Book Review: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

The Guns of August is one of the classic histories of World War I. It was originally published in 1962 and has remained a mainstay of accounts of the opening months of the war ever since. The book reads more like fiction than reality as Mrs. Tuchman brings the main players alive through her descriptive style of writing. She effortlessly recounts the events of August, 1914 and tries to bring the reader into the mood of that month when world shaking events were happening. Not all of her conclusions about the cases of the war have withstood the test of time and she repeats some stories that have since been questioned particularly her accounts of German brutality in Belgium and the origins for the harshness. Those accounts have subsequently been shown to have a substantial basis in truth but myth has been so interwoven with the facts that the truth will probably never be known with any degree of certainty. She certainly indicts the conduct and motivation of some of the major commanders on both sides of the war but seems to have a particular dislike of Sir John French, the commander of the BEF, who she singles out for ridicule and disparagement just about every time he is mentioned in the book.

That being said, despite it’s faults The Guns of August is a very good introduction to WWI for someone who has never studied the war. The book was written for a mainstream audience and thus avoids the mind numbing dullness that the vast majority of history books seem to possess for the average reader. From the opening line, this books grabs the readers attention and carries them along until the end. After almost fifty years this is still one of the best histories of the opening of hostilities of World War I available and she be read by every student of the war and those readers simply interested in the war and its outcome.