The Guns of August Background

The Guns of August Background

The Hoover Institution states that Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" is "the starting point for any serious study of the First World War." It not only details the events but shows the complex connections and political relationships that led to strategic miscalculations and the opening campaigns of the first month of the war. After these introductory chapters, Tuchman meticulously details the first events in the conflict from the decision to actually go to war through to the British-French offensive that pushed back the Germans and prevented them from advancing through France. The armies endured four years of debilitating trench warfare, the kind immortalized by soldiers-turned-poets Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen. The book is the reference-style, objective foil to the first-person accounts presented in their poetry; Tuchman dissects the war in an almost scientific way and includes not only the campaigns themselves but the public' perception of them and the way that countries regarded each other before, during and after the war.

In 1963, the year of its publication, the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction, although some critics were not happy with this selection as they considered it a "dumbed down" version of an intellectual work. The nomination committee had wanted to award the book the Pulitzer Prize for History but could not because the terms of Joseph Pulitzer's will stated that this award could only go to a book about American history. The book topped the New York Times bestseller list for forty-two weeks in a row; President John F. Kennedy was so impressed with it that he gave a copy to each of his military advisors and frequently quoted from it. He also drew from it to help him deal with the crisis in Cuba.

Tuchman stayed on topic for her subsequent books, her next being "The Proud Tower - A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914", re-visiting the social concerns and attitudes pre-war and after the peace accord. She was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize, for her biography of General Stilwell. She remains one of the most influential historians studied today. Barbara Tuchman died in 1989.

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