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The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman

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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345386236
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/1994
Series: Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 39,665
Product dimensions: 8.18(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.99(d)
Lexile: 1350L (what's this?)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt


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.

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From the Publisher

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

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The Guns of August 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 145 reviews.
B-2 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
ritt1 More than 1 year ago
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.
Santiano More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
historybuff2 More than 1 year ago
Excellent book . BTW - you can buy this in paperback from Amazon for $6.00. Compare that to what B&N is charging. Their Nook book costs more than the paperback from Amazon. Go figure..
BrianIndianFan More than 1 year ago
There is no denying Barbara Tuchman's brilliance in writing this story of the first month of World War I. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose depth of coverage strikes the right balance between superficiality and laboriously dry stating of the facts. The amount of detail in the book gives one a panoramic view of both theaters of the war. Written less as abstract history than as a story, Tuchman keeps the reader interested in the subject, keeping them on the main points without getting dragged down with minutiae. The writing is of a form that presages the works of [author:David McCullough|6281688] in terms of its decidedly non-scholarly tone. It is a style that I personally prefer as it makes history more accessible to more people. The tone of Tuchman's work is one that gives the tragic story of World War I its poignancy and sense of tragedy. The reader can feel the pathos and angst with each turn of the page. Never has tragedy been so methodically and consistently told. An excellent companion (and prequel) to this work would be [book:July 1914: Countdown to War|15843081] by Sean McMeekin. Read together, they set the stage for the long, inhumane trench warfare that was to come and the world that was remade as a result of this war. BOTTOM LINE: A definite go-to book for those looking to deepen their understanding of World War I.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Haven't finished yet, but so far very interesting account of the bulid up to WWI.
anonymously More than 1 year ago
very good history
GriffsPal More than 1 year ago
Interesting commentary the first salvos of the Great War. The German Army's rampage in Belgium explains some of the hatred harbored by other country against the entire German Populace.
pucksandbooks More than 1 year ago
The comprehensive detail into the personalities and ambitions of the major players astounded me. The narrative was riveting and extremely powerful.
Marcus_Twain More than 1 year ago
We glamorize war. For the millons who died or maimed in World War I, the survirors wanted it to be the "War that ended all wars." Of course, it wasn't. Tuckman shows how rigid diplomacy, egos, and a chip on the shoulder can culminate in war. One critic wrote, "We all know how World War I ended, but, when you're reading Tuchman, you're just not quite sure!" A wonderfully written book you'll enjoy!
Freddie1969 More than 1 year ago
The book has touched the inner core of my heart.I further realized the inherent altruism of every soldier knowing how strong the chances of not making it home in one piece.The Battle of Tannenberg made me bled from inside,I consider General Samsonov,Russian Commander of the 1st Army , a hero for he would rather kill himself than be facing the Czar in shame because of his alleged poor tactics in warfares aside from the historical views of the possible betrayal of him by General Rennenkempf,commander of the 2nd Army,who won the Battle of Gumbinen,but was a no show and faraway when Samsonov's army was enveloped by the German army.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an excellent history of the beginnings of WWI. It starts off a bit slow, but picks up quickly. The author does a great job explaining the not only the battles, but also the military and political leadership behind them. The book really does a good job of illustrating the ineptitude of the leaders on both sides, as well as their numerous misconceptions and bad predictions. By the end of the book, I was left wanting to know "what happened next?" and it inspired me to read more about the war. My only complaint would be about the maps: The first problem is that there aren't enough maps. There are only 2 or 3 in the entire book. This makes it difficult, at times, to follow the some of the action unless you are intimiately familiar with the geography of Beligum and northern France. The second problem is the quality of the maps; they are horrible! They look like low-quality photocopies from a 60-year old text book or something.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a very in depth book on the lead up to and first month of the first world war, well researched so well you can almost imagine being there. If it wasn't so serious it would be amusing when you read about the incompetence, ego's, petty squabbling, dated tatics, failure to see the obvious the list goes on.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author uses skills to create an informative story. Her talents makes the subject matter interesting and intelligible...something few historians seem capable of doing.
briandarvell on LibraryThing 7 days ago
The premise behind The Guns of August is that ultimately, the war became extremely dependent upon what happened within the first month of its initiation. As you can tell from the title of the novel, most of it takes place within August. The book takes the reader on a rather unfamiliar stroll through events such as the siege of Liege and the destruction of Louvain; the residual presence of Herr von Schiefflin's ultimate doctrine's on war and how to win are discussed throughout; the exalted if somewhat ephemeral presence of those such as French General Joffre, the cowardly and complacent Sir John French of the BEF, and such supporting characters of the likes of von Moltke, von Kluck and von Francois with many more deserving of such mention are all introduced.It's only upon reading a book of this nature that can one truly grasp how involved and confusing wartime really does become (outside of actually being in one that is) and it is a trait that I think can never truly be grasped in the movies and games which more than anything else seem to be just looking for a setting with which to animate violence anyway. The book is enormous in volume and does not flow like some other books, despite only being of some 400+ pages. It is incredibly well sourced as well for Tuchman lists a good portion of the works which she referenced and also has notes stating which she would recommend to those interested in further study. There are also photographs of some of the key individuals who would have an impact upon the initial war which I found gave each of the persons a personality as you would continue to read.Mrs. Tuchman writes with a specific theme of 'non-existent self-opinion' which means that while she writes with all the facts and occurrences that were present in the historical situation, she does not promote her own ideologies within the novel in hopes of trying to sway the reader's opinion. Basically, the reader is allowed to think about what happened and why it happened based on just the facts. You may think that this would lead to a rather boresome novel what with no subjective thought-base being supported throughout, but this just isn't the case.As a final word, I would say that anyone who wishes to introduce themselves (for that is all this book will do) to the first of the World Wars this is by far the best book with which do to so. For a more unornamented look at the war in its entirety I would say that this is not the book you're interested in and it would be best to look at a good university source. Anyone else looking for just a good nonfiction read, well....
alic on LibraryThing 7 days ago
It's stuffed full of facts, and too many people to keep track of, but she does a good job of sketching out the essence of the combatants. It plays like a Greek tragedy, with poor decisions on all sides leading to calamity.
rakerman on LibraryThing 7 days ago
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman describes the opening month of the First World War, from the perspectives of all sides in the combat. Despite the complex manueverings of nations and armies, she gives a clear sense of the personalities and decisions involved. By reading first about the plans being made and then seeing how they were carried out by commanders in all the confusion of war, I got a much better sense of how the war started out.
Tanin More than 1 year ago
The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman. It is centered on the first month of World War I. After introductory chapters, Tuchman describes in great detail the opening events of the conflict. Its focus then becomes a military history of the contestants, chiefly the great powers.The Guns of August thus provides a narrative of the earliest stages of World War I, from the decisions to go to war, up until the start of the Franco-British offensive that stopped the German advance into France. The result was four years of trench warfare. In the course of her narrative Tuchman includes discussion of the plans, strategies, world events, and international sentiments before and during the war. I was impressed that a woman was writing military history, a field that was then almost exclusively male – and writing it in a way that far surpassed the detailed studies that had much about the calibre of guns and the movements of a regiment, but little about what it was like to be on a battlefield. The guns of august was made into a movie and is in black white. People who are interested in knowing more background knowledge about world war 1 and the reasons it started should read this book. It is dense. It is detailed. Names and places and battles are thrown at you in rapid succession. You have to remember who is who, which corps is fighting where and its number, the title of each commander and more. You do not have time to stop and think and recall what was told to you minutes/pages or even hours/chapters before. The maps in my edition, in tones of gray and grayer, were nearly impossible to read. But other then that this book was a pretty good read do to Tuchmans descriptions and her visual imagery .
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