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"The Guns of August" Barbara Tuchman


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#1 hazel clark

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Posted 10 December 2011 - 06:34 AM

Just finished reading this book and I must say, in the latter chapters, it was so exciting I did not want to put it down even although of course I knew the outcome. I heartily recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the genesis of the war or even just European history. The international cast of characters are brought to life in a way that makes them memorable. They all suffer from human frailties that make their actions in the context of the war understandable though not necessarily forgivable. This insight into the personalities of those involved, and the nuances of political maneuvering, gives one a better appreciation for many of the things that happened later on in the war. The brutality of the German armies as they cut a swathe through neutral Belgium and Northern France makes one realise why attitudes in the general population hardened against them.

This book gave me a clearer understanding of the war and it's progression. It is written in such a way that one can go from one scene to another without losing track and If anyone had told me that I would actually spend as much time as I did,looking at maps to clarify which army was where and when in 1914, I would not have believed them. Most novices like myself find all the "Army" and "Division" stuff confusing, but this book made it easy. It is certainly one of the most readable books on the war that I have come across and I wish I had found it sooner. For someone like myself with very little background in the subject it is a "must read". It makes everything that happened from 1914 on much more understandable.


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#2 Jean-Claude Delhez

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Posted 10 December 2011 - 09:44 AM

Good morning Hazel,

"The guns of august" was a successful book of the 60's. It won the Pullitzer price and was appreciated by J.F. Kennedy himself.
But I want to warn you of believing everything that is written by Barbara Tuchman in this book. Especially about the military operations. I'm concerned with the battle of Frontiers, at the end of august. I found a lot of mistakes in this book. Even about the personalities. I believe Barbara Tuchman has invented a part of what she wrote. For me, this book, or some chapters of the book are half a novel. It may be the reason why it was (and it still is) so successful.

Jean-Claude



#3 hazel clark

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Posted 10 December 2011 - 04:57 PM

I did wonder about that. Nevertheless, even keeping that in mind, it sorted out characters and events for me which will make it easier to remember and understand subsequent events.
H/C.

#4 Ken Santa Fe

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Posted 10 December 2011 - 04:57 PM

I too remember being quite excited by this book when I first read it and being a bit confused... what happened to the rest of the war?

Other books in the same vein - Tuchman's The Proud Tower gives a compelling examination from about 1890 up to the events in GofA including a rollicking account of the Dreyfus affair.

A modern publication that for me updated GofA is Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? by David Fromkin 2004. This book included what I thought of as a compelling and plausible examination of the motivations and machinations of both Austria and Germany during the months prior to the start of hostilities. Others in this forum have indicated that Fromkin is drawing heavily from German Historian Fritz Fischer's mid-20th century work. I have not read him and would be delighted for some suggestions as to titles from him. i.e. How to 'start in on' Fischer.

Would also suggest Holger Herwig's The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World this from 2009.

If only there had been some way to start negotiations in the fall of 1914 or spring 1915 but clearly politics and human nature do not work that way.

#5 hazel clark

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 12:03 AM

Thanks Ken - will put those books on my list. Christmas is soon. It is difficult for a novice to determine the best books to read and this forum has helped me a lot. After "Myths of the Great War" I decided that unless books were actually recommended to me I would try to get as many as possible from the librar before deciding which ones to buy.
Hazel C.

I too remember being quite excited by this book when I first read it and being a bit confused... what happened to the rest of the war?

Other books in the same vein - Tuchman's The Proud Tower gives a compelling examination from about 1890 up to the events in GofA including a rollicking account of the Dreyfus affair.

A modern publication that for me updated GofA is Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? by David Fromkin 2004. This book included what I thought of as a compelling and plausible examination of the motivations and machinations of both Austria and Germany during the months prior to the start of hostilities. Others in this forum have indicated that Fromkin is drawing heavily from German Historian Fritz Fischer's mid-20th century work. I have not read him and would be delighted for some suggestions as to titles from him. i.e. How to 'start in on' Fischer.

Would also suggest Holger Herwig's The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World this from 2009.

If only there had been some way to start negotiations in the fall of 1914 or spring 1915 but clearly politics and human nature do not work that way.



#6 LiamS

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 11:30 AM

Hi Hazel,

A good one volume work is Martin Gilbert's The First World War, it was the book that wanted me to read more on the whole thing. Lyn MacDonald's books are good too though some are a lot better than others. If you are new to the whole thing her 1914 and 1915 are worth a read, you can get them used fairly cheap.

Best/Liam

#7 Jack Sheldon

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 02:04 PM

I think that currently the best one volume history of the war is 1914 - 1918 The History of the First World War by David Stevenson. He is a first class scholar and writes very well. I admire Lyn MacDonald's work and have all her books. However, occasional inaccuracies creep into her work (just like that of the rest of us, I suppose). Not surprising, given that so many of her witnesses were old when when interviewed them. Nevertheless, she gives a really good atmospheric flavour of the times.

Jack

#8 hazel clark

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 08:19 PM

Thank Liam! In fact, Martin Gilbert's book was one of the first I read on the war. It is one of the easiest for a novice to read and because I love poetry I enjoyed the quotations. He also makes mention throughout the book of people who became famous in the second war and relatives of well known people who were killed or injured. Some of those people we think of as coming through the war unscathed when in fact almost no one was too far removed from heartbreak[ So I would totally agree with you, and would recommend it.

I have read Some of Lyn Macdonalds books and although some of them are very good I have not enjoyed them as much as I expected. I was not crazy about 1915. I am at present reading "Roses of No Man's Land" and have ordered "Passchendale" . I am almost through "Roses", and although it is what I would consider an "important" book. (With my limited experience) I am not really enjoying it.

Thanks so much for your suggestions.
Hazel C. quote name='LiamS' timestamp='1323603055' post='1679950']
Hi Hazel,

A good one volume work is Martin Gilbert's The First World War, it was the book that wanted me to read more on the whole thing. Lyn MacDonald's books are good too though some are a lot better than others. If you are new to the whole thing her 1914 and 1915 are worth a read, you can get them used fairly cheap.

Best/Liam
[/quote]

#9 hazel clark

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 08:23 PM

That one is now on my list also thankyou. I had seen that advertised on Amazon Ithink. Have read Keegan and enjoyed that and use it for reference.
Hazel C.

I think that currently the best one volume history of the war is 1914 - 1918 The History of the First World War by David Stevenson. He is a first class scholar and writes very well. I admire Lyn MacDonald's work and have all her books. However, occasional inaccuracies creep into her work (just like that of the rest of us, I suppose). Not surprising, given that so many of her witnesses were old when when interviewed them. Nevertheless, she gives a really good atmospheric flavour of the times.

Jack



#10 Staffsyeoman

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 08:25 PM

It is said that GofA was the book on JFK's bedside table during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

#11 hazel clark

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 08:29 PM

Well - I guess Kennedy never gave up either! He er "stuck to his guns"!!!!
Hazel C.

It is said that GofA was the book on JFK's bedside table during the Cuban Missile Crisis.



#12 SWorrall

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 09:33 PM

I think that currently the best one volume history of the war is 1914 - 1918 The History of the First World War by David Stevenson. He is a first class scholar and writes very well. I admire Lyn MacDonald's work and have all her books. However, occasional inaccuracies creep into her work (just like that of the rest of us, I suppose). Not surprising, given that so many of her witnesses were old when when interviewed them. Nevertheless, she gives a really good atmospheric flavour of the times.

Jack


I have to add my support to Stephenson. I read it earlier this year, and was so absorbed that I finished it, went back to page 1 and re-read it. I can't remember any previous book which I did that for. His analysis is excellent, his prose erudite. It is so packed full that it seems incredible that he only used a single volume. Without doubt the best single-volume history available.

One thing that I found intriguing was his round-up of the post-war period. As I read of the circumstances which created the financial storm of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression I couldn't help but compare those circumstances with the situation currently faced by so many countries in THIS decade. The parallels are not comforting.

McDonald is good for colour. But she has simply transcribed whatever she was told, without verifying whether it stands up to scrutiny historically as to time, place and known events. That makes her interlocutors suspect as a cast-iron source of fact. Add in that they were interviewed decades after the events described and there is always a risk of 'contamination', that they have remembered partially, or tailored their memory to fit a certain point of view. It dishonours no veteran to subject their testimony to hard critique.

Fromkin has been criticised recently on the Forum for style. His book is composed of very many short chapters, some only 2 or three sides long. I'd agree it's not everyone's cuppa, but I found it highly readable. He lays out his evidence very well and makes his argument equally well. The benefit of this style is that it breaks down the argument into a series of short, easily comprehended facts. You can break off to consider what he says without having to wait until the end of a long, densely-argued chapter. The narrative flow is sequential and logical. When you finish it you will come away thinking that you have a pretty good understanding of the immediate causes of the war.

Simon.

#13 truthergw

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 09:49 PM

A small and easily read book is " The First World War" by Michael Howard. A classic which has stood the test of time is Cyril Fall's book of the same name. As to " Guns of August", I don't think Ms Tuchmann invented any of her book but she did not have the benefit of the research which only now is elucidating the Battles of the Frontiers. For decades, the French version was accepted as given. After all, it was they who fought it. In the last ten or fifteen years there has been much closer and more crititical scritiny of these opening battles. A lot of the arguments have been aired here on the forum and one can get a fair insight by doing a search or three.

#14 hazel clark

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 10:49 PM

I have now ordered Stephenson's book and look forward to reading it. Almost everyone seems to own the Macdonald series. While I think that they are important by virtue of the fact that they give a different perspective on the war, I take your point that they may not be really historically accurate. I have not been as excited by them as I expected to be from the reviews. Will read her book on third Ypres as my grandfather lost his arm at Pilckem ridge, and I want to read anything I can about the 51st Div.

We got out of the last financial muddle after a great deal hardship and a WAR - I am not so sure that we can make our way out of this one! ( Incidentally, although I live in Canada, my portfolio was heavily sunscribed to R.B.S. in 2008!!!!!!! The pound dropped and you know what happened to the Bank. ) You should read abook called "Too Big To Fail".
Hazel C.quote name='SWorrall' timestamp='1323639236' post='1680218']
I have to add my support to Stephenson. I read it earlier this year, and was so absorbed that I finished it, went back to page 1 and re-read it. I can't remember any previous book which I did that for. His analysis is excellent, his prose erudite. It is so packed full that it seems incredible that he only used a single volume. Without doubt the best single-volume history available.

One thing that I found intriguing was his round-up of the post-war period. As I read of the circumstances which created the financial storm of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression I couldn't help but compare those circumstances with the situation currently faced by so many countries in THIS decade. The parallels are not comforting.

McDonald is good for colour. But she has simply transcribed whatever she was told, without verifying whether it stands up to scrutiny historically as to time, place and known events. That makes her interlocutors suspect as a cast-iron source of fact. Add in that they were interviewed decades after the events described and there is always a risk of 'contamination', that they have remembered partially, or tailored their memory to fit a certain point of view. It dishonours no veteran to subject their testimony to hard critique.

Fromkin has been criticised recently on the Forum for style. His book is composed of very many short chapters, some only 2 or three sides long. I'd agree it's not everyone's cuppa, but I found it highly readable. He lays out his evidence very well and makes his argument equally well. The benefit of this style is that it breaks down the argument into a series of short, easily comprehended facts. You can break off to consider what he says without having to wait until the end of a long, densely-argued chapter. The narrative flow is sequential and logical. When you finish it you will come away thinking that you have a pretty good understanding of the immediate causes of the war.

Simon.
[/quote]

#15 hazel clark

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 11:00 PM

Thankyou for those suggestions. I also appreciate your caveat about the role of the French. I guess the more one reads and becomes more knowledgeabl, the more critical one becomes of books and sources. i know virtually nothing about the French in the War other than what I gleaned from "Myths" which everyone[ seems to agree was a very bad book.

Hazel Cquote name='truthergw' timestamp='1323640188' post='1680225']
A small and easily read book is " The First World War" by Michael Howard. A classic which has stood the test of time is Cyril Fall's book of the same name. As to " Guns of August", I don't think Ms Tuchmann invented any of her book but she did not have the benefit of the research which only now is elucidating the Battles of the Frontiers. For decades, the French version was accepted as given. After all, it was they who fought it. In the last ten or fifteen years there has been much closer and more crititical scritiny of these opening battles. A lot of the arguments have been aired here on the forum and one can get a fair insight by doing a search or three.
[/quote]

#16 James A Pratt III

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 02:04 AM

It's been awhile since I have read Martin Gilbert's WW I and WW II books. I found a number historical errors in both. So you need to use them with caution.

#17 Robert Dunlop

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 07:20 PM

As to " Guns of August", I don't think Ms Tuchmann invented any of her book but she did not have the benefit of the research which only now is elucidating the Battles of the Frontiers.

Hazel, irrespective of Ms Tuchmann's research or otherwise, don't ever lose that sense of drama that she created. Although some of the details are questionable as Jean-Claude rightly pointed out, the dramatic representation is one of the best. It gives a good sense of the tension, military and otherwise.

Robert

#18 Jean-Claude Delhez

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Posted 13 December 2011 - 11:24 AM

In English, about the French, I would suggest Robert Doughty : Pyrrhic Victory - French strategy and operations in the Great War (2005).

About Tuchman, I can give you some examples of mistakes. I'm sorry, but I just have the French translation, called Août 1914, published in 1962.
In pages 232-233, I find a dozen of errors. Such as :
"Every day, 2 or 3 soldiers become dead"
"Thousands of dead were standing, corps on corps, making an arch at 60 degrees"
Phone communications didn't work well between GHQ and Kronprinz's HQ.
Joffre created the "Armée de Lorraine" to fight against Kronprinz Rupprecht.
General Langle de Cary wanted to run to the front.
The Algerians of the Colonial corps.
General Ruffey called the "Poet of the gun"...

I didn't found any of these informations elsewhere than in The guns of august. But I've read hundreds of French and German books and archives that give a different point of view (most of them of the 20's and 30's so that the information was already well known at the time Tuchman wrote her book). That's why The guns of august seems to me questionable.

Jean-Claude

#19 rose of picardy

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Posted 13 December 2011 - 04:38 PM

I liked Tuchman and Lyn MacDonald ( except for 1915 which was slow to me), but I also like popular and social history. To each his own..

One puzzling dud for me is Stanley Weintraub. He chooses subjects that I like, but his presentation manages to drain any life or color out of them for me. I gave him several tries because he seems to have the same taste in subjects that I do, but we seem to be nothing like each other despite this!

#20 hazel clark

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Posted 13 December 2011 - 09:02 PM

The same is true for me of David Stevenson - I didn't care for his "With our Backs to the Wall", which I expected to enjoy. I am however, going to read his history of the war.
H.C.

I liked Tuchman and Lyn MacDonald ( except for 1915 which was slow to me), but I also like popular and social history. To each his own..

One puzzling dud for me is Stanley Weintraub. He chooses subjects that I like, but his presentation manages to drain any life or color out of them for me. I gave him several tries because he seems to have the same taste in subjects that I do, but we seem to be nothing like each other despite this!



#21 hazel clark

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Posted 13 December 2011 - 09:12 PM

I still enjoyed it and would recommend it. With hindsight, I suspect that just about everything written has some problems. I don't think they are as critical to the general reader like myself. The jist of it is honest from her perspective and the narrative style is easily readable by novices. Unlike Mosier's "Myths" I don't think she set out to mislead anyone. Will try "Pyrric Victory" though when I get through my current batch of books.
Hazel C.

In English, about the French, I would suggest Robert Doughty : Pyrrhic Victory - French strategy and operations in the Great War (2005).

About Tuchman, I can give you some examples of mistakes. I'm sorry, but I just have the French translation, called Août 1914, published in 1962.
In pages 232-233, I find a dozen of errors. Such as :
"Every day, 2 or 3 soldiers become dead"
"Thousands of dead were standing, corps on corps, making an arch at 60 degrees"
Phone communications didn't work well between GHQ and Kronprinz's HQ.
Joffre created the "Armée de Lorraine" to fight against Kronprinz Rupprecht.
General Langle de Cary wanted to run to the front.
The Algerians of the Colonial corps.
General Ruffey called the "Poet of the gun"...

I didn't found any of these informations elsewhere than in The guns of august. But I've read hundreds of French and German books and archives that give a different point of view (most of them of the 20's and 30's so that the information was already well known at the time Tuchman wrote her book). That's why The guns of august seems to me questionable.

Jean-Claude



#22 Waddell

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 11:58 AM

As Hazel and contributors have been discussing books concerning the origins of the war, has anyone read Robert Massie's 'Dreadnought'? I'd be interested in views about this book before committing to reading it as it's rather large!

Scott

#23 truthergw

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 01:01 PM

I read it and enjoyed it. Partly because it is different to my normal reading. There is not much of value relating to dreadnoughts which is not in the book.

#24 Waddell

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 01:11 PM

Thanks Tom. I should commit to reading it!

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#25 Terry Duncan

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 03:22 AM

Massie's Dreadnought is indeed a very good book, but it is also worth getting the follow up Castles of Steel which deals with the fleet in the war. Both books are highly entertaining and quite reliable in most cases.