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The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

August 20, 2014


After hearing how much I was enjoying Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts about WWI, a friend suggested I check out The Guns of August. Written in 1962, it’s ranked 16th on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Non-Fiction Books.

The run-up to and early days of World War I was a tangled mess. What Tuchman manages to do is make sense of the mess. She gives a clear picture of how a complicated series of treaties and alliances sucked the entire continent into the fight, and how Germany’s invasion of Belgium on August 4, 1914, a move they anticipated would be swift, decisive and without resistance, escalated into a four-year global conflict that would 16 million people dead and set the stage for World War II and, thus, the rest of modern history.

World War I marked the transition from the old world to the new. But what is most striking is the degree to which the blunders and whims of a few bombastic leaders could so alter the course of human history. Tuchman tells this story with historical precision, clarity and poetry. Aside from what I’d learned from Dan Carlin’s podcast, I knew very little about WWI. I can’t imagine a more fundamental work for anyone hoping to understand what was once called The Great War.

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