The Guns of August

  • by Barbara W. Tuchman
  • Narrated by John Lee
  • 19 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.


What the Critics Say

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


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.
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- History

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

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-30-2011
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio