GROUP READ: The Guns of August

Diskutera2013 Category Challenge

Bara medlemmar i LibraryThing kan skriva.

GROUP READ: The Guns of August

Denna diskussion är för närvarande "vilande"—det sista inlägget är mer än 90 dagar gammalt. Du kan återstarta det genom att svara på inlägget.

Redigerat: jul 23, 2013, 1:06pm

Here's where anyone interested can discuss Barbara Tuchman's popular history, The Guns of August.

After reading the intro, I've realized that this book focuses only on the first month of World War I. One quality to her writing, the preface points out, is the ability to make things interesting, even where the reader already knows the outcome.

Please join me in reading this popular history.

jul 23, 2013, 1:04pm

I plan on taking this one with me on vacation. I should be ready to start it about August 10.

Redigerat: jul 23, 2013, 1:08pm


I'm actually at a good spot right now so I'm jumping the gun a bit and starting now.

One reason why the early start is that I intend to focus on WW1 for the next 6 weeks or so. I've got a few others lined up on this topic, too.

I've read a few other Tuchman books, though none recently, and have liked them all. She has a knack for bringing history to life.

jul 23, 2013, 2:34pm

Just ordered it from the library.

jul 23, 2013, 4:04pm

This will be a re-read for me and I'm looking forward to it with great anticipation. The first time I read it I thought it was history that read like a novel.

jul 23, 2013, 4:38pm

I'm looking forward to this book and discussion. Have heard so many wonderful things about it.

jul 23, 2013, 5:01pm

I read the introductory material and, at lunch, just started the actual book.

Just a few pages in, really, and I realize how well the author adds color and puts things into perspective. As Bjace said, it's history that reads like a novel.

Because it's not a book on American history, the Pulitzer committee could not award it the prize for history. However, Tuchman did receive the Pulitzer prize for general nonfiction for this book, which was an immediate bestseller, back in 1962.

Interestingly, though she was only two years old at the time, she was a personal eyewitness to one of the events in the book.

jul 23, 2013, 5:33pm

Years ago, when I was in college I had to read The Proud Tower and I loved it. I have had this book on my TBR list ever since then because I always thought it would be a good follow-up to The Proud Tower. I will be on vacation from August 1 to 15 and I will only have internet connections intermittently so a large portion of this group read will actually be without me in it, but I promise to contribute when I can. I am taking A Fine Balance with me as well, because I wanted to do the group read with Mark. Unfortunately, he is way ahead of me as I am currently deeply immersed in The Long Ships.

jul 23, 2013, 5:41pm

Glad to hear that about The Proud Tower, Benita. I've had that one on my TBR shelf for forever, too.

In the late 1980s, I read her The First Salute, Practicing History, and possibly one other. Can't remember right offhand which one. I think I picked up a few of her other books but have never gotten around to them.

jul 23, 2013, 6:00pm

If I have time after Devil's Brood and find this one in the library, I'll read it. Otherwise I'll add it to the TBR and read it some other time (and will be interested to hear all your comments!).

Redigerat: jul 23, 2013, 6:34pm

Linda, I'm considering joining this group read, but I'm not sure. I'm juggling books a bit right now. Also not doing well on heavier fare. But I've just started my current non-fiction read (also in my war category), and it's not grabbing me, so I may try this if I can snare the e-book download. (Browses off to see if there's a waiting list . . .)

jul 23, 2013, 6:38pm

Terri, I'm not sure how heavy this will be. Tuchman is a writer of popular history, not a historian.

I hope you can join us.

Redigerat: jul 23, 2013, 6:52pm

#8 & 9 LT actually lists Guns of August as #2 in series "The coming of the Great War," with The Proud Tower as #1.

I got interrupted in my search of the library e-books, but now back on it ...

jul 23, 2013, 6:58pm

OK, I've placed holds on the e-book at two different libraries -- I'll cancel the hold on whichever one doesn't come up first. I've also placed a hold on the audio at the library which has it available. Hopefully, one of them will come to me in the next few weeks . . .

jul 24, 2013, 11:24pm

My hold has been placed - book will be here soon, but I'm not sure just when I'll get started on it

jul 28, 2013, 4:19pm

Managed to find an e-copy at my hometown library (muahaha, I still have a working library card there). Will probably start dipping into it soon.

jul 31, 2013, 11:50am

I just checked and this was available from my library. I am in the mood for some history, so looking forward to reading it and to the discussion.

jul 31, 2013, 12:57pm

The more the merrier. It looks like a pretty good turnout for this group read.

I started it but then put it aside to finish a bio of Queen Elizabeth II that was due back at the library.

I'm moving back to The Guns of August now.

jul 31, 2013, 10:20pm

Got this at the library again. I love the first chapter, with the talk about all those inter-related royals.

aug 1, 2013, 7:13am

I've just started the foreword by Robert K. Massie in my edition. He has some biographical information about Tuchman which is interesting.

aug 1, 2013, 4:49pm

Had a flashback to studying WW1 in Grade 10 history, with the Schlieffen Plan and what I called the "creatively named" Plan XVII. Hadn't thought about them in years! Am enjoying Tuchman's writing as well.

aug 1, 2013, 9:40pm

I'm about 10 percent into it, or so. I like it but find I can't read it for long stretches Maybe it's due to all the battle theories/plans.

aug 4, 2013, 12:58am

I thought the long range battle planning section was a bit slow. However, now that I'm actually in August of 1914, I'm really enjoying this one.

aug 4, 2013, 1:07am

I am enjoying the writing, but also needing to take it slowly. And I am afraid that my grasp of European history is very shaky.

aug 4, 2013, 10:55pm

Just finished with the Battle of Tannenberg. I'm really enjoying the re-read.

aug 6, 2013, 11:49am

I'm hoping to finish this book today or, at the very latest, tomorrow.

I vary between loving it and feeling neutral.

While I appreciate the fast pace, it seems like she breathlessly gets ahead of herself, or something. I wish she'd step back, more often, and put things into perspective.

Overall, I'd say I like it but it could've been better.

aug 6, 2013, 9:56pm

I'm hoping to make some progress while on vacation. The first chapter didn't grab me like I'd hoped it would. Too much explaining of who people are and I still lost track! Pretty sure once I settle down I'll get into it a bit more.

aug 7, 2013, 10:51pm

Finished it!

Will admit that I didn't love it as much as I did when I read it in my 20s, but I still enjoyed it very much, although trying to keep track of the troop movements made me a little crazy.

What impressed me was how arrogant everyone was. The Germans thought that they were invincible and were unable to conceive that their War College could overlook something. The French thought that elan and esprit trumped everything. The English thought they deserved to be Lord of the Seas. And Woodrow Wilson thought that he would save the world because he and the U.S. were so right. Was the world ever that arrogant again?

aug 7, 2013, 11:26pm

Congratulations, Beth! I am impressed that people are making so much progress on this. I am moving slow, because I keep having to stop and look things up on Wikipedia.

Good point about the universal arrogance. I was noticing that as well.

Redigerat: aug 8, 2013, 12:36am

I just finished it moments ago, too. I liked it but did not love it. I want to read more about this war.

Everything seemed so set in stone and couldn't be avoided. Though I had a hard time keeping track of the generals, she created some memorable scenes such as the soldiers going off to war in taxicabs or the French generalissimo never missing one of his meals.

In the heat of a battle, Tuchman's writing seemed to take on urgency. I wish that she'd spent more time putting things into perspective.

But these are mostly minor quibbles. Overall,I thought it was very good.

aug 8, 2013, 4:48pm

I wonder if Tuchman was trying to do an overview of the events rather than an analysis? That might explain the pace and the lack of perspective. At the time both Guns and Proud Tower were written WWI was not very much studied in the U.S. That has since changed but I suspect that there was not much available to readers back when this was published and so basic knowledge about it was lacking. Today there are several good books published each year by prominent historians and the basics of the war is much better known. I wonder if all the trouble in Balkans in the 1990's brought the events of WWI back into the limelight and prompted study of the war?

aug 8, 2013, 5:22pm

#31 Good points. When I was in school (mainly 1970s), we didn't spend much time at all on WW1. Sort of glossed over it and focused more on WW2.

With the 100th anniversary of the start of the war next year, I imagine that there'll be a lot of new books on the topic.

She had some perspective, of course, not just breathless commentary. In fact, I always knew that I was coming to the end of a chapter when she started to go into analysis mode.

aug 8, 2013, 5:31pm

I actually should have provided a bit more info about the book early on. Please forgive me.

Here's an overview from wikipedia...

It was written in 1962 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction (it couldn't win the Pulitzer for History because it's not about American history).

It was an immediate bestseller and was on the NY Times bestseller list for 42 straight weeks.

President Kennedy was so impressed by the book that he gave copies of it to his cabinet members and primary military advisers and ordered them to read it.

President Kennedy also drew from The Guns of August when dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

aug 8, 2013, 5:38pm

Things to think about. I realize that I'm not a military historian or, chances are, that you all are, either but here are a few questions I tried to think about as I was reading:

1. What surprised you?

2. What takeaways/lessons can leaders get from this?

3. Does having read this make you more likely to want to learn about World War I? Or not?

4. After reading this, do you want to read more by Tuchman?

aug 8, 2013, 6:21pm

I was surprised by just how far in advance the respective militaries had started planning for war -- they had all of these shiny new plans and seemed to be looking for any excuse to use them. And it was sad when ambassadors and dignitaries who used to be friends were turned into enemies because of their governments declaring war.

aug 8, 2013, 6:28pm

#35 I thought the same thing. They didn't know exactly when it'd start but the plan was to win in xx number of days.

That surprised me, as did the fact that so many people thought it'd be a short war.

It also surprised me that, once things got put into motion, even the leading political officials could not stop them.

It also surprised me, and maybe it's just true of war, but so many times, one side would find the military plans on an enemy's body (said enemy being dead or alive). Or they'd intercept a wide open communication.

aug 8, 2013, 6:37pm

As for the other questions, I was pondering.

What lessons? A plan is a good thing but don't stick to it when circumstances have changed drastically.

I certainly do intend to read more about World War I. In fact, after a lighter book or two, I'd like to start on John Keegan's comprehensive history, The First World War. Then read a more personal account. Not sure which one, though Five Lieutenants is a possibility.

I think I'd like to read more Tuchman, though maybe not right away. Definitely The Proud Tower, at least.

aug 8, 2013, 6:49pm

It seems to me that most generals always expect wars to be short. (More's the pity.)

aug 8, 2013, 7:37pm

#38 I was thinking the same thing - only not just generals. The public also expects wars to be short. And they rarely are.

aug 10, 2013, 2:24pm

The expecting wars to be short reminded me of the Iraq war. I guess things don't change.

I read the introduction, and think that Tuchman is being intentional in letting facts speak for themselves, rather than trying to do an analysis.

I am about 1/3 way done with the book, liking it so far. But if I try to read too fast I become completely confused.

aug 10, 2013, 4:05pm

#40 I thought the same. It rarely takes me more than 3-4 days to read a book but this one took me two weeks. I couldn't read it too fast or for too long.

Perhaps she wanted to leave the analysis to the professional military historian. I've started the John Keegan The First World War. He's a military historian so I expect plenty of analysis.

aug 11, 2013, 3:29pm

How fortuitous I should find this group read. A month or two ago I received from the Library of America a volume containing both The Proud Tower and The Guns of August (sorry about no touchstones. My pad keyboard doesn't have brackets). I finished The Proud Tower a week or two ago and am now on The Guns of August. I read both of these many, many years ago, but wanted to revisit them.

Another book I would recommend is Solzhenitzyn's fictionalized look at the Eastern Front during the first month of the war, August, 1914.

aug 11, 2013, 7:09pm

I took a break from The Guns of August but plan to get back to it tomorrow. Just finished the run across the Mediterranean to Constantinople. It was interesting that a very young Barbara Tuchman was a witness to that as her family was on their way to visit the American ambassador there.

aug 11, 2013, 11:23pm

I am glad you found the group Gene, and thanks for the Solzhenitzen recommendation. That would be interesting.

Tuchman did have a fascinating early life.

I re-read the intro by Robert Massie, and found this interesting:

She had little use for systems or systemizers in history and quoted approvingly an anonymous reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement who said, "The historian who puts his system first can hardly escape the heresy of preferring the facts which suit his system best." She recommended letting the facts lead the way. "To find out what happened in history is enough at the outset," she said" "without trying too soon to make sure of the 'why'. I believe it is safer to leave the 'why' alone until one has not only gathered the facts but arranged them in sequence; to be exact in sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. The very process of transforming a collection of personalities, dates, gun calibers, letters, and speeches into a narrative eventually forces the 'why' to the surface."

aug 12, 2013, 3:40pm

I was looking at the group page and found that next month one of the reads will be Ivanhoe. I'm reading Guns of August as a palate cleanser during my multi-year project of reading the collected works of Sir Walter Scott, so I'm up for Ivanhoe. I have to read it out of sequence, but hey, we all have to make adjustments to our plans. You know, like Joffre and von Moltke.

aug 12, 2013, 10:55pm

I had the privilege of hearing John Keegan speak many years ago when I was a undergraduate. Since then I haven't read a whole lot of his work, but I have read Six Armies in Normandy. It is about WWII but Keegan is a good writer about anything having to do with the study of war. I have a copy of The Face of Battle and need to get back to it someday.

aug 21, 2013, 5:21pm

I've been slowly making my way through an e-book copy downloaded from the Free Library of Philadelphia, but decided a regular book would be helpful, so I'd have the maps and illustrations. A first edition just arrived from the county library. I think this will help me make progress.

aug 21, 2013, 5:38pm

Glad to hear it, Terri. I think I would've been better off reading an actual physical book, too.

Has anyone else been reading it?

I've picked up Tuchman's The Zimmerman Telegram but I haven't gotten too far in that one. Carrie has read it for the WW1 August TIOLI challenge so I'm still hoping to finish that.

Lately, I keep starting additional books but I'm not finishing much.

aug 21, 2013, 6:20pm

I got as far as Tannenberg and decided to pack it in. What I did read, I liked -- I just sometimes reach a saturation point with non-fiction.

Redigerat: aug 22, 2013, 5:10am

I finished it earlier this week and was interested enough to start a much more recent book, A World Undone, that covers the entire war. I' m also contemplating The Proud Tower and Dreadnaught.

aug 21, 2013, 9:36pm

I was thinking about Dreadnought myself. I love The proud tower It's nice because it's really a group of long essays, so it's not as much of a time commitment.

Redigerat: aug 22, 2013, 1:25pm

I got distracted for a week with a new ARC that I promised to read. The Aftermath - which I really liked. Today at lunch it will be back to Guns and getting back into it. I also have Pity of War on my reading list. This is Niall Ferguson's look at WWI. He is primarily an economic historian but his viewpoint about the war and its economic causes promises to be intriguing as well.

aug 22, 2013, 3:39pm

I keep trying to read it but for some reason have had a hard time getting into the book. Might not finish in August but will keep plugging away.

aug 22, 2013, 3:56pm

#53 I can certainly understand that and felt that way, at times, too. Actually, it's even worse with the John Keegan WW1 book I've been reading for the last 3 weeks.

aug 22, 2013, 7:21pm

I am still plugging away, as well. I am down to 2 chapters, I think, so hope to be done this weekend.

aug 23, 2013, 11:42am

I finished it this past Monday and dove straight in to Rob Roy by Scott. All I can say is thank God for von Kluck's turn. What a group of arrogant men were the Germans. The French weren't far behind, and once again perfidious Albion wimped out at crucial points. Why do men unfamiliar personally with war inflict it upon the rest of us?

sep 2, 2013, 2:47pm

I finished as well. Lots of good things about this book, but I am afraid a good deal of it went over my head. I have a really hard time understanding military strategy.

sep 2, 2013, 8:43pm

I asked myself the same question back in 2003. Only one Senator, at that time, had a son in the military. That fact alone makes it easier to vote for war.

What I always wondered was why do men follow these leaders? I remember my father saying, back in about 1975, (after Vietnam) that if the government had a war that nobody would go. Things certainly changed in 35 years.

sep 6, 2013, 4:22pm

I've been muddling along with part e-book, part regular book, part audio, and much of it in any format going over my head. Too many unfamiliar names of places, people, etc. I can't keep it all straight. What I am getting is a clear sense of what a mess it all was. Too many leaders who thought too highly of their own ideas/strategy. Too-rigid plans by some countries (unable to adapt to the realities) while others failed to plan for basic necessities. What a mess!

sep 6, 2013, 4:27pm

Terri, that's probably the best lesson of all. I think I've forgotten the names etc as I try to read the larger Keegan book on WW1.

I've read a lot more about WW2 which makes reading about it easier for me. So much of this WW1 stuff is new to me.

sep 6, 2013, 4:34pm

New to me, too, Linda. I'm embarrassed how little I know about WWI.

sep 6, 2013, 5:11pm

I've bailed for now on the book but plan on reading it at a later date when I can focus on it more.

sep 6, 2013, 7:01pm

I'm tempted to bail, too. I would, except that I really need another book for my war-related category. Since I'm halfway through this one, I may as well push on and finish.

sep 6, 2013, 11:17pm

I am reading a small paperback edition of the book and the maps are SO hard to read. I do have a vague idea of where most of these cities and regions are located but I would like to have a more accurate picture.

I don't really see the French or the Germans as rigid in their thinking. I think that it is hard for us to not bring our modern lifestyle into our thinking about how this war was fought. I just read the part about the Belgians who kept cutting the German's telephone and telegraph lines. It is so hard for us to think that in order to communicate in war time somebody had to run wires!! I was astounded to learn that the French had a big radio jamming facility on top of the Eiffel Tower that managed to disrupt the communication systems. Who would have thought that they would have been so modern in 1914?

sep 7, 2013, 4:16pm

I haven't begun reading yet - but I still have the book checked out of the library. I see it on the shelf every day and am itching to pick it up to begin reading, but something else is always more urgent. I'll get to it soon, I hope. All the comments here have made it seem very appealing. As soon as I've finished, I'm hoping to get down to the Liberty Memorial - Kansas City's excellent WWI museum - for a closer look at some of the exhibits I skimmed over the other times I was there.

sep 7, 2013, 7:57pm

I've been reading A World Undone: The Story of the Great War since I finished The Guns of August. Meyer seems to think more highly of some of the leaders on both sides and his emphasis is a bit different but its clear that there was a lot of misinformation, miscalculation, arrogance, and sometimes sheer idiocy on all sides. Since this is a hardcover I'm finding the maps easier to interpret too. I'm about ready for the chapter labeled "To the Marne" so I'll soon be in new territory but so far Tuchman's book gave me the background to keep all the names straight this round. Of course Meyer covered the same time period in many fewer pages because he still has a lot of war to go.

sep 14, 2013, 9:35pm

I just finished the chapters on the Battle of Tannenberg. WOW! What a story and beautifully written. i only wish my copy had better maps. (I know there is always Wikipedia, but I don't always have a computer with me.) I knew this was THE big disaster for the Russian Army and didn't know why. This was high drama.

The whole battle reminded me of the Battle of Chicamuga in the American Civil War. In that battle, fought on September 18 & 19, 1863 the entire Corp commanded by General James Longstreet was transported by train from Virginia to Georgia so that they could participate in the battle. They detrained on the night of September 18 and could hear the guns firing from the town of Ringgold, where they unloaded. They immediately marched to the battlefield and the next morning managed to hit a seam in the Union Army battle lines and broke the entire Union Army in half. Only the Corp commanded by General George Thomas managed to retreat in order and make a stand. Even though the Union Army lost that battle Thomas forever after was known as the "Rock of Chicamauga." Longstreet, after the battle said that they had gotten extremely lucky. Which leads me to Napoleon who said that he would wanted his generals to be lucky.

It was a surprise to learn that Hindenburg and Ludendorff were not sure about what they were doing and particularly Ludendorff suffered from a case of "nerves." Poor Samanov. Poor Czar Nicholas. There were great consequences from this battle.

sep 15, 2013, 1:48pm

I have been reading Doctor Zhivago for many years and late last night I was thinking that I should go back and start over as a huge section of that book is about Laura and Zhivago working as medical personnel during that campaign. Maybe I should just watch the movie again. Then there is the French movie "A very Long Engagement" and the French and German production of "joyeux Noel" about the Christmas Truce in 1916. I need to get a Netflix account and a TV with a DVD player that works as there are so many good movies I should be watching.

sep 15, 2013, 3:04pm

Now I think I need to get the book from the library again and finish it off! Tannenberg came up in something else I was reading recently.

Redigerat: sep 16, 2013, 7:55am

69 Tannenberg came up in something else I was reading recently.
Isn't it funny how that happens? I find that the same topic often will come up in different books I read in a short period of time -- sometimes when I'd least expect it.

I finally finished the book last night. I'd say a lot of it sort of washed over me without full comprehension -- so many names of so many people and places. But I think I got an overall sense of what happened that month, certainly much better than I had before I read it.

sep 16, 2013, 11:54am

Terri--that's kind of how I was--lots just washed over me, but I think I understand more than I did before.

sep 16, 2013, 12:00pm

I felt the same way that many of you did. I learned a lot but much of it flew over my head.

Part of that may be due to the unfamiliar subject matter but part, too, due to the fact that I think she could've developed the people better.

Some books seem better well after I've read them. For some reason, this one doesn't seem as good, more than a month after I finished it.

sep 16, 2013, 5:27pm

>70 tymfos:: I wonder how much of an influence that sort of connection has on one's enjoyment of a book! Sometimes it seems like one is "meant" to read a certain book at a certain time, in order to make these connections.

sep 17, 2013, 1:57pm

I am now reading the chapter on what happened in Belgium in the first weeks of the war and how that fixed the image of the Horrible Hun in the minds of people the world over. I find it fascinating that the German leadership couldn't understand why they were so hated. I had read before that they were only seeking their place in the sun, so-to-speak, and felt that their country had been denied its share of "greatness" but I don't think it made as much sense to me before as it does now.

I think that the author is trying to give us a sketch of the main people. There is so much going on in that month that she can't write a biography so she makes do with a short sketch. I did find her short sketch of Admiral Tirpitz fascinating. She mentions that he was a big imposing man with a squeaky high pitched voice, and that made him more of a character for me. She also tells us that he was astonished to find out that there was no plan of action for the grand navy he built. I just wonder how he could have been so out of the loop? I always knew that in the end the big navy groups of all the countries involved played no significant part in the war except for the British Navy doing convoy guard duty. The German Navy left all the heavy hitting to its submarine force. Now I know why.

sep 17, 2013, 9:06pm

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote a book about the first month of the war from the Russian and more specifically the Samsonov point of view titled August, 1914. Like his trilogy of the Gulag, this book is thick and may seem daunting, but this is a must read for anyone interested in the Russian front. Oh, btw it's a real page turner.

sep 25, 2013, 10:16am

I finished! I enjoyed every minute of this book. The narrative was clear and she brought in human drama and in doing so started a new sub-genre of narrative history. Even though this book is 50 years old I found it fresh, informing, insightful, and enlightening. In my opinion very well done. I have read other books by Tuchman and this one ranks right up there with The Proud Tower in terms of quality and is leagues ahead of A Distant Mirror. For a woman historian to achieve this kind of literary triumph back in 1962 is extraordinary and I begin to understand why she and Antonia Fraser are much admired.

What impressed me the most is that my previous view of World War I was that Britain had to come in a rescue the incompetent French. This book totally turned that view on its head. In fact, Sir John French comes across as a slow-wit as does most of the British General Staff. Tuchman also does much to redeem the reputation of many of the Russian generals and even though they lost they put up a good fight considering what they had to work with.

In sum, this book changed my notions about what happened in the opening month of World War I and created a need for me to explore this chapter in history in greater depth. There probably isn't any higher praise for a work of non-fiction. I will be glad to recommend this title to others.

sep 26, 2013, 4:20pm

Oh, yes, wasn't Sir John French a real . . . words (at least printable ones) fail me, but he certainly wasn't someone the French could depend upon, was he? I was listening to the audio book while working out at the gym, and my annoyance with him fueled an adrenaline surge that gave me quite a bit of extra energy . . .

sep 27, 2013, 9:48pm

It was clear, even to Kitchener, that French hadn't a clue. I can't imagine why Kitchener would have kept him in command when he had to make a cross channel trip jut to get him to stop running.

It was also interesting to me how the French managed the first month and what the Germans pictured as a rout was really a constant rearguard defensive action designed on the spur of the moment, but still soon enough that the French had the time and manpower to save themselves. This was remarkable and Tuchman made me realize how really brilliant it was.

The short epilogue by the author was a brilliant piece of writing.