The Guns of August – Battle

I finished Barbara Tuchman’s great book The Guns of August in completing the section she calls “Battle”.  I admit that this was the more difficult section as the battles were described well, but in great detail.  I have always had difficulty following narrative documentation of military engagements.  Tuchman included several maps, but I found my own on the internet and even some old-fashioned paper ones to help me out.  What I liked about this book and what I have alluded to in my previous posts is Tuchman’s readability.  She makes this book different from a textbook – although it would be a great one- but does not turn it into a “story” in the sense of historical fiction.  All of the characters and the battles are laid out based on what I can’t help but believe is actual documentation and evidence.  And at the same time, this is also on what I feel her historical opinions are based.

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Another brilliant aspect to this book about which I initially had questions is her inclusion of only the first month of the war.  I felt I would somehow feel left hanging when I got to the Battle of the Marne.  She uses this battle as the pivotal event that kept the war going longer than anyone ever thought.  Germany was defeated in this battle and thereby not the automatic victor of the war; however, the Allies did not win the victory that could have ended everything.  From 100 years in the future, I can’t help but think “hmmm…interesting”.  And I need no other reason for her to have stopped the book at this point.

In Tuchman’s opinion:

When at last it was over, the war had many diverse results and one dominant one transcending all others: disillusion.

If I had to put the dominant theme of early twentieth century literature into one word, it would be “disillusion”.  Tuchman quotes D. H. Lawrence on the book’s final page:

All the great words were cancelled out for that generation…

 

Previous posts:

A Funeral and Plans

Outbreak

 

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6 responses to “The Guns of August – Battle

    • I haven’t read The Old Beauty, but your final quote in the post nails it! When I think of almost anything by Hemingway or Fitzgerald, I think of disillusionment. I would highly recommend The Guns of August. Like I said, the battles came slowly for me, but it seemed like a good stretch. Not something I read a lot of.

  1. Hi Dale!
    I have enjoyed your reviews of The Guns of August, and I’m very glad you read the book. It’s possible to get bogged down a bit during the battles, and admittedly I was nervous that you might lose momentum. I’m very glad to hear that you persevered and even got out some maps!

    I also came to appreciate her decision to concentrate on the first month. So much happened! And it serves to remind people that the entire war was not just muddy trenches and “no man’s land”. I also enjoyed the amount of time she spent discussing the naval aspects.

    Disillusion is right. The poem “In Flanders Fields” says a lot about the tragedy of the Great War:

    “In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row…”

    -Ben

    • Thanks, Ben! I knew that there was something that I had left out! I enjoyed the descriptions of the battleships that ran on coal. And that’s a great poem. I looked up the rest of it – very powerful. Thanks for the recommendation. The book was well worth reading!
      -Dale

  2. Getting bogged down in battle descriptions might be the one thing that would make me shy away from a book such as this — but you still have made me want to read it! Thanks for the review.

    • It was a stretch for me, too. But ultimately it was worth it. I don’t know if it would be the same with other books of this nature, but Tuchman’s Pulitzer was well-deserved!

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