The Guns of August

( 135 )

Overview

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

The Proud Tower, the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Guns of August, and The Zimmerman Telegram comprise Barbara W. Tuchman’s classic histories of the First World War era

In this landmark, Pulitzer Prize–winning account, renowned historian Barbara W. Tuchman re-creates the first month of World War I: thirty days in the summer of 1914 that determined the course of the ...

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Overview

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

The Proud Tower, the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Guns of August, and The Zimmerman Telegram comprise Barbara W. Tuchman’s classic histories of the First World War era

In this landmark, Pulitzer Prize–winning account, renowned historian Barbara W. Tuchman re-creates the first month of World War I: thirty days in the summer of 1914 that determined the course of the conflict, the century, and ultimately our present world. Beginning with the funeral of Edward VII, Tuchman traces each step that led to the inevitable clash. And inevitable it was, with all sides plotting their war for a generation. Dizzyingly comprehensive and spectacularly portrayed with her famous talent for evoking the characters of the war’s key players, Tuchman’s magnum opus is a classic for the ages.
 
Praise for The Guns of August
 
“A brilliant piece of military history which proves up to the hilt the force of Winston Churchill’s statement that the first month of World War I was ‘a drama never surpassed.’”Newsweek
 
“More dramatic than fiction . . . a magnificent narrative—beautifully organized, elegantly phrased, skillfully paced and sustained.”Chicago Tribune
 
“A fine demonstration that with sufficient art rather specialized history can be raised to the level of literature.”The New York Times
 
“[The Guns of August] has a vitality that transcends its narrative virtues, which are considerable, and its feel for characterizations, which is excellent.”The Wall Street Journal

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A brilliant piece of military history which proves up to the hilt the force of Winston Churchill’s statement that the first month of World War I was ‘a drama never surpassed.’”Newsweek
 
“More dramatic than fiction . . . a magnificent narrative—beautifully organized, elegantly phrased, skillfully paced and sustained.”Chicago Tribune
 
“A fine demonstration that with sufficient art rather specialized history can be raised to the level of literature.”The New York Times
 
“[The Guns of August] has a vitality that transcends its narrative virtues, which are considerable, and its feel for characterizations, which is excellent.”The Wall Street Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345476098
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/3/2004
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 159,032
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.86 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912–1989) achieved prominence as a historian with The Zimmermann Telegram and international fame with The Guns of August—a huge bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her other works include Bible and Sword, The Proud Tower, Stilwell and the American Experience in China (for which Tuchman was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize), Notes from China, A Distant Mirror, Practicing History, The March of Folly, and The First Salute.

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Read an Excerpt

1

A Funeral

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens—four dowager and three regnant—and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.

In the center of the front row rode the new king, George V, flanked on his left by the Duke of Connaught, the late king’s only surviving brother, and on his right by a personage to whom, acknowledged The Times, “belongs the first place among all the foreign mourners,” who “even when relations are most strained has never lost his popularity amongst us”—William II, the German Emperor. Mounted on a gray horse, wearing the scarlet uniform of a British Field Marshal, carrying the baton of that rank, the Kaiser had composed his features behind the famous upturned mustache in an expression “grave even to severity.” Of the several emotions churning his susceptible breast, some hints exist in his letters. “I am proud to call this place my home and to be a member of this royal family,” he wrote home after spending the night in Windsor Castle in the former apartments of his mother. Sentiment and nostalgia induced by these melancholy occasions with his English relatives jostled with pride in his supremacy among the assembled potentates and with a fierce relish in the disappearance of his uncle from the European scene. He had come to bury Edward his bane; Edward the arch plotter, as William conceived it, of Germany’s encirclement; Edward his mother’s brother whom he could neither bully nor impress, whose fat figure cast a shadow between Germany and the sun. “He is Satan. You cannot imagine what a Satan he is!”

This verdict, announced by the Kaiser before a dinner of three hundred guests in Berlin in 1907, was occasioned by one of Edward’s continental tours undertaken with clearly diabolical designs at encirclement. He had spent a provocative week in Paris, visited for no good reason the King of Spain (who had just married his niece), and finished with a visit to the King of Italy with obvious intent to seduce him from his Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria. The Kaiser, possessor of the least inhibited tongue in Europe, had worked himself into a frenzy ending in another of those comments that had periodically over the past twenty years of his reign shattered the nerves of diplomats.

Happily the Encircler was now dead and replaced by George who, the Kaiser told Theodore Roosevelt a few days before the funeral, was “a very nice boy” (of forty-five, six years younger than the Kaiser). “He is a thorough Englishman and hates all foreigners but I do not mind that as long as he does not hate Germans more than other foreigners.” Alongside George, William now rode confidently, saluting as he passed the regimental colors of the 1st Royal Dragoons of which he was honorary colonel. Once he had distributed photographs of himself wearing their uniform with the Delphic inscription written above his signature, “I bide my time.” Today his time had come; he was supreme in Europe.

Behind him rode the widowed Queen Alexandra’s two brothers, King Frederick of Denmark and King George of the Hellenes; her nephew, King Haakon of Norway; and three kings who were to lose their thrones: Alfonso of Spain, Manuel of Portugal and, wearing a silk turban, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria who annoyed his fellow sovereigns by calling himself Czar and kept in a chest a Byzantine Emperor’s full regalia, acquired from a theatrical costumer, against the day when he should reassemble the Byzantine dominions beneath his scepter.

Dazzled by these “splendidly mounted princes,” as The Times called them, few observers had eyes for the ninth king, the only one among them who was to achieve greatness as a man. Despite his great height and perfect horsemanship, Albert, King of the Belgians, who disliked the pomp of royal ceremony, contrived in that company to look both embarrassed and absentminded. He was then thirty-five and had been on the throne barely a year. In later years when his face became known to the world as a symbol of heroism and tragedy, it still always wore that abstracted look, as if his mind were on something else.

The future source of tragedy, tall, corpulent, and corseted, with green plumes waving from his helmet, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir of the old Emperor Franz Josef, rode on Albert’s right, and on his left another scion who would never reach his throne, Prince Yussuf, heir of the Sultan of Turkey. After the kings came the royal highnesses: Prince Fushimi, brother of the Emperor of Japan; Grand Duke Michael, brother of the Czar of Russia; the Duke of Aosta in bright blue with green plumes, brother of the King of Italy; Prince Carl, brother of the King of Sweden; Prince Henry, consort of the Queen of Holland; and the Crown Princes of Serbia, Rumania, and Montenegro. The last named, Prince Danilo, “an amiable, extremely handsome young man of delightful manners,” resembled the Merry Widow’s lover in more than name, for, to the consternation of British functionaries, he had arrived the night before accompanied by a “charming young lady of great personal attractions” whom he introduced as his wife’s lady in waiting with the explanation that she had come to London to do some shopping.

A regiment of minor German royalty followed: rulers of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Waldeck-Pyrmont, Saxe-Coburg Gotha, of Saxony, Hesse, Württemberg, Baden, and Bavaria, of whom the last, Crown Prince Rupprecht, was soon to lead a German army in battle. There were a Prince of Siam, a Prince of Persia, five princes of the former French royal house of Orléans, a brother of the Khedive of Egypt wearing a gold-tasseled fez, Prince Tsia-tao of China in an embroidered light-blue gown whose ancient dynasty had two more years to run, and the Kaiser’s brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, representing the German Navy, of which he was Commander in Chief. Amid all this magnificence were three civilian-coated gentlemen, M. Gaston-Carlin of Switzerland, M. Pichon, Foreign Minister of France, and former President Theodore Roosevelt, special envoy of the United States.

Edward, the object of this unprecedented gathering of nations, was often called the “Uncle of Europe,” a title which, insofar as Europe’s ruling houses were meant, could be taken literally. He was the uncle not only of Kaiser Wilhelm but also, through his wife’s sister, the Dowager Empress Marie of Russia, of Czar Nicolas II. His own niece Alix was the Czarina; his daughter Maud was Queen of Norway; another niece, Ena, was Queen of Spain; a third niece, Marie, was soon to be Queen of Rumania. The Danish family of his wife, besides occupying the throne of Denmark, had mothered the Czar of Russia and supplied kings to Greece and Norway. Other relatives, the progeny at various removes of Queen Victoria’s nine sons and daughters, were scattered in abundance throughout the courts of Europe.

Yet not family feeling alone nor even the suddenness and shock of Edward’s death—for to public knowledge he had been ill one day and dead the next—accounted for the unexpected flood of condolences at his passing. It was in fact a tribute to Edward’s great gifts as a sociable king which had proved invaluable to his country. In the nine short years of his reign England’s splendid isolation had given way, under pressure, to a series of “understandings” or attachments, but not quite alliances—for England dislikes the definitive—with two old enemies, France and Russia, and one promising new power, Japan. The resulting shift in balance registered itself around the world and affected every state’s relations with every other. Though Edward neither initiated nor influenced his country’s policy, his personal diplomacy helped to make the change possible.

Taken as a child to visit France, he had said to Napoleon III: “You have a nice country. I would like to be your son.” This preference for things French, in contrast to or perhaps in protest against his mother’s for the Germanic, lasted, and after her death was put to use. When England, growing edgy over the challenge implicit in Germany’s Naval Program of 1900, decided to patch up old quarrels with France, Edward’s talents as Roi Charmeur smoothed the way. In 1903 he went to Paris, disregarding advice that an official state visit would find a cold welcome. On his arrival the crowds were sullen and silent except for a few taunting cries of “Vivent les Boers!” and “Vive Fashoda!” which the King ignored. To a worried aide who muttered, “The French don’t like us,” he replied, “Why should they?” and continued bowing and smiling from his carriage.

For four days he made appearances, reviewed troops at Vincennes, attended the races at Longchamps, a gala at the Opéra, a state banquet at the Elysée, a luncheon at the Quai d’Orsay and, at the theater, transformed a chill into smiles by mingling with the audience in the entr’acte and paying gallant compliments in French to a famous actress in the lobby. Everywhere he made gracious and tactful speeches about his friendship and admiration for the French, their “glorious traditions,” their “beautiful city,” for which he confessed an attachment “fortified by many happy memories,” his “sincere pleasure” in the visit, his belief that old misunderstandings are “happily over and forgotten,” that the mutual prosperity of France and England was interdependent and their friendship his “constant preoccupation.” When he left, the crowds now shouted, “Vive notre roi!” “Seldom has such a complete change of attitude been seen as that which has taken place in this country. He has won the hearts of all the French,” a Belgian diplomat reported. The German ambassador thought the King’s visit was “a most odd affair,” and supposed that an Anglo-French rapprochement was the result of a “general aversion to Germany.” Within a year, after hard work by ministers settling disputes, the rapprochement became the Anglo-French Entente, signed in April, 1904.

Germany might have had an English entente for herself had not her leaders, suspecting English motives, rebuffed the overtures of the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, in 1899 and again in 1901. Neither the shadowy Holstein who conducted Germany’s foreign affairs from behind the scenes nor the elegant and erudite Chancellor, Prince Bülow, nor the Kaiser himself was quite sure what they suspected England of but they were certain it was something perfidious. The Kaiser always wanted an agreement with England if he could get one without seeming to want it. Once, affected by English surroundings and family sentiment at the funeral of Queen Victoria, he allowed himself to confess the wish to Edward. “Not a mouse could stir in Europe without our permission,” was the way he visualized an Anglo-German alliance. But as soon as the English showed signs of willingness, he and his ministers veered off, suspecting some trick. Fearing to be taken advantage of at the conference table, they preferred to stay away altogether and depend upon an ever-growing navy to frighten the English into coming to terms.

Bismarck had warned Germany to be content with land power, but his successors were neither separately nor col- lectively Bismarcks. He had pursued clearly seen goals unswervingly; they groped for larger horizons with no clear idea of what they wanted. Holstein was a Machiavelli without a policy who operated on only one principle: suspect everyone. Bülow had no principles; he was so slippery, lamented his colleague Admiral Tirpitz, that compared to him an eel was a leech. The flashing, inconstant, always freshly inspired Kaiser had a different goal every hour, and practiced diplomacy as an exercise in perpetual motion.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 135 )
Rating Distribution

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(65)

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(36)

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(19)

2 Star

(7)

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(8)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 138 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Somewhat tedious for a general reader, but still very interesting

    This is a serious, scholarly book about the beginning of WWI. It is written as a "big picture" : a lot of high diplomacy, geopolitics and large scale army movements . Perfect for an armchair general, but somewhat difficult for rest of us - civilian schpaks. Nevertheless, it gives a general reader like myself a very distinct "feel" of the time : including incredible misconceptions and mis-forecasts of all participants about the coming war , madness of kings and field-marshalls and common folks too, the devastation, and the feeling that the worst is yet to come. One criticism is lack of really comprehensive maps, the authors maps are realy schematic and the editors should consider additional ones to help the people reading the book 100 years after the events understand them better.
    I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return ( RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). This one is BK if you are really interested in that time, and OIPD-ICPU if you are not.

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Beginning of WWI Finally Explained

    A traditional text book description of WWI would be summarized as follows: an assasination in Serbia lead German to declare war on Russia and France and German is defeated. If this explaination left you scratching your head through all your history classes then I highly recommend this book for you. It provides an indepth explanation of the events which caused WWI (a side from the standard Alliance System and the assasination of the Arch Duke) and explains exactically why Germany invaded France and Declared war on Russia. A difficult but enlightening read sure to please most any military history buff.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2006

    My God How Good Cna It Get

    First of all I consider Tuchman not only a first rate historian but but also a first rate writer,comparable perhaps only to Robert K. Massie (Castles of Steel,Dreadnought).This is one book that shows the true tragedy of the summer of 1914 when the Great Powers of Europe blindly stumbled into a murderous war costing millions of soldiers' lives and also civilians' in the 1918 influenza pandemic where the malnourished German population was decimated. The generals leading the operations are not portrayed as 'donkeys leading the lions',but simply as technically not up to date 19th century men not realizing that the heroic ways of offensive warfare did not work against machine guns and quickfiring artillery. Younger Moltke learned this -Joffre and Haig did not.These men did not know that the minimal infantry numbers of Frederick,Moltke,and even Napoleon were supplanted by huge masses of infatry which could not perform the Prussian charges nor Maneuvres sur derriere of Napoleon but needed huge logistics tails which Schlieffen conveniently neglected in his Great Memorandum considering his war of movement and rigid time tables proposed. The innovative way of waging war was fought at sea considering the distant blockade,the U boat war and the defense against it.Jutland was not that innovative although the charge of caution against Jellicoe was unjust since he won the battle strategically. Tuchman describes the initial war of movement before it ground to a halt. She treats Molke the Yonger as what he was a physically sick old man out his depth trying to do the best he could. Of course this book is a classic.Why not? It should be.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2000

    Thrilling History!

    Barbara Tuchman's account of the first two months of World War I is written in a narrative style that puts real faces (glorious as well as shady) on the individuals who are so often lost in the trenches of historical writing. One is amazed at how seemingly trivial events combined with underlying factors would, in less than a month, lead to the destruction and rebirth of the world. An entire generation of young men would be lost by the decisions made by a few. Unlike how the war is usually presented, these choices were not easy ones, whether for Poincare or the Kaiser, and all parties involved slept little until the very last minute of peace. The same emotions courses through the reader at every turn of the page as the mind absorbs the history as if it has countered it for the first time. Barbara Tuchman is also very fair in her views of the leading characters in the unfolding drama. True, many generals were incompetent, throwing entire populations at each other in an attempt to outmaneuver the enemy and win a glorious victory in the style of Napoleon of Bismarck. However, they were human, and one can empathize with the meloncholy felt by Sir French, the sense of inevitability felt by King Albert, and the crushing affect of past parental achievements on the mind of von Moltke. At times, though, one may feel that Shakespeare said it best through the mouth of Puck: 'What fools these mortals be!' The many, missed opportunities for a completely different and benevolent future stings us with the same impact of a failed field goal that would've won the NBA finals. This book is closest to some real-time experience of World War I that one can get, and quite frankly a lengthier work describing the entire war will be too exhausting. I have never read a history book as this one; more 'strategic' than Stephen Ambrose but more 'tactical' than Gilbert Martin. Barbara Tuchman is a truly unique writer.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 30, 2011

    Highly Recommend

    I read this years ago and rereading it was a great experience. It still plays well after all these years and you can see how we- especially our leaders- still haven't learned anything from this horrible month nearly a century ago. Some of the text she quotes could be pulled right out of todays headlines.

    Tuchman also wrote so well that you can understand the intrigue with no problem.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2004

    A double edged sword

    After just finishing this for a school project, I must confess some conflicting emotions. Tuchman succeeds in moving beyond the realm of the history book, creating a narrative that is both compelling and informative. Her attention to detail, especially in the realm of the commanders personalities, is both the book's strongest and weakest point. While this approach provides an interesting view of the events of WWI, Tuchman has a tendency to overemphasize and repeat herself. In short, this book could have been 100 pages shorter with no great loss of content. On top of that, being forced to read the same idea 3 or 4 times becomes somewhat demeaning (i.e. Belgian neutrality was one of the central issues of the war.) But for all its foibles, those who choose to pick up this book will find a far more interesting version of history than the one in your textbook.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2014

    KILEY TO AXEO READ!

    Im going to vally fair tommorrow so i wont be on at al..l day or noght.ill be bck on friday.bye!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2014

    Axel

    Bye

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2014

    Fire cave

    The walls are made of ruby and a lava river cuts it in half.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2013

    Stupid

    I @#$% hate this god damn book

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2013

    Hi

    Love it

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 20, 2013

    I almost never stop reading a book, no matter how bad it is. I s

    I almost never stop reading a book, no matter how bad it is. I stopped reading this after about 10 pages because it was so utterly, incredible boring, only to start again several months later because I really wanted to read the story of WWI. The second time I made it through the first chapter but couldn't take it any more. A total waste of my time. (I have read about other wars extensively but not so many books about the First World War.) And Robert Massie even wrote the intro praising her! He knew her personally. I love Massie's books, have read at least 4-5 of them. His admiration is sorely misplaced. I have no idea how a book this dull ever won any award, let alone a Pulitzer. Go figure.
    I normally read 30-40 pages in bed at night before I turn off the light. I would barely read a half page before this book put me to sleep, no exaggeration. If you read in bed in order to fall asleep—or if you have insomnia—this is the book for you.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2013

    Very good read

    Haven't finished yet, but so far very interesting account of the bulid up to WWI.

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  • Posted July 25, 2013

    very good history

    very good history

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2013

    World War One

    There have been so many tragedies in this war
    I heard that at least 80 soilders were killed in every
    second of fighting. People also thought that the war
    would only last four months... but it ended up lasting
    four long years of fighting. When ever I see a grave for a soilder from world war 1I say never again

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2012

    Great book

    Very detailed account of the first month of WW1 that resulted in a long stalemate with a great loss of life.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent

    Excellent

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 30, 2012

    Guns of August

    Great Book!

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2012

    MUST READ

    COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN,GREAT HISTORY LESSON

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2012

    Awesome

    One of the best books written about the beginning of WW1 period•

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 138 Customer Reviews

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