A Critical Book Review on The guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

Barbara Tuchman released The Guns of August, a book, in 1962. The book makes an effort to encapsulate the occasions that occurred prior to the start of World War I in 1914. The main causes of the war, such as conflicts between nations, wars between empires, and poor administration in nations like Germany, are described and analyzed by Tuchman. The event that developed before the war was significantly influenced by the passing of King Edward VII of England in 1910. Other leaders including Emperor William II from Germany embraced the death of England’s king with a positive impact. According to William II, King Edward VII was a hindrance to his desired rule expansion across Europe. His intentions received support from Count Alfred von Schlieffen who helped in the primary attacks in Belgium as Germany headed to France (Tuchman 262). This step was against the previous agreement between England and Germany just before King Edward VII’s death. Also, Germany appeared to provoke Russia to release its military, through the Russian Minister of War Vladimir Sukhomlinov, to control Germans’ influence on Europe (Tuchman 61). At the time, Germany appeared to be the strongest and powerful nation (Tuchman 312). Later, the assassination of Archduke F. Ferdinand increased tension which subsequently led to war (Tuchman 71). In the novel, Tuchman outlines these events as predetermined factors. According to her, these events and the war consequences were initially controllable. However, this would was only possible if the nations did not engage in strained relationships and mistrust with each other.

Tuchman is a highly reputable American history writer who previously wrote several books and articles concerning different historical events and stories. The Guns of August represents one of her best works in history. This novel is significantly viewed as a correct source of historical information regarding the period before the World War I and also about the first month after the outbreak of the war in Europe. As a traditional historian, Tuchman primarily relied on facts from various sources such as primary and secondary. On different occasions, Tuchman won the Pulitzer Prize due to her successful historical writings that were useful to many scholars and history readers. She also won the St. Louis Literary Award during the year 1971. These works included The Guns of August 1962 and The American Experience in China 1911-1945. Tuchman was born in 1912 in New York City. During her young age, she developed an immense interest in history and politics. Eventually, her attention guided her in academics and later in her career as a prolific writer on American history. Tuchman graduated in Radcliffe, and she then worked with the Institute of Pacific Relations and The Nation Magazine. In this time, she was able to understand more about international relations and also the political and cultural events that took place. Her other works such as The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700, Bible and the Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, and The Zimmermann Telegram also have in-depth historical views especially about Europe during and before the early 20th century.

In the novel, The Guns of August, Tuchman discusses the factors that caused the emergence of World War I before and during the early 20th century. According to Tuchman, faint relationships between nations led to the rise of the war in 1914. These relations deteriorated due to various occurrences including the political influences and desires among the empires of that period. Tuchman’s primary point of view revolves around the fact that the factors that caused the war were quickly visible and that any attempt to control them was the only way to avoid the adverse impacts that eventually resulted. Tuchman felt that the then most powerful nations such as Germany would have focused their energy on preventing any occurrence of the war rather than building up tension that contributed to increased enmity among nations (Tuchman 311-312).

Tuchman’s Point of View

Comparison with Other Historians

Tuchman focused on a detailed discussion of the circumstances and events that caused the World War I through their unfolding. She also focused on these factors as the principal causes of disastrous consequences that followed the war in Europe. The Guns of August represents the events that happened during the Austro-Hungarian heir assassination just before the war. Firstly, in comparing Tuchman with Lawrence Stone, Tuchman took a descriptive approach in discussing events that occurred before, and after the World War I. Contrary, Stone’s point of view in the book, The revival of narrative: reflections on a new old history, revolves around an analysis of the relationships between nations and the tension that piled up to cause world wars (Stone 11). However, both historians agree on the ability to link their documentary evidence and the imaginary powers to produce vivid pictures of the past events. Secondly, Tuchman’s point of view compares with Norman Angell description of the cases of the World War I in the book, The Great Illusion. Angell depicts the rivalry between England and Germany especially after King Edward VII’s death as one of the initial tensions that caused the war in 1914 (Angell 3-6). However, Angell mainly focuses on the economic view before, during, and after the war in areas such as food transportation and slow economic progress among nations, unlike Tuchman’s focus which lies on a political dimension. Lastly, Tuchman’s political point of view compares entirely with that of Margret MacMillan in her book, The war that ended peace (MacMillan). According to MacMillan, the development of pre-world war alliances among nations, which emerged due to insecurity and mistrust, resulted in the occurrence of the general war that had numerous adverse effects on countries (MacMillan 3).


Tuchman was able to successfully depict the individual nation take on the relationship before 1914. She openly discusses the death of King Edward VII and the void that he left to allow William II of Germany to decide to take control of Europe. At this time, the French military seemed skillful and unlikely to retreat in any case (Tuchman 437). Also, Russian leaders were ready to offset their army in case of any battle especially after the discrepancies about railroads with Germany (Tuchman 92). This information vividly depicts the tension that was created by allied nations, hence, increasing enmity and mistrust among nations which preceded the war.

Importance and the Purpose of the Novel

Tuchman’s The Guns of August is a vital source of historical information concerning the early 20th century during the world wars. She was able to use phrases and descriptions that effectively put the reader into context to fully understand the history of the world wars. In comparison with other materials available on the same topic, Tuchman succeeded in enhancing the potential of her reader to create a picture of various historical occurrences. The author does not include extra-long passages describing troops and armies. Preferably, she takes a little explanation to bring the relationships between nations, incidents during wars, and war consequences in the light. In this view, therefore, Tuchman was able to achieve her intended purpose in describing the events that took place before, during, and after the World War I. Also, she was successful in showing how decisions made by leaders and nations were responsible for a fatal influence that landed Europe and the whole world into war.

At the same time, Tuchman’s depiction of leaders and international allies shows how the individuals in that period were insensitive to the requirements of humanity and wellbeing regarding political, social, and economic dimensions. The moves by William II of Germany, the Russian Minister of War Vladimir Sukhomlinov, and the French military leaders were out of consideration on the importance of peace and friendly relations among nations in Europe. Through clearly plotting these occurrences, Tuchman was able to pass her message on the topic. However, her work was affected by minor failures which included the use of various languages such as French phrases without translation, poor quality maps, and insufficient information on the movements taken by troops during the war. Nonetheless, Tuchman’s insightful approach in The Guns of August showcased her ability to achieve her purpose in outlining the events and occurrences that caused the World War I as well as the eventualities that followed the war.

Work Cited

Angell, Norman. The great illusion. Cosimo, Inc., 2010.

MacMillan, Margaret. The war that ended peace: The road to 1914. Random House, 2013.

Stone, Lawrence. "The revival of narrative: reflections on a new old history." Past & Present 85 (1979): 3-24.

Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim. The guns of August. Ballantine Books, 1962

Tuchman, Barbara. "Biography as a Prism of History." Telling lives: The biographer's art 134 (1979).

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