What’s it about?
The Guns of August is about European politics leading up to WWI, and the first month of the war. I did not know most of it before listening to the book – Germany’s inferiority complex; the fact that Belgium was supposed to be neutral; how fashion was deemed more important than effective military in France (the French didn’t want to give up their stylish army uniforms, despite the fact that they made them easy targets for the new rifles); and I certainly didn’t have any clue about the personalities behind any of the politics and policies and decisions. The Guns of August did a great job at bringing the story of how WWI happened to life.
Why should you read it?
The Economist wrote an article a couple of years ago, arguing that you could see parallels between pre-WWI Europe and the current rise of China. I had no idea whether or not it was true, given how little I knew about pre-WWI Europe. The Guns of August is the classic aimed-at-the-general-public tome for learning about the subject – it won a Pulitzer in 1963, when it was published, and it has come recommended to me by two different people on two different sides of the country. The author does a great job of making the generals into real people; the personal and professional conflicts affect battles and strategies, and she turns what could be very boring history into a good listen. (I got the audiobook version of this book, too. The speaker/reader was very good overall, but the accents were delightful. I should note that I listened to a different version than the one I linked to. I’ve no idea how that reader does.)