in Book Review

The Guns of August

The Outbreak of World War I


The First World War is history within history. To understand the Great War, you have to start with its origins, the military plans, alliances, events that all together culminated in arguably the most convoluted diplomatic crisis ever – the July Crisis. And the ensuing war, in itself, is the origin of the Second World War, the bloodiest conflict in human history.

The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman, zooms in on the causes and origins of the First World War, and continues through to the war declarations, the general mobilizations, and the first few weeks of the war itself, up until the Battle of the Marne. The book places the spotlight on the decisions that led to the war, and the decisions that kept the war going. The book’s emphasis is on the people at the top, the ones who made the calls – the sovereigns, the diplomats, the military commanders – and the things they did and didn’t do during the most critical moments before and during the war.

The Guns of August, more than being an overview of the prelude to the First World War, is the story of the failure of policy- and decision-making, and how the mistakes of Europe’s leaders inaugurated the most destructive half-century (and, to an extent, century) in the history of mankind.