The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

Published: 1962

Genre: WWI nonfiction

Length: 440 pages of text, 511 pages total

Setting: mostly France, August of 1914

Interest: It’s a classic WWI book. I’ve read a lot about WWII and I’m trying to learn more about WWI.

Summary: The book tracks the actions of the German, French, British, Russian, and Belgian armies and leaders in August, 1914, the first month of WWI. The book starts out by reviewing the political and military situation in France, England, Belgium, Germany, and Russia prior to WWI. Then, we see the government and military discussions and machinations to went into declaring war. Belgium’s neutrality was a key component in drawing everyone into the war. Germany had a plan to defeat France that involved going through Belgium, and they generals were very annoyed when the countries they marched through didn’t conform to their plans (how dare the Belgium armies and French civilians put up a fight!). France planned to beat Germany on the right using mostly elan (force of spirit), even though evidence pointed to an invasion from the West. The Russians were in charge of drawing German forces to the Eastern Front. They were woefully unprepared, but still drew German forces. The British sent some troops to help the French, but they to lose the division, and fell back instead of engaging the Germans. Ultimately, the French were able to take advantage of German overconfidence and stop the German advance at the Marne.

Final thoughts: An interesting book, but not as riveting as I was lead to believe. I would typically read a few chapters and then take a break with another book, so it took me quite a while to finish the book. I would recommend reading the book in hard copy instead of on a Kindle so you can get a better view of the maps included in the book.

Once again, I was struck by everyone’s confidence in a short war. We’ll be home by winter! No – you’ll either be dead or sitting in a trench. Of course, if the Germans had managed to make it Paris in that initial push (and they came really close), perhaps it would have been a quick war. I always find it interesting to see all the mistakes and incorrect assumptions that went into the major decisions of where to fight and move in the war. Intelligence is the key to a successful campaign, and good intelligence was not at all something the generals often had access to. I also didn’t realize what a key role Belgium played in the war.

The neutrality of Belgium had been assured by England, and they were bound to defend that neutrality. If Germany had just been willing to march a different path to France, England would not have been drawn into the war and the tide may have turned a different way. But no, Germany had its plan and there would be no altering the plan. Of course, France made its own mistakes in blinding following the plan it had laid out before the war started. The take home message – don’t be so caught up in the brilliance of your planning. You need to make adjustments for the situation on the ground.

There definitely were a lot of people and place names to keep track of. I probably should have made notecards to keep them all straight, but I muddled through just the same. I did get a chance to practice a bit of my French, though, since the author included some direct quotes from source material without translation.

Title comes from: The book is all about the first month of WWI which started in August. There is just a few days of events in September included in the book.

Awards won: The Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in 1963

Reading challenges fulfilled: #50 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge (halfway there!) and a G in my Read the Alphabet Title challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!



1 Comment

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One response to “The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

  1. Pingback: Fall of Giants by Ken Follett | Fill Your Bookshelf

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