Karl's Opinion Page

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

Written 10/18/98

Rating: 9 out of 10

I make it my practice, for every so many 'fun' books I read, to read some work of critical acclaim or scholastic merit which otherwise I would not read, in the interest of broadening my mind. This was not one of those books.

I love history, with an abiding passion and interest. Among the numberless subsections of history I find interesting is World War One, that death knell of the old European order and calamity the likes of which one still can not imagine. For all our fear of atomic bombs and mutual assured destruction, for sheer horrific futility this century or any century cannot equal the tragic years of the first world war, of the millions of men who died in muddy pits for no cause other than a few yards of ground, and whose ultimate result was to create an even more horrific opponent than the one they defeated. World War One cannot help but bring out the most somber and unhappy sentiment in us.

I have, of course, long known of Barbara Tuchman and her contribution to the field of literary history, and as this was the work that first brought her the Pulitzer Prize, I felt it an excellent choice to sample her work by. I was not disappointed. It is an excellent novel, brilliantly written, and imparted information and emotion in equal part. It is particularly dense, and its 400-some pages took extra time to read by virtue of being almost constant information. And though it skirts by the boredom so often the bane of historical writing, it does not entirely escape it.

In sum, you should read it, if you have any curiosity whatsoever about the opening gambits and feints which led to and played out in the first weeks of The Great War. It excells at making the reader wonder what will happen next, when in truth the reader knows what will happen next. It all plays out again here, wonderfully and horribly brought to life by Mrs. Tuchman's skilled hand.

For Those Who Have Read It

I'll tell you, I had to stop every few pages and roam around my room ranting "Morons!" before I could continue to read. This book really drove home the point that the people making the decisions which shaped the world and snuffed out millions of lives were certainly no better and often worse than you or I. It would be nice to assume that the people placed in charge of the armed forces were trained to deal with the pressures and could make swift and certain, and correct, decisions. They can't.