Barbara W. Tuchman, 1962
Presidio Press, ebook kindle
The Guns of August is a book about the World War I, maybe one of the most popular ever written about that matter. In fact, it is said that its first page is the most beautiful page ever written about history, the description of the funerals of Edward VII, king of England, in 1910. This event is, in the mind of the author of the book, the last act of the XIX century, because what was about to happen, the WWI, was to be the real beginning of a new era.
In this book, Barbara Tuchman focuses its attention in the countries that played a leading role at the beginning of the war: United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia. She analyses how did they prepare the European war, a war that nobody wanted but everybody felt it was to start sooner or later. She explains the war plans of France and Germany, the countries that were going to lead the two military alliances. It is very interesting to compare the aim of the German plan Schlieffen, that was to overthrow France definitively, with the French one, that was essentially to recover the lost territories of 1870, Alsace and Lorraine. Furthermore, while the Schlieffen plan was perfectly designed to invade France through Belgium, the French plan 17 was based in a frontal attack held by what the French called élan (impetus). Despite the fact that France and Germany were the main contenders, Tuchman also pays attention to Russia and Great Britain, just to point out that they weren't to be really useful at the beginning of the war; the British due to their doubtful politicians, and the Russians because of their absolute lack of organisation and well-prepared leaders.
However, the most important and interesting part of the book, in my opinion, is the explanation of the outbreak of the war, during the month of August of 1914. It's very interesting because we realize how close were the Germans to the victory and so the allies to the total defeat. We also learn how important was the Belgian affair in the war: to frustrate the German schedule for the offensive and to turn the public opinion of most of the countries against Germany, soon identified as evil. Still talking about Belgium, another aspect that deserves our attention is the attitude of the Germans against the belgian civilians, almost a prelude of what they made in the WWII; we read about looting, executed civilians, destroyed cities (e. g. Louvain) and other acts of injustified violence that had an important role in making the Germans responsible of the war, when it was already over in 1919 (Versailles treaty). It is also important the description if the war movements in the Western front (the invasion of Belgium and the battle of the frontiers) and in the Eastern front (the Russian defeat in Tannenberg) and the examination of the role of the different military leaders: Moltke, Joffre, French, Von Kluk, Foch...
I have found it a very interesting reading about the WWI, not only because of the facts analysed but also for the the way it is written. It is a very interesting and also enjoyable book about History, and because of that it won the Pulitzer prize in 1963 and nowadays it has become a classic.
|Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989)|