Review: The Guns of August ~ Barbara W. Tuchman, Robert K. Massie

GunsHistorian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman has 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

4 Thumbs-Up

I’m not sure if it’s just the area I live in, but this book was extremely hard to find, so when I managed to get my hands on a copy at the local thrift store I snapped it; I recommend you do the same too.  I enjoy reading historical World War II non-fiction, and the War poets of World War I, but this is the first non-fiction books I had read on the war itself.  Also, due to the number of strategic maps and diagrams contained within its pages, I don’t think it would be easy to read on a Kindle or Nook.

Instead of trying to cover the whole of the War, the Author describes the events of the first month of “the war to end all wars”, and is a shining example of how a book of this kind should be written.  From the very first page the reader is drawn into the period of time covered, and thrown full force into the funeral of King Edward VII, whilst deftly weaving into the background the major players to the impending chaos of the upcoming conflict.  The first paragraph alone gives the reader an example of the Authors writing skills, and this continues throughout the book, without becoming stale in any way.

Unlike some historical non-fiction Authors, this one does not use imagination or licence by trying to tell the reader what these dignitaries may, or may not have been thinking at a given time or event in this first month; instead they write exact text from that historical figure, or writes that they don’t know what was said if that is the case.   Using their extensive research through memoirs, autobiographies and other historical documentation available, the writer weaves quotes and factual events together seamlessly without losing their fluid style of writing.  This all culminates in the Author showing their ability to connect historical event and people together in a creative and totally engrossing way.

To make readers aware, the third part of this book is called “Battle”, and contains a lot of information about the first battles of the War.  Although it may seem tedious and boring to some readers, it strongly brings home the futility of a war where thousands of men died to gain two inches of ground on instructions given by leaders that were, for the most part, safe and warm back in their home nations.  It brings to the fore that a lot of these leaders, and biographies are included of the key generals, were not up to the challenge of “modern warfare”; one that included such new technologies as telephones, telegraph and the hugely powerful artillery.  They were more at home with the courteousness of the Napoleonic era wars, and based a lot of their strategic and manoeuvres’ decisions  on the premise that this was just another “gentleman’s war”, and the fighting would break at pre-arranged times for tea etc..  The only complaint about this book I have is that, as far as I can see, there were no others written to follow on from this, and that left me feeling extremely disappointed.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about the great conflicts of our times, and feel it would a very valuable addition to any school curriculum that is covering this period of history.