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Classic History of Tragic Events
As the centenary of Gallipoli approaches I return to this famous account of the beginning of the First World War. Here’s my review as posted on Amazon.
I’ve recently read a number of recent accounts of the prelude to World War 1 and decided to compare these to my old, cheap Bantam Books 1980 edition of The Guns of August. I dusted it off and began.
And found it hard to put it down. Tuchman’s work may have its deficiencies, as other reviewers have suggested, but her writing is far and away the most dramatic and exciting. She has the novelist’s power to bring events and characters to life in the reader’s mind and to give her writing the thematic richness of a great and profound narrative. Reading this book again after many years reminded me of the tragic texts of war, such as Zola’s The Debacle. Tuchman’s prose leaps from the page and she imbues her writing with her views and values. The title of one of her other books, The March of Folly, is consistently brought to mind as Tuchman is unsparing in her criticism of those who she sees as playing a part in bringing Europe to disaster. Almost every page contains a memorable quote or example of razor-sharp writing, but here is just one example, on Czarist Russia: “The regime was ruled from the top by a sovereign who had but one idea of government – to preserve intact the absolute monarchy bequeathed to him by his father – and who lacking the intellect, energy, or training for his job, fell back on personal favorites, whim, simple mulishness, and other devices of the empty-headed autocrat”. Read this depiction of Nicholas aloud to hear the sharp, incisive voice of condemnation, the harsh rhythm of contempt for an appalling ruler.
Tuchman is simply indispensable to your understanding of the Great War. I’ve not studied History academically for some time now so I do not know where Tuchman’s book stands among specialist scholars. But for the general reader and amateur historian of the First World War, it is the best introduction to the period it covers and will likely inspire you to read further. As a companion volume, by the way, Tuchman’s The Proud Tower is equally fascinating.
For more reviews I’ve posted go to: