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 In this sense, the book feels a bit outdated as the last years of thinking about WWI are not reflected.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.
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.
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.
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.
I couldn't listen to this when I first downloaded it. Did not appreciate the narration.
But after a couple of years I gave it another try and found it gripping. I became accustomed
to the narration. The timing and pace of it was perfect. I now understand
why the Guns of August is considered a classic.
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.
I read science, biographies, histories, mysteries, adventures, thrillers, educationals, linguistics but not no way, not no how, romances.
There's a reason this book was considered a living classic when it was published in the 60's and has remained a classic continuously to this day. It is impeccable and quite possibly one of the more perfect books I've ever read. Here we have an unbiased examination of all the people and events that planned for and lead to the start of WWI, the Great War. The first section of the book discusses each influence and who participated and how it affected the overall readiness. It's a wonderfully precise description of an intricate fuse.
Then, a third of the way through the book, Franz Ferdinand dies, and the world is thrust into war. Now we have as precise, as finely tuned a description of the fuse burning and the ultimate explosion. She looked at every aspect of who declared war, what the debate was like, and how they did it. Then she turns her attention again, this time to the fighting, and writes a perfectly paced and description war history, examining all the movements of the first 30 days of combat. At the end, she looks at the world is devastating and analyzes the outcomes in perfectly cogent and arresting prose. It's an amazing accomplishment. If I had a criticism, it is that she spends no time looking at the lighting of the fuse, the assassination of Ferdinand. But she did this because the world was going to go to war, it was just looking for a reason.
This is a great book. Buy it.
Better or not I don't know, but I am extremely grateful to have had this audio edition.
I give it 5 stars only because I prefer to be generous in my ratings. On the whole her reading is excellent, but it is slightly marred by the attempts to give quoted passages a French or German accent (this is a practice I find pointless and irritating, except possibly when a foreigner actually spoke in English and not in his/her own language; here the imitation accents are not too badly done, as Nadia May does at least know French and German rather well). The pronunciation of French and German names are on the whole good (more than one can say for many audiobooks), though occasionally imperfect (for instance, the final 's' in Jaurès is not silent, and Lanrezac should not sound as if it were written 'Lanrézac'). In general, foreign names represent one of the greatest problems with audiobooks: we cannot see how they are written, and often they are incomprehensible if we don't know the name or the corresponding language. I repeat here my suggestion of having a pdf supplement; another possibility is for the reader to spell out a foreign name at its first appearance.
Yes, I didn't want to stop listening.
One might think, as I did myself, that a thick book recounting the events of the first few weeks of World War I is of somewhat limited scope for the general reader with no special interest in this war. After listening, I have changed my mind. The book not only vividly brings to life the events and the protagonists but also gives a clear understanding of how the unspeakable horror of the four year trench warfare came about. The book in fact illuminates not only the war but the entire history of the 20th century, as well as the nature of war itself.
I'm an RN at a small rural hospital in Central California. I spend a fair amount of time behind the wheel and love having stories read to me. I do a lot of reading aloud to my kids.
I've read a few of Tuchman's decades ago. My favorite was Stillwell and the American Experience in China. Never tried Guns before and it's probably a swell book if you're reading a book.
If you're taking a long drive and trying to keep a mental map of Europe and various battle fronts and river systems in place, it's a little tricky. As a paper book, I'm sure it's swell. As an audio book for a quiet evening with a good glass of something and plenty of maps spread out it's probably a great deal of fun as well. It just didn't work for my limited purpose which is staying amused as I drive 90 miles to and from work.