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The Guns of August | [Barbara W. Tuchman]

The Guns of August

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, historian Barbara Tuchman brings to life the people and events that led up to World War I. This was the last gasp of the Gilded Age, of Kings and Kaisers and Czars, of pointed or plumed hats, colored uniforms, and all the pomp and romance that went along with war. How quickly it all changed...and how horrible it became.
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Publisher's Summary

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, historian Barbara Tuchman brings to life the people and events that led up to World War I. This was the last gasp of the Gilded Age, of Kings and Kaisers and Czars, of pointed or plumed hats, colored uniforms, and all the pomp and romance that went along with war. How quickly it all changed...and how horrible it became.

Tuchman masterfully portrays this transition from 19th to 20th Century, focusing on the turning point in the year 1914: the month leading up to the war and the first month of the war. With fine attention to detail, she reveals how and why the war started, and why it could have been stopped but wasn't, managing to make the story utterly suspenseful even when we already know the outcome.

©1990 Dr. Lester Tuchman; (P)2005 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"More dramatic than fiction...a magnificent narrative¿beautifully organized, elegantly phrased, skillfully paced...The product of painstaking and sophisticated research." (Chicago Tribune)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Carolyn Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 01-13-13
    Carolyn Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 01-13-13 Member Since 2012

    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.

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    "Truly Excellent"

    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.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steffen ZurichSwitzerland 06-20-08
    Steffen ZurichSwitzerland 06-20-08 Member Since 2007
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    "Slightly outdated, single sided perspective"

    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.

    25 of 35 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew FAIR OAKS, CA, United States 10-17-14
    Andrew FAIR OAKS, CA, United States 10-17-14 Member Since 2009

    I'm a web developer based out of Sacramento, I listen to books while I work, and love audible.

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    "Just Amazing"
    Any additional comments?

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joe Kansas City, MO, United States 12-12-13
    Joe Kansas City, MO, United States 12-12-13 Member Since 2011

    I read science, biographies, histories, mysteries, adventures, thrillers, educationals, linguistics but not no way, not no how, romances.

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    "Hasn't Aged in 40 Years"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    None of your damn business Seattle, WA 05-30-12
    None of your damn business Seattle, WA 05-30-12 Member Since 2011

    I love Audiobooks. I listen to roughly 50-100 hours a month. It's a good thing I work for Audible!

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    "Important book, just not a good Audiobook"
    What would have made The Guns of August better?

    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.


    What was most disappointing about Barbara W. Tuchman’s story?

    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


    Which scene was your favorite?

    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!


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Guns of August?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rebecca 11-27-11
    Rebecca 11-27-11 Member Since 2009

    Love to read, and Audible has made the two-hour daily commute enjoyable!

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    "Didn't work for me"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher Nahant, MA, United States 10-31-11
    Christopher Nahant, MA, United States 10-31-11
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    "Know your geography..."

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gavin Santa Monica, CA, United States 07-14-11
    Gavin Santa Monica, CA, United States 07-14-11 Member Since 2013

    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.

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    "Eye-opening"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    paul 08-29-10
    paul 08-29-10 Member Since 2015
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    "Wonderful history"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tina M. 07-13-08
    Tina M. 07-13-08 Member Since 2013
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    "A challenge for non-French listeners."

    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.

    12 of 19 people found this review helpful
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  • Tom
    West Wickham, United Kingdom
    11/10/11
    Overall
    "A fine and interesting book"

    Barbara Tuchman won a Pulitzer Prize for this book and it is easy to understand why. She deals with a massively important turning point in history and writes in such an uncluttered and interesting style, and strikes a nicely judged balance between the historical narrative and comment. But you do need to concentrate to keep a grip of the huge cast of characters and the foreign names!

    Superbly well narrated.

    The only problem with listening to audio history books with a military them is that unless your grasp of of the geography is very good, you occasionly need to resort to a map to keep track of what's going on. But this does not detract from the enjoyment of the book.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Jim
    London
    10/25/11
    Overall
    "Completely gripping"

    The reviews for this book tempted me to get it despite a feeling that there surely couldn't be anything new to say about the first world war. However; it grips from the start to create a clear picture of what was driving the seemingly non-sensical start of world war one and how the first few months of the war unfolded. If all of that sounds a bit dry there are a sequence of gloriously bonkers characters amongst the ranks of Europe's nobility and military class which add fascinating human colour to the epic historical sweep

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Kirstine
    Bonnyrigg, United Kingdom
    5/22/14
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    "Not a good choice for an audio version"

    This is a book of highly detailed scholarship that lays out all the factors and players that led to the start of the First World War. However, I found it too densely packed with facts, lists and characters to work well as an audio-book.

    This audio version is an anniversary edition 25 years after the first publication and opens with a self-congratulatory introduction by the author who also felt no changes were necessary, which I found ironic as the first sentence of the book refers to Edward the Seventh as the King of England. Time and time again she refers to England and the English when it should have been Britain/United Kingdom and British. Particularly ironic, for example, when in one instance the Gordon Highlander Regiment is referred to within a few sentences. I acknowledge that many foreigners refer to the England when meaning the UK but an historian should know better.

    I enjoy history books but gave up on this one after a few hours. I have been listening to a series of war novels recently and found part one of Ken Follett's Century Trilogy "Fall of Giants" a moving account of World War One that was also informative about the factors that led to the start of that war but in a more digestible form.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • Linden
    BROMLEY, United Kingdom
    4/27/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Not for me"

    I'm sure this is a book that I should have read hard-copy, rather than tried to listen to. I found it difficult to concentrate and remember what was happening, and the narration didn't help me. Shame, as I was very interested to hear the tales and explanations about this period.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Farniboy
    Wirral, UK
    2/22/15
    Overall
    Performance
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    "World War I: The First Month"
    What did you like most about The Guns of August?

    Its just a great history book. In the centenary year of the start of the war I've decided to listen/read a few books about the war. I don't think I could have chosen a better place to start. Tuchman brings the war to life with her well researched book. bringing the characters of Moltke, Joffre and French to life. It deals with the events of the first month of WWI with the countries affected by the Schlieffen Plan.


    What did you like best about this story?

    It was an easy listen! There are a lot of people and events to memorise, but Tuchman does it so well. I got a little confused with the Russian names involved in the Battle of Tannenburg in East Prussia but this was only one chapter. The battle scenes and events were described really well and you got to feel the exhaustion and confusion of the soldier as well as the plans, frustrations and organistion the generals had to do.


    Have you listened to any of Nadia May’s other performances? How does this one compare?

    Nadia May's performance was superb. Considering it was a history of a war and all the voices baring a handful were male, she bought the people to life. Definitely someone I'd listen to again.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    You couldn't help but feel sorry for the brave Belgium people. The first European people to get a taste of total war.


    Any additional comments?

    A great listen. It does help if you know a little of the causes of WWI as the book doesn't deal very much with the Balkans, or the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Manish
    1/1/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Brilliant"

    loved this. great characterisations. beautifully read with the right amount of panache and gravity as required

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • John
    Leeds, United Kingdom
    12/6/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A Classic Account"
    Any additional comments?

    Tuchman's book has been around for a while, but it remains a very good account of the first month of the war. Some understanding of the basic geography of Europe is helpful to understand the movement of armies across territory, but listeners can always check a map between chapters.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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