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The Guns of August | [Barbara W. Tuchman]

The Guns of August

Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman here brought to life again the people and events that led up to World War I. With attention to fascinating detail, and an intense knowledge of her subject and its characters, Ms. Tuchman reveals, for the first time, just how the war started, why, and why it could have been stopped but wasn't. A classic historical survey of a time and a people we all need to know more about, The Guns of August will not be forgotten.
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Publisher's Summary

Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman here brought to life again the people and events that led up to World War I. With attention to fascinating detail, and an intense knowledge of her subject and its characters, Ms. Tuchman reveals, for the first time, just how the war started, why, and why it could have been stopped but wasn't. A classic historical survey of a time and a people we all need to know more about, The Guns of August will not be forgotten.

©1962 Barbara Tuchman, Renewed 1990 by Lester Tuchman (P)2011 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"Fascinating.... One of the finest works of history written.... A splendid and glittering performance." (The New York Times)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Chrissie Brussels, Belgium 07-11-13
    Chrissie Brussels, Belgium 07-11-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Pay attention!"

    Phew, this was a difficult book to digest in the audiobook format. Neither is it easy to digest in a paper book format. It is dense. It is detailed. Names and places and battles are thrown at you in rapid succession. You have to remember who is who, which corps is fighting where and its number, the title of each commander and more. You do not have time to stop and think and recall what was told to you minutes/pages or even hours/chapters before. You need more than a detailed map because you don’t have much time to spend looking at that map. What you need most of all is a good memory, a good knowledge of history and geographic knowledge before you even pick up the book. OR you can read this book to begin learning and accept that there will be parts that go over your head. That is what I did, and I enjoyed much of it, but I also spent time exasperated since there were sentences I had to think about and ponder before I understood their implications. I had to rewind and write notes and search on the internet.

    Does this mean I regret reading it? My response is emphatically no.

    Much of the book is set in Belgium and France. (It also covers the Eastern Prussian Front.) I have been to many of the towns, cities, citadels, squares, forests and rivers named. Knowing the history of what happened where I have walked is special to me. I am a bit unsure if it would mean as much to one who has not been there. If you have been in the Ardennes you immediately understand the difficulty of moving artillery around there. Having walked in Leuven, Dinant, Mons, Charleroi and Namur, to name a smattering, when you hear of the burning and sacking and murder of hostages, you more intimately understand. I believe my own experiences, rather than the writing made the events real.

    It is important to know that this book is focused primarily on the military battles of the first month of the war. Why? Because what happened then set the course for the four years that followed. You might as well be told that the primary focus is military because that will not appeal to all. The start of World War One is all about the idiosyncrasies of generals. It is about a lack of communication. It is about men who have decided on a plan and from that they will not budge.

    The narration by John Lee was fine, but he does not speak slowly and that might have made things a bit easier. Some say he speaks with a Scottish dialect. That is fine by me!

    I will tell you why I liked this book. I now have the basics for how the war started. I appreciate knowing what has happened to the people living around me here in Belgium; I understand them better. I understand why they so quickly capitulated in the Second World War. Today there is so much squabbling going on between the Flemish and the French people of Belgium. It was wonderful to see how in the First World War they fought united, as one people, for their independence and very existence. I needed to learn of this.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 05-26-12
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 05-26-12 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

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    "Narrative history at its best"

    Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated with World War One and the huge transition point it represented in history. Despite knowing a good bit about the subject, I was still very impressed with The Guns of August. Tuchman accomplishes what few history writers pull off, which is to make readers forget what they know about history and see its drama unfold through the eyes of people at the center of events, who didn't know what would happen next. The book’s very detailed, but has the sense of narrative of a novel.

    Tuchman opens, with a fitting sense of moment, at the 1910 funeral of King Edward of Britain, where the heads of future belligerent states gather on still-cordial terms. From there, she sets the stage with a portrait of Europe as it stands in the early 20th century, and the policies, mindsets, histories, and cultural attitudes that shape each country's leaders, as they look towards a war that everyone is certain will come. She captures the relationships and self-fulfilling expectations that drive those leaders towards fateful decisions, like players in a Shakespearian tragedy, and the gears and wheels of military plans inexorably grinding forward while diplomats search in vain for the "halt" button. Then comes the tremendous drama of the war's first weeks, when vast armies are in motion, the fate of nations hangs in the balance, and choices are made that will come back to haunt both sides. While there are probably better "academic" works on the war and books that better capture the horrors of trench warfare, I don't know of any that so well explains the key players and the flow of events, while conveying the excitement, fear, hope, and desperation that gripped each country as the crisis exploded. It was hard not get a little caught up in the emotions of events, such as the brave defense of Belgian forts, even knowing that initial success wouldn’t last against overwhelming forces.

    Is Guns of August a perfect work? Probably not. Like all historical writers, Tuchman has her biases, and seems to put primary blame for the war on Germany. In her version, they’re aggressors who blindly refuse to put aside preset invasion timetables, even when the option of avoiding war with a less menacing France seems at hand. Other historians probably have more subtle pictures. Also, Tuchman covers politics and battles in equal levels of detail and some readers might get bored with the play-by-play descriptions of maneuvers and clashes that fill the latter half of the book (though I enjoyed that part myself).

    However, the positives far outweigh the negatives. As a chronicle of a crucial forty days in human history, The Guns of August remains fresh and alive even half a century after its first publication (when much was still in living memory). On the audiobook experience, I thought that the narrator did a good job with French, German, and Russian accents. Apparently, there’s another audio version out there, but I don’t know how that compares.

    PS. If you enjoy this sort of narrative history, I recommend seeking out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, which is more informal, but driven by a similar enthusiasm for recreating the moment of decision.

    4.5 stars

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    History Princeton Junction, NJ, United States 10-24-11
    History Princeton Junction, NJ, United States 10-24-11
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    "Best history on the origins of WWI"

    I have loved this book since I first read it many years ago and was not expecting any surprises. Nonetheless, I was surprised in the best possible way.

    This is a complicated book with many different players, from the the British High Command to the Czar and the Kaiser. The narrator managed to bring them to life and because of the very high quality of his reading, it was actually easier to keep track of the various personalities.

    As well as I know this book from previous reading, it was like reading it for the first time. It was, in short, great.

    This is a classic. It is brilliantly written, highly entertaining, detailed, and wonderfully well read. In my opinion, this is the best book ever written about the origins of the first world war. It explains so much and so well that anyone who has any interest in history should read it. If you have, as I have, read it before, listen to it again because you will be delighted with this production. It's great.

    23 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Saman Houston, TX, United States 07-24-11
    Saman Houston, TX, United States 07-24-11 Member Since 2010

    sam_perera

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    "So good ...."

    What an extraordinary piece of writing. I am so glad that I got to listen to this wonder piece of non-fiction. Narration is wonderfully delivered to summarize one of the 20th centuries’ greatest follies. If you are history fan, like my-self, this book cannot be missed. To think that the entire war, in the first month of conflict could have ended in so many different ways, will simply astonish you. One day I will have to listen to it all over again. Thoroughly recommended!

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Phillip Arlington, TX 09-27-13
    Phillip Arlington, TX 09-27-13 Member Since 2012
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    "The most pivotal month of the 20th Century"

    The events that unfolded in Europe during July and August of 1914 would decide the fate of the world for the remainder of the 20th Century. The fall of the monarchies of Europe, the Russian Revolution and rise of the Soviet Union, the Second World War, and the Cold War - all these events have their root in the summer of 1914.

    Barbara Tuchman's account of the opening days of the First World War is a great read, whether you are seasoned in the history of the period or coming to the subject cold. In fact, it is probably the best starting point for those with little to no knowledge of the Great War.

    She begins the book with a description of European society at the dawn of the 20th century, the colonial and arms race of the preceding century, and the various treaties that tied the Allied and Central Powers to one another. Focus then shifts to the assassination in Sarajevo, the diplomatic mishaps that followed, and finally mobilization of the armies and the first shots of the war.

    This book, along with "A Distant Mirror," "The Zimmerman Telegram," and "The March of Folly," make Barbara Tuchman one of the more remarkable popular historians of the last hundred years. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

    Solid 5-stars

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Grahame Florida, USA 11-11-12
    Grahame Florida, USA 11-11-12 Member Since 2011

    A lover of good music, good stories and intelligent non-fiction.

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    "Fascinating, gripping and enlightening"
    Where does The Guns of August rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    This is one of the best audio books I've ever listened to. If you think that the assassination of an Austrian Duke was the spark that lit the fires of WW I, then think again. The truth is much more complex and, as described in this book, much more fascinating.

    This is a book that doesn't just describe actual historical events. It imbues them with life, action and suspense. Yes, even though we all "know" what happened at the beginning of WW I, Barbara Tuchman manages to keep us in suspense.

    Her descriptions of the characters involved in these world shattering events brings them vibrantly to life in the mind of the reader.


    What other book might you compare The Guns of August to and why?

    I would compare this book in terms of the quality of writing and it's ability to keep an iron grip on your interest, to "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond and "The Zimmerman Telegram" also by Barbara Tuchman.


    What does John Lee bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The narrator was brilliant. He could do convincing accents from every part of the world: British, German, French, Japanese, American, you name it, he could do it.His narration was crystal clear but never monotone or boring. He had a great flow.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes.


    Any additional comments?

    If you think that any leader we have in the world today is somehow above human frailties, errors and idiosyncrasies, then you need to listen to this book. You will see just how human they really are and just how susceptible to imperfection they are.

    If you want to learn something about humanity and how not to fall into the same traps that humanity has in the past then listen to this and other books like it.

    If you want just a good read to pass away the time, whether commuting or otherwise, then listen to this book. It presents history, historical players and historical facts with the excitement, suspense and entertainment of a novel.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jefferson Jonan-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Japan 11-12-11
    Jefferson Jonan-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Japan 11-12-11 Member Since 2010

    I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.

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    "A Vivid, Witty, Suspenseful, and Moving History"

    From its opening chapter describing the funeral of King Edward of England, Barbara Tuchman???s The Guns of August grabbed me and elegantly thrust me into its world of Europe on the brink. I had to concentrate to learn the different German, French, Russian, and British names of leaders and places, and, not having maps with the audiobook I could only vaguely envision where the action occurred, but Tuchman???s clear prose was so understandable and her history-telling so suspenseful, that I listened to her accounts of the sieges, battles, retreats, and counter-attacks and even of the endless (and often flawed) politicking, strategizing, and communicating on the edge of my seat.

    Tuchman is so good at weaving into her story vivid details of character and culture that I empathized with the main players and countries as she rotates chapter by chapter through their different points of view through that fateful August in 1914. She objectively displays the folly of war, the blindness of leaders who warp reality to fit their set plans, the capacity of common soldiers for endurance and sacrifice, the military proclivity for destruction and waste, and the human potential for envy or admiration, prescience or obtuseness, bravery or cowardice, and magnanimity or brutality. And she writes with wit and style, as when she says of the doctrine of ???continuous voyage??? that, ???Prematurely buried by the Declaration of London before it was quite dead, it was now disinterred like one of Poe???s entombed cats with similar capacity for causing trouble.???

    John Lee???s reading is flawless. I had to get used to him speaking the quotations in German, French, Russian, British, or American accents, and I almost wish he had just read everything in his usual brisk British voice, but perhaps it helps the listener follow the changing characters and countries.

    If you like detailed, absorbing, and witty history books that evoke a particular historical moment and also transcend it, you should try The Guns of August.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    George CONCORD, CA, US 06-14-12
    George CONCORD, CA, US 06-14-12 Member Since 2012
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    "An outstanding historical account perfectly read."
    Would you listen to The Guns of August again? Why?

    Yes. This book is an important historical account of events in 1914 that shattered the world of that time and for the decades which follow down to this day. The author presents a complex thread of events from the perspective of various major players in a well detailed, clear and interesting manner. She also puts the events into context to help explain what happened and why. An audio page turner!


    What does John Lee bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    John Lee's reading made this history come alive. His interpretation and rendering makes it seem like he was describing events as an eyewitness. Certainly not a dry account that keeps moving and makes you wish it wouldn't end. He is a clear and easy to listen reader.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    As an observer of history, the point that struck me most in this book is how the events of this time are a product of inept decisions, self-delusion, stupidity, pride, jealousy, greed and hubris to name a few qualities in play here. And at what cost? History proves true that nothing has changed...except the cost.


    Any additional comments?

    Highly recommend to anyone interested in modern history.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott Horn copley, oh United States 12-10-13
    Scott Horn copley, oh United States 12-10-13 Member Since 2007

    kokomoarnold

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    "what could I possibly contribute."
    What made the experience of listening to The Guns of August the most enjoyable?

    for a thorough treat, look at maps of the front lines while you're listening to the book.


    What other book might you compare The Guns of August to and why?

    A Distant Mirror, because her narrative skills are so amazing.


    What does John Lee bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Clarity.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    The storm before the deluge.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roy BOISE, ID, United States 08-10-11
    Roy BOISE, ID, United States 08-10-11 Member Since 2011

    Roy-in-Boise

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    "History repeats itself?"

    In reading The Guns of August one must ask questions about the world past and present. The fact that the Allies let Germany rise again so soon after "The Great War" is amazing. The Germans were horrendously aggressive in the first WW and every one knew it.
    As incomprehensible as the outcome of this history seems it should give us pause about the current situation today and the parallels developing in the 21st century.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 41 results PREVIOUS125NEXT
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  • charles james doyle
    Farnham, surrey, United Kingdom
    7/15/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Fantastic narrative: terrible narration"
    What did you like most about The Guns of August?

    An outstanding, well researched, well written narrative


    What other book might you compare The Guns of August to, and why?

    The Sleep walkers ( on the outbreak of the war)


    Would you be willing to try another one of John Lee’s performances?

    NO - awful use of 'stereotype European accents in English ( sounded like a pastiche from 'Ello,' Ello British comedy) 'Zees' when narrating for French 'Zat' when narrating for the Germans - and Russian equally awful. It got in the way of the story. this type of narration is outdated.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    no.


    Any additional comments?

    Great story, outdated narration style.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Matt
    Penarth, United Kingdom
    3/4/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Essential listening"

    With the centenary of the outbreak of the great war, there is a plethora of new literature on the subject. The guns of august still stands tall as an outstanding introduction to the reasons behind WW1.

    I wasn't sure about the narrator initially, but after the 1st chapter I got used to his voice(s) and by the end was enthralled.

    Importantly the book examines the personalities involved and their various traits and flaws. Perhaps inadvertently it gives possibly the best arguments against hereditary monarchies I've ever heard.

    It is all encompassing and covers a huge range of issues, without ever becoming over technical, a fault which sometimes exists with histories written by military men.

    The story builds almost like a Tolstoy epic, starting with the funeral of Edward VII and references to the Franco Prussian war, through the July crisis and ending with the critical
    Battle of the Marne and the taxi cab army.

    As with most audiobook histories it helps to have some knowledge of the geography of where the key actions take place, but it is not essential.

    Hugely important events like the flight of the battleship Geoben and the battle of tanneberg which had enormous implications for the war as a whole but which are relatively unknown in the west are covered with a clear examination of the individual characters involved and an appreciation of the wider impact of their actions.

    There are a couple of minor annoyances which I am prepared to forgive.

    Mrs Tuchman is a little over gushing in her praise of Winston Churchill in my opinion. My opinion of Churchill having been shaped somewhat by stories told to me by my Grandfather, a welsh miner who fought on the Somme.

    Also Mrs Tuchman as an American lady writing in the 1960's, constantly refers to Great Britain as England. e.g. England's response to the German invasion of Belgium

    For anyone wanting an understanding of the causes of the great war, I can think of no better starting point than the Guns of August

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • JOHN
    LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom
    7/17/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "An excellent Introduction to the first world war"
    What did you like most about The Guns of August?

    A great listen, and an excellent introduction to the background of the causes of the Great War, with the added benefit of being free a nationalistic view of events.

    The Guns of August brings all the main battles of the first months of the War seen from the view of the main combatants from the western front to the eastern front.


    What does John Lee bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

    The narration is really good, as the book covers the events involving English,French, German and Russians the quality of his accents adds to the whole feel of the book.


    Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I thought this was a excellent book describing one of the most interesting times of modern history and with the 100th anniversary only a year away, I recommend this book to anyone who is looking at re-familiarise themselves or anyone finding out about the causes or first battles of the war for the first time(!?!?)


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • E. B. Wilford
    UK
    4/7/13
    Overall
    "Great history, well-read"

    Tuchman's book is a fantastic introduction to the era and events of the First World War, with an emphasis on the diplomatic and military orthodoxies that led Europe to ruin and shame in the first half of the twentieth century. The book is rightly judged a classic; the narration fits the tempo and tone of the work exactly. Highly recommended.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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