The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman Book Cover in chest with plastic soldiers and war paraphernalia, deep pit of soldiers, History of World War 1 Book Cover for Book Recommendation

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The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand may have precipitated WWI, but why did it?  With wry wit and sardonic reflection Barbara W. Tuchman marshals many of the beliefs, ambitions, philosophies and people involved in the worlds’ lumbering progress to a first world war in The Guns of August.  The backdrop and the first thirty days of the war, its unfolding and battles, are described.

The writing is superb.  There’s a masterful description of the pursuit of the German warship Goeben.  Well laid descriptions of early battles, including the impact of terrain, weapons and technology, along with evaluations of their significance, shine a clear light on the intricacies.  Questions of why people interacted as they did, chose what they chose, are answered when there are sources available.  Sometimes the motivation was not recorded, and we are given such facts as there are without embellishment.

This book isn’t meant to be an exhaustive treatise on WWI, but rather to cover well what it covers.  It succeeds in placing facts available into their historic context in a way that enlightens the reader on the key question—why did this occur? It also succeeds in showing the reader elements of why the war described led to outcomes that led to more warring.  Why do people strive for hegemony?  There may be a glimmer here.

I couldn’t help but think, as I read, how people strain and thrash about to impose their expectations, when in reality anything worthwhile flows from first learning and then choosing for ourselves. We cannot, for example, impose goodwill.  If we possess it, we may be able to teach it.  It may or may not be chosen, if taught.

We often hope that studying history will make us wiser, yet rarely does that seem to be the case.  I hope you find it to be here.


This Abibliophobe