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This review is from: The Guns of August (Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books) (Paperback)
Barbara Tuchman (1912-89) captured the 1962 Pulitzer Prize with this gripping look at the opening stages of World War I. Tuchman begins by examining the pre-war politics, military plans, and inept diplomacy of major European nations. Once hostilities begin, she focuses heavily on Germany's attack through Belgium and Northern France - an offensive that just missed defeating France outright in 1914 and altering the course of history. The author exposes military stupidity, German atrocities in Belgium, and shows how this conflict opened as a murderous war of movement rather than as the entrenched stalemate that followed. I'd have liked fuller coverage on competing theaters of war, and wish that Tuchman hadn't stopped at the Battle of the Marne. Still, this is compelling history. Most importantly, the author shows how new technology and bungling politicians that failed to control their eager militarists plunged Europe into needless disaster. No wonder President Kennedy referred to this book during the Cuban missile crisis.
Tuchman was one of a few readable non-historians (William L. Shirer, John Toland) who outdid the stuffy academics. I particularly liked her coverage on Belgium's dilemma: either let the Germans march through, or fight them against overwhelming odds - you have 12 hours to decide. "The Guns of August" is gripping, tragic history at its finest.