, in the end, few of the highest decision-makers (especially in France and Germany) come out looking like they had their heads on straight. It gave me a whole new and deeper understanding of why things turned out the way they did. Between The Guns of August and The Proud Tower, my perspective on how and why the First World War began has changed completely. Forget the assassination of the Archduke - it's practically a nonevent. Often history books used in school make it sound like that event was the key and the war only happened because of it. It is so much more interesting and complex than that, and, as a teacher, after reading these books I wouldn't even simplify it down that way at all for students. Even the concept of the Triple Entente was not anything like how it was portrayed when I learned about it in high school. Now I feel like I really knew nothing about the war before I read these books and suddenly it is clear.
My only complaint about the book is that you do need to read The Proud Tower first. So much of what goes on in this one makes more sense and so many briefly-mentioned characters are familiar because I listened to that one first that I can't even evaluate how it would be to listen to this one without that one. I suspect I got a lot more out of this because I listened to both.
I never used to think the First World War was as interesting as the Second and so although I love to read about history, I kind of ignored it. Now I am sorry I did. I can't recommend this book enough - it is obvious why it is considered a classic, and it is just as relevant and useful today as it was when it was first written.
I'm a web developer based out of Sacramento, I listen to books while I work, and love audible.
I went into this expecting a story about WWI what a got was a history of WWI, at least the beginning. What is amazing is that 99% of this info is not in the school history text books I studied. They seem to gloss over everything, make make is sound like nothing is caused by anything and it's a mysterious.
Tuchman really knows how to bring history to life and make it interesting.
I love Audiobooks. I listen to roughly 50-100 hours a month. It's a good thing I work for Audible!
I'm not sure if the book could be improved as an Audiobook. Its well written, and well read, but it features a lot of dates, names, locations and shifting points of view that are hard to follow without a visual reference.
It was difficult to follow all the players and points of view without a map, glossary and footnotes. Her descriptions are rich, but I kept loosing the flow of the book
I like the scene she painted in the first part of the book of the funeral of the King on England. The heraldry and pomp of all the assembled royalty of Europe in a long-gone London (much of it bombed out of existence in World War II). Its hard to appreciate how much the world has changed in less than 100 years!
Not so much a scene but I would definitely cut back on how much the author changes perspectives between different characters. It devolves into a lot of "he said, then so and so said" in ways that don't really clarify your understanding of events.
As much as I'd love to recommend this book - good narration, fascinating topic, well written, its just not right for an Audiobook. Skip it.
I just finished listening to this book and there's a lot to like. Focusing on such a short period of such a long war gives you some amazing insight into the thought processes, failures and successes of the leaders at that time.
Some people complained about the narrator's habit of speaking with accents for the various players, but I appreciated it because there are so many names being thrown around that sometimes it's hard to remember which side they are on. What IS annoying is all of the French phrases being tossed in there...but you start to ignore them after a while.
Also, you should find and study a good map of France, Belgium and Germany, because you will be totally lost unless you have an understanding where these battles took place.
Novelist and screenwriter; formerly BBC reporter and interviewer. TV and Film scripts include Mists of Avalon, Legends of Earthsea,The Borrowers,Small Soldiers, War and Peace, Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Dunkirk.
A fascinating account of how world war one began. funny, appalling, extraordinary stories of the men and women who brought the world to Armageddon. And very well read.
Some friends dislike Tuchman's writing, too crammed with facts. I like the full context she paints and am not too anxious to get to the punchline. She does pick people as good and bad at what the do, but in times of war, our strengths and faults are accentuated. Her doing so makes a good story and probably she is usually right. This book certainly explains how a month determined much of what the 20th century became. It would be interesting to read a german's account of this time.
The writer is evidently very knowledgeable. It's a great indepth lesson but with too many unexplained and uninterpreted French quotes/references and terms that left huge gaps in my understanding. The aristocratic French accent pronounciations heightened the frustration. It was like screaming English to make a foreigner understand. Further, brief but unexplained references to historical events left me continuously stopping to google for information as to what the event was and why the writer had proclaimed it as having impact on the story. Probably a better read for a French speaking historian than just an interested novice.
She was way too shrill. I have other books she's read that weren't awful, but she was intolerable here.
I recommend the version read by John Lee.
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
While it describes only the events of the first month of WWI, it does so in such great detail and with such clarity and vividness that it is quite understandable why The Guns of August received the Pulitzer Prize and is considered a classic in the military history of WWI. It provides a history of the plans, strategies, world events, and international sentiments prior to and during the war. As Stephen Pinker so brilliantly summarizes, “The carnage was stupefying; 8.5M deaths in combat and perhaps 15M deaths overall in just 4yrs. Romantic militarism by itself cannot explain the orgy of slaughter... the war was a perfect storm of destructive currents brought suddenly together by the iron dice of Mars. An ideological background of militarism and nationalism a sudden contest of honor that threatened the credibility of each of the great powers; a Hobbesian trap that frightened leaders into attacking before they were attached first and overconfidence that deluded each of them into thinking that victory would come swiftly... military machines that could deliver massive quantities of men to a front that could mow them down as quickly as they arrived... a game of attrition that locked the two sides into seeking exponentially greater costs into a ruinous situation; all set off by a Serbian nationalist who had a lucky day.” These are all brilliantly dissected, elucidated and offered by Barbara Tuchman for our close examination. The traps, miscalculations and mistakes are all there. More examples of the follies of war.
I read TGoA because I was interested in knowing more about WWI. The book did not disappoint because in fact I was more interested in the beginning of the war, its participants and cause(s). TGoA is not an exhaustive military analysis of the entire war; again, it really only considers the first month in detail. For those such as I, it is sufficient. For those interested in the four years following, it’s a great introduction, one probably without equal.