This a good history of how the First World War started & how it became a war of attrition. What makes it special is how Tuchman perfectly balances details with the story. The result is a view of Europe over 100 years ago that shows one thing very clearly: no one on any side of this conflict had the foggiest idea what they were getting into. This didn't prevent the leaderships of the belligerents from blindly embracing the assumption that they could easily see the future, & that their inevitable war would be quick & glorious. The technology of the weaponry had made the precious traditions & tactics of the Military Caste obsolete. Years of careful planning had never taken into account how humans tend to be unpredictable.
As usual, the book tracks the actions of those whose names are still vaguely remembered. The ordinary soldiers are mentioned occasionally, as is the case in military histories. However, Tuchman presents the unvarnished truth of the actions of these men & attempts to make a hero out of no one.
This is an important book both because of its subject matter and the role that it played in shaping President Kennedy's thoughts during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The first 3/4 of the book is magnificent and does a great job describing the build-up to the war. The last 1/4 of the book bogs down a little as the author describes in detail much of the troop movements and discussions among generals. This last 1/4 was hard to follow while listening at the same time as doing other things. Still, I recommend the book if for no other reason than listening to the first 3/4 as a great way to understand the beginnings of World War I.
A great classic of WWI history, a vivid portrait of events, leaders and people, never losing the big picture but also with a keen eye for detail.
This book has piqued my interest in a way that no cut & dried history books of school ever did. (Yes, history was actually taught back then.)
Guns of August focuses on the month leading up to and the first month of WWI, an incredibly short bit of time which signaled the end of a political and cultural era, and abruptly thrust the world into the 20th century. Barbara Tuchman's excellent research and fascinating writing earned her a well-deserved Pulitzer prize for this must-read book.
And, unfortunately for me, reading - not listening - is what i'll have to do. I just couldnt finish this recording, owing neither to the writing nor performance, both of which are excellent, but to my own need for visual aids. But never fear! The print edition includes photos of the players and maps depicting the complex battle plans.
Guns of August is simply so rich & compelling that I owe it to myself to finish. I plan to purchase the print edition and simultaneously listen to the recording.
Extraordinarily well-written, and telling only the story of August was a very smart approach. If she covered the entire war in the same detail, the book would be longer than Decline + Fall. But Tuchman realized the first battles really set the stage for the rest of the war and, well, the rest of world history ever since. She does a great job of conveying the personalities of guys like Joffre, Ludendorf and Von Moltke and how well each of them coped with the unprecedented pressure they were under. I have skipped this book many times because I "already know what happened." Maybe I knew the battles but the detailed picture she paints of the old world destroying itself is something you don't get from casualty counts and timelines alone. Even, or especially, people with good knowledge of the Great War will love this book
I do not often take the time to write reviews, as I read so many books that the project would be overwhelming. However, having just finished The Guns of August, I feel compelled to comment. In this audiobook, the narrator, Nadia May, gave one of the most masterful performances I think I have ever heard. She switched among characters from Russia, Britain, France, and Germany, giving each a believable accent while also pronouncing names of numerous characters, regions, and cities in four different countries without any hesitation whatsoever in her narration. Being a new student to World War I, and lacking a comprehensive understanding of European geography, I found myself occasionally totally lost during the passages describing military movements, but I never ceased enjoying the reader's treatment of this very well-written account of the early days of World War I.
Audiobook may not be the best way to read this book because there are so many names, and so many places, that you really want to have easy access to a map. Other than that, it's a fascinating exploration of the utter ineptitude of all the leadership of the armies in the first weeks of WWI. One comes away with the feeling that so much life was lost largely because of utterly blinkered Generals and Field Marshals sticking to plans that were irrelevant and untenable. And, when things didn't go their way, they blamed the underlings who they had sent out as cannon fodder. Proof that war and the men who wage it are ridiculous.
Recent convert to audio books and have never "read" as much as I have in the last 6 months
Great book. Listeners will benefit from a basic knowledge of WW1 and a map.