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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 30 days that changed the world...
Barbara Tuchman's account of the outbreak of the First World War is the definitive book on the subject. From the political crises and entangling alliances that characterized Europe in 1914 to the "damn fool thing in the Balkans" that set the war machines in motion, Tuchman provides insight and clarity to a complex situation.
Tuchman goes beyond the...
Published on Jan. 25 2004 by Brent Wigen

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars why did so many have to die?
I finished the book with great sadness for the men who died in this war. For the millions on both sides lead to their deaths by incompetent generals, who didn't understand that technology had changed warfare since the prussian-franco war. Hungry and without ammo to fight because their supply lines from the taxpayers who reluctantly footed the bills throughout the whole...
Published on Dec 29 2002 by R. M. Williams


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5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate First World War Book!!, Oct. 13 2003
This is a very interesting book. It is a piece of nonfiction, yet it captures the reader in an intense and suspenseful plot that makes the distinction between fiction and non-fiction impossible. The book concentrates on the first month of the war because after August the war became a stalemate which lasted for four long years. Tuchman's writing style completely involves you with the story; her views are very objective, as she writes from both sides' point of view.
As opposed to a normal history book, Tuchman investigates the major people of the war to find a reason for the events that occurred during August of 1914. Because of this, the reader is left with a greater understanding of the topic. Furthermore, Tuchman's writing style is very detailed yet comprehensive. This means you'll actually understand what's being said, unlike what sometimes happens with a fact after fact textbook.
The Guns of August can replace any textbook on the First World War. There are many citations from actual documents of that time, which raises the credibility of the events.
After reading this book, it is startling to realize how much power men can achieve. One decision made by a tired man on a late night could cause hundreds or thousands to die. The motives of such men is what drives nations to war, and soldiers to death.
All in all, this is a great piece of work. Tuchman has opened a new view on this influential event, a view that is seen through the eyes of those who made the event happen. The Guns of August makes for an enjoyable, factual, entertaining, suspensful, and surprising read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, Aug. 29 2003
By 
Patrick Beaudry (Winston-Salem, NC) - See all my reviews
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These words are just as true today as they ever were. When I started this book, I was expecting to read about how WWI started. What I got was even more than I bargained for, and left me even more confused. This folly of missed chances and blind loyalty to outdated battle plans left me apalled and angry at both sides.
Politically, both Germany and France, and to a lesser extent, England and Russia, should have recognized the coming peril, but did little or nothing to stop it. Rather, their mistrust of each other, combined with their dreams of empire, left much of Europe in ruins, and ultimately sowed the seeds of WWII.
Militarily, both France and Russia seriously underestimated the enemy, and instead of preparing for a modern war, relied on grandiose and naive notions of Elan (Esprit-de-corps) to carry the day. The French army even had the audacity to wear red uniforms into battle. This proved to be an unfortunate and costly choice.
This book has modern implications, as even today, nations are locked in conflicts, both militarily and politically. My hope is that all of the nation's leaders read this book and if they don't see it as an example of how to stop a war, at least see it as a way NOT to fight one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Considered a classic for good reason..., June 17 2003
By 
Glenn Miller (Minneapolis, MN USA) - See all my reviews
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Tuchman's book is a classic for several reasons. If one does not know much about WW 1, her book is a terrific place to begin. For me, it answered two of the key mysteries of the war: why did the assassination of the Austrian heir apparent so quickly develop into a world-wide conflagration; and why were the Allies so angry at Germany that they imposed reparations that crippled it for years, ultimately leading to WW 2? Tuchman handles both issues wonderfully, in fact, devoting 2 chapters to each of those issues. In so doing, she brings the key characters of the drama to full life, most interesting of them being stubborn Sir John French, leader of the British Expeditionary Forces; French General Joffre with his numerous insecurities; brave King Albert of Belgium; and indepedent French General Lanrezac. Once again, Tuchman reminds us all too well that history is made up of personalities. There are times in which mediocre people rise to unusual challenges and become heroes. There are far too many other times in which people of stature and position sink miserably into mediocrity. World War One was one such occasion.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A book that deserves its status as a classic, June 9 2003
I read The Guns of August hoping to learn about the casuses of World War I, and what I took from this book far exceeded my expectations.
As the title indicates, the focus of the work is August 1914--the first month of the war. Early on, Tuchman describes the confusing relationships between the various aristocrats of Europe. Rather than focusing on the usual suspects when one asks "What caused WWI?" (such as Archduke Ferdinand's assassination), Tuchman unravels the web of treaties and alliances that pulled everybody into the mix.
Her account of the strategy and tactics of the first month seem solid (though I am no authority), but I was disappointed by the maps. They are very basic and added little to my understanding of the overall strategy.
Her strength, though, is juggling the various players and presenting them in a manner that is not confusing but illustrates the relationships between events.
Tuchman's writing is a pleasure to read. She draws on a vast vocabulary and I read most of the book with a dictionary handy--she chooses her words precisely and even for me (an English teacher), it helped to look things up. The book was challenging but not overwhelming. Overall, the book has the feel of a well-written novel rather than hard-core history.
Again, I felt that I got a great deal from the book. Not only do I have a better understanding of the forces that led to the Great War, but I have a strong desire to learn more about it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars When military plans are written in stone, tragedy is destiny, May 19 2003
The Guns of August is an epic history of the first month of the first World War. Many history books are little more than forums for boring professors to argue with each over historical theories or to prove thier own brillant historical thesis and explain their "insights" in condenseding fashion to a "less educated" audiance. Let me use this forum as an oppurtunity to tell all of these authors who write these types of books, histography SUCKS!! Take a lesson from Tuchman and write history with some emotion, like you have some blood in your veins. Nobody cares about long winded discussions about how other historians wrote history, and why they wrote it the way they did, and what affect their writing of history had on history, and on and on and on. The study of history is supposed to be about studing history, not studing historians. Somehow historians have gotten their role and history's role reversed, historians are supposed to study history not use history to study themselves and the history of their profession. Historians themselves are not interesting, but history is. Anyway, back to the Guns of August, Tuchman is a great writer and this book almost seems like a novel execpt for the fact that all of this actually occured. Tuchman is a narrative historian who explains the facts and what happened and when. She writes with a lot of personality, (God Forbid) and inserts her own opinions throughout the text. She takes the reader through a time portal until the reader feels that he side by side with the leading statesmen of Europe who are making uncertain decisions on incomplete information that will affect the lives of millions of people who have no say in anything. The reader will feel like they too are marching with the doomed French teenagers who thought war to be a game, and find out that War is, especially modern war, nothing but a contest of attrition and they are disposable meat. The myth of glory and glamor that conceal the truth about war is quickly dispelled when these French troops attempt to storm entranched machine gun positions with single shot rifles and bayonets. Diplomacy failed because each nation feared that by trusting the other and halting preparations for war they would leave their own nations in weakened circumstances that could be exploited by their enemies. Their are numerous times when the situation could have been brought under control but no one had the guts to risk a military disadvantage by seeking to dely the war. For example,the French,British and German all had elaborate military contingency plans based on their enemies movements. If the Germans mobilized by this hour then the French must be mobilized by this hour. If the Germans did this, then the French must do that, and vice versa. This kind of strict adherence to pre formulated military doctrines is the most insidious trap in human history and if Tuchman has a point with this book beyond telling a great story it is to express this. Their are no pretentious lectures on why this or that happended and how it was all the result of impersonal historical forces which she then goes on to name. The reader is presented with the facts and left to draw their own conclusions because Tuchman does not tell them what to think, (imagine that, allowing readers to think for themselves because perhaps the historian does not understand everything as well as they might think). As for those who say the Germans are treated unjustly in this book, what planet are you living on? Without a doubt Britain and France were imperialist oprressors but the Germans were the worst of the worst, except maybe for the Russians. This book is a page turner despite the fact that it is history and the reader knows how it will turn out. World War 1 is understudied and a lot of the information she provides will come as news to many readers. Tuchman paints historical potraits of battles, individuals, events, etc. She is a creative genuis that uses history as her artform. Many acadmics are well read but small minded and almost all lack imagination which Tuchman possess in vast quanities. This book is an example of history the way it should be written. The Germans in this book had a plan that was so much better than the French and their fighting tactics where contemporary and not outdated. It is a mircle that the Germans did not conquer Paris in 1914. This book is so full of suspense it is unbearable, at times the scope of what is occuring will hit the reader all at once like a ton of bricks, and I constantly thought, how in the world did she manage to write this difficult story this well. The atmosphere is so well transmitted to the reader that he or she can practically smell the gunsmoke, hear the footfalls of the seemingly unstopable German army on the march, and see the supposed great men who rule nations tremble with indecision in the corriders of power. Tuchman has a flair for the dramatic and often ends chapters with famous quotes that sum up what has occured beautifully. After reading this book the reader will understand World War 1 in a way that surpasses intellectual comphrension, the reader will posses a viseral understanding that hits them in the heart, in the stomach, that colors their soul. This might seem like overstatment but believe me, the best way to understand an event is to experienc it first hand, and this book is as close as anyone can get to doing that.
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5.0 out of 5 stars No Grand Design, May 11 2003
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First, I would like to admit that I became curious about this book because of the movie "Thirteen Days." President Kennedy has always been one of my favorite heroes and so when his character mentioned the book in the movie, I became intrigued. I now understand why this book was so important to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Barbara Tuchman has done a masterful job in making clear to the reader that historical events take place because of accidents and blunders. It is sad to realize that an entire generation (no exaggeration folks) of people died in World War I because the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Russia (both civilian and military) were so misinformed and imbecilic. Each of the leaders believed that he knew exactly what his adversary was going to do, even when facts were
produced that showed his perceptions to be mistaken. For example, the Chief of Staff of France believes that it doesn't matter how many soilders Germany concentrates in her right flank, opposite Belgium, since it makes his plan for an offensive against the German center that much more likely to succeed. He even strips troops from each of his flanks to concentrate in the center of his lines, leaving too few soilders to oppose the German war machine. The outcome, in a matter of days, Germany takes over Belgium and then proceeds to crush every French army it meets in a matter of weeks.
Each of us would like to believe that the leaders of our countries are intelligent and rational people. That during an international crisis (like war), because of their extensive schooling, experience and training they can handle themselves in a calm rational manner. We are wrong. It is becoming more apparent as I study history, that the leaders of our societies are just as failable to inpatience and irrational behavior. This literally keeps me awake at nights worried that something like the events of August 1914 could happen again. I hope this book becomes required reading for anyone mad enough to become the leader of thier country.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Can I really add anything to the reviews already written?, March 20 2003
The answer can only be no...but all the same, I feel compelled to write a short review about this excellent piece of historical work. This is the second book written by Tuchman that I've read and is indeed a timeless masterpiece. I thought beforehand that I knew something about WWI, but all I knew after reading this book is how little I really knew.
The narrative is fast, although one is doubtful of this in the beginning of the book-after all it deals with 30 days on 440 pages, but she keeps the narrative fast and flowing throughout.
One of Tuchman's strong points is character description. The best example of this is in the descriptions of the often eccentric and always outspoken Kaiser, who ecchoed the sentiments of Germans and quite possible the true cause of the war when he said "All the long years of my reign, my colleagues, the Monarchs of Europe, have paid no attention to what I have to say. Soon, with my great Navy to endorse my words, they will be more respectful." A vivid description of characters is essential in books on historical matters, and this is one of the places were Tuchman gets it right. The description of the Tannenberg battle stood out, with exciting, fast narrative and the ususal Tuchman trademark of descriptive characters that took part in that decisve battle (Tannenberg saw the signifcant introduction of Hindenburg and Ludendorff to commanding position in the war, although because of the short span of the book, we -sadly- can't see what effect this has on the western front later in the war).
Thuchman's (self admitted) strenghts lie in the narrative of the story she's telling and her excellent writing skills (she has described herself as a writer first and historian second) and in this book she is at her best, flexing her literary muscles so well that the reader hardly can put the book down. How often can one say that after reading history?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Keep the Right Flank Strong!, March 9 2003
These were the dying words of the German Staff General von Schlieffen, author of the eponymous Prussian invasion plan for France and Belgium. Eight years later in 1914, his scheme, as modified, was executed (or mis-executed), at catastrophic cost to Germany and civilized Europe as a whole. Tuchman's narrative essentially begins with the early 1900s, where continued Franco-German rivalry was fuelling war preparations on both sides, right through to the Battle of the Marne in September 1914, which saved Paris and spelt the failure of the Schlieffen Plan. Overlaying the military machine is a brittle (and, ultimately, ineffective) diplomatic framework built around the royal houses of Europe, personified by Edward VII and his various royal cousins in such capitals as Berlin and St. Petersburg.
"The Guns of August" was and remains such a powerful narrative that it actually subsumes collective memory. Most subsequent histories of the period, as well as films or works of historical fiction, have been influenced by it; indeed "Guns of August" sways histories of other periods - most obvious example being its citation by President Kennedy's character in the Cuban Missile Crisis film "Seven Days." On the whole the actual telling of the story emphasizes the French side most, though other Allied characters such as General Henry Wilson are extremely important. Most people associate "Guns" with the story of the Schlieffen Plan and the early mobilization of August, but it also deals expecially well with incidents such as the Meditteranean voyage of the German battleship "Goeben" as well as the destruction of Louvain in Belgium, both of which were decisive events in terms of their influence on world opinion. Immaculate in every respect.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest History of the First Great War, March 5 2003
Barbra Tuchman gives a supurb history of the months of August and Septemeber of August 1914 which marked the begining of the first Great War. The political issues, as well as the personal thoughts of the worlds leaders, are extremely interesting. In order to give such a detailed yet easy to read account of the French, British, Belgium, and German war tactics Tuchman must have read the memoirs of just about every general who ever wrote them. The Guns of August allows you to take a look at all the stratagees, some good, some very poor, for example, the Russian defeat at Tiene due to the idiocy of the Russian Right "pincer", the failure of the French elan which was intended to cut the Germans in half through the middle, Shclifens plan to have the last man on the German right flank "brush the channel with his sleeve" so as to provoke Britian into a ground war and win a decesive victory before the British Navy could get into action, the Kasiers unwillingness to send reinforcements to von Kluck, von Klucks own insubordination which lead to the gap between his and von Bellows armies, the descision to depleat the Western right wing of two division by Moltke, as well as the late descision to guard against Gallienis attack on Klucks flank from Paris, just to name a few.
Among the things that I learned, and which I was entirely unaware of, was the interesting circumstances that brought the Ottoman empire into an alliance with the Central Powers, and the effect that has had on middle eastern history, by the cunning deceit of one captain and the bold action of the Goebn. I had no idea of the extent of the German atrocities that occured through Belgium, and the determination of King Albert not to allow German invasion.
I was not aware that Winston Churchill was so involved in the admirality, nor that Sir John French was so undecesive and unwilling to pursue seperior forces. So many things are revealed in this novel in such an insightful, and yet unbiased manner, as to rank it among the best American Histories (Despite its mostly being about Europe) ever written, and most assuridly the best regarding World War I.
I reccomend this book to anyone interested in History, War, Military Tactics, or the First World War.
I reccomend this book for anyone interested
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5.0 out of 5 stars WW1 comes alive with all its blunders and madness!, Feb. 9 2003
By 
Linda Linguvic (New York City) - See all my reviews
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Written in 1962, this is a fascinating history of the beginnings of WW1 and is the result of a vast amount of research. It's all true, and all documented, and even though it's a dense read, the huge cast of characters springs to life. This is the story of a war that changed the course of history. And it's also a story of the men who make the war. The reader gets to see the blunders and the madness and the personal feuds. And the humanity of the imperfect human beings who make the decisions that result in slaughter.
There are maps in the book describing the battles. There are also photographs. But I must admit that I barely looked at the maps. And I found all the photos of the elderly generals very similar. What I did love though was the sweep of the story as well as the many details that go into waging a war. Previously, most war books I've read had to do with the experience of the soldiers. But this book is about the experience of making decisions, often based on folly. And it opened my eyes to how vulnerable the ordinary person is to the whims of the generals and the forces of pure chance. Ms. Tuchman also had a sense of irony and humor and sometimes I found myself laughing out loud.
The narrative of the month of August 1914 is described hour by hour. Belgium has to make a decision to accept an awful defeat or willingly allow the Germans to march through their neutral territory. There are alliances in place that are just waiting to be broken. The Russians come into the war. So do the British, even though it is with much reluctance. The basic war is between France and Germany, almost a continuation of the defeat the French suffered at the hands of the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.
Before I read this book, I didn't know much about WW1. Now I do. It was a war that defined the breakdown of the European nobility and set the stage for the next war, which was even more horrific. It taught me a lot, especially about how many people wind up dying because of the quest for power. It saddened me too because this quest for power is basic. So is the folly of mankind. The only thing that has changed is technology.
This book is a masterful work. It lays the groundwork for an understanding of the mechanics of war. I might not remember all of the names of the generals or the battle plans. But I will always remember the feeling of being right there, watching the decisions being made, marching for miles in spite of fatigue, handling the big guns, making courageous decisions that sometimes led to disaster. And, especially, knowing that this is the true face of war. Highly recommended.
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The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic About the Outbreak of World War I
The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic About the Outbreak of World War I by Barbara W. Tuchman (Mass Market Paperback - Aug. 3 2004)
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