Guns of August, Chapters 1-3

Dear students,

I hope you are all enjoying your summer, and making good progress on all of your summer projects.  Somewhat later than I intended, I am going to begin posting weekly reading guides for your book, Barbara W. Tuchman’s The Guns of August.  The book has 22 chapters, and my recommended reading pace would have you read three chapters per week for the next two weeks, followed by two chapters every week afterwards.  This would allow you to finish the book by the beginning of the school year.  It would also allow you to have enough time to read deeply and thoughtfully, something you cannot do if you wait until August 20 to start the book (not that anyone was going to do that, right?)

So, for the first installment, you should read chapters 1-3 this week.  In the first chapter, Tuchman demonstrates her gifts as a descriptive writer.  She begins with the funeral of Victoria’s son, Edward VII, painted as the last hurrah of Europe’s great emperors and monarchs.  She goes on to describe the war plans of Germany and France, and the national insecurities and dreams of grandeur leading to these plans.  Consideration of the following questions while reading should prove helpful.  These will be a useful guide in preparing for the essay test and discussion on the book at the beginning of the school year.

Chapter 1

Why does Barbara Tuchman begin her narrative with the funeral of Edward VII?  Edward died four years before the start of the First World War.  Considering this, why is he such a presence at the beginning of the book?

Why does Tuchman focus on monarchs in general?

How does Tuchman characterize Nicholas II?  George V?  Kaiser Wilhelm II?  What significance do their interrelationships with each other hold?

What was the thesis of Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion?  Why was it significant?

Chapter 2

Who was Alfred von Schlieffen?  Why was he significant?

What were the dangers of violating Belgian neutrality?  Why were the Germans willing to risk them?

Contrast German policy and strategy under Bismarck with German policy and strategy on the eve of the First World War.

Chapter 3

What were the effects of the Franco-Prussian War’s outcomes on French war planning?

Compare French war plans with those of the Germans.  What problems can you foresee facing France at the beginning of the First World War?

How does Tuchman assess French military planning?  What does she consider its key aspects?


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