Review: The Guns of August (Tuchman)

tuchman Guns_of_august

The Guns of August.

A masterfully written and easy-to-read account of the first month of the First World War.

Refreshingly, the book does not begin with the demise of the Habsburg heir, but with an account of a prior funeral, which serves to showcase the peculiar propensities and invidious and insidious intentions of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

My only quarrel with Tuchman is that after documenting the Kaiser’s habitually psychotic rants, she succumbs to the universal tendency to take his August 1st session with General Moltke at face value, and to credit Willy with cold feet at the last minute. Nothing could be further from the truth: Wilhelm II was a master manipulator, and he made sure to snare everyone (including Moltke) in his web of deception, so that he would be “on the record” as being blameless for acting on his long-cherished desire to prosecute the ultimate war of Teutonic hegemony.

The photographs selected for the book are all unusual: none of them became the iconic images seen in later histories. The maps that are included are minimalist in design (black-and-white line drawings), but most of them manage to convey troop movements understandably. (The endpaper maps are the exception: they suffer from the inclusion of confusing topographic features, and a lack of contrast due to their being rendered in shades of grey.)

Chapters are given descriptive titles, making the table of contents the helpful tool it is meant to be (unlike Goodspeed’s useless TOC in The German Wars, which leaves the reader clueless as to what’s coming and when). Tuchman employs the same unwieldy end-notes system that Goodspeed sloppily uses fifteen years later, but she does it with much more diligent attention to detail, so the reader is not left wondering where the in-text quotations came from. The book is thoroughly indexed.

I read the public library’s well-thumbed 1962 first edition, but intend to add a copy to my own library, for further study.

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