I am conflicted about giving this low rating because I suspect that my reasons have little to do with the author or the narrator. Having heard good reviews about The Guns of August, I purchased this audio book with great expectations. Barbara W. Tuchman's writing style is clear and concise; it is an excellent representation of what I look for in historical non-fiction. Nadia May's narration is worthy of praise; she brings life to passages that might have otherwise been droned as a litany.
So what's wrong, you might ask. The book has too many players and too many scenarios for me to successfully comprehend in audio. When reading such a work in print, I may easily turn back a few pages and remind myself that General Whatnot serves the German army but is in conflict with General Himtoo, who is also German. This is not so easy in audio.
At about a third of the way through the book, I decided to just keep pushing ahead and hope that I would catch the thread without continually "paging back." Another third of the way along, I find myself in a quagmire of characters and plots. It's not enjoyable and I'm not learning a thing. I will re-visit this printed book in the future.
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.
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.
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.
If you like your histories factual and documented, then Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" is the book for you. Tuchman details the politics and the miltary planning that brought the world to the war to end all wars, and hundreds of thousands of young men to their deaths.
All the main players are covered: Germany, France, England, and Russia. The main catalyst of the war, the assassination of Austrian archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist, is only briefly mentioned, however a thorough explanation of how that event led all of Europe to take up arms follows. As the title states, this book covers only the first month of World War I, August of 1914 (although a few days in September are mentioned for continuity sake.) I was astonished to find out just how close Germany came to winning the war in that first month, if not for a few missteps and some luck on the Allies part.
All in all, a top notch history of the start to WWI. Barbara Tuchman won a Pulitzer Prize in 1962 for her extraordinary effort writing this novel. I chose this book because I didn't know very much about World War I, especially how it started, but this book surely changed that. I would bet that even the most avid history buff would acquire some additional knowledge from reading this novel. If you are interested in history, especially WWI, then I whole-heartedly recommend "The Guns of August" by Barbara W. Tuchman.
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.
Love to read, and Audible has made the two-hour daily commute enjoyable!
August 1914 in WWI - Won Pulitzer for non-fiction. Book concentrates on the opening of WWI and what lead up to it. It covers mistakes that were made by all sides that lead to the war lasting so long, the beginning of trench war fare, and what from the beginning may have resulted in a subsequent war in the 1940s.
I had a hard time with the narration of this book - this was the first non-fiction I've listened to with Nadia May as narrator (Anna Karenina and Middlemarch, and it just didn't work for me). I was surprised as I've really enjoyed Nadia May before. Also, I've listened to quite a bit of non-fiction audiobooks, and this is the first that didn't work for me.
I'm sure if I read the book, it would get an 4 or so, but I'm giving a 3 because I was never engaged as I would wish.
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.
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.