Rediscover: The Guns of August

This month marks the centennial of the United States' entry into World War I. By the time President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany, the conflict had been raging since August 1914, claiming millions of lives and toppling empires. What became a global catastrophe of industrialized warfare began with a spark to a long-packed powderkeg when Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

How this single act of violence begat a European apocalypse is the subject of Barbara W. Tuchman's 1962 book The Guns of August. Tuchman (1912-1989) won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction with her narrative, layperson-friendly look at the onset of World War I. It begins in 1910, with the funeral of British King Edward VII, and the visiting European heads of state, many related to the departed monarch and each other, who would soon be at war. She outlines prewar military plans, some of which were a generation in the making, that came into terrible fruition in August 1914. Tuchman chronicles the whirlwind of geopolitical folly that lead to war and the conflict's opening moves, up through the First Battle of the Marne (also called the Miracle of the Marne), when Allied forces halted the German advance into France and created the first lines of static trenches. The Guns of August was last published by Presidio Press in 2004 ($8.99, 9780345476098). --Tobias Mutter

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