As Barbara Tuchman tells us in the intro, this book spawned from two previous books of hers: Bible and Sword (which I haven’t read) and The Zimmerman Telegram (which I have). She previously only wanted to focus on an even narrower focus, but her publisher, who essentially commissioned the book, really wanted a book about the battle of Mons. She decided that focusing on the various maneuvers in the two decades previous to the war, and then on the first month, August of 1914, she would be able to achieve her initial goal and then also cover the battle her publisher wanted. It’s an interesting choice because what she basically does is not write a a full accounting of the war, which she thought was either beyond her or beyond the scope of a reasonable history, but instead argue that the moves leading up to August, and then the moves within August set up most of what we need to know for the rest of the war. If we’re meant to take that by the end of August of we are headed to a a bloody inferno or death that barely registers more than a stalemate, then setting things up in this first month works. Certainly there’s more history to be told, including numerous offensives and battles, the entry of the war of the US, and plenty of other narrative events, but if the war is a kind of Swiss clock of inevitability once the first month commences, well then this book is perfectly suitable. That’s if you agree that it is.
Some throughlines of the book: if it’s true that character is destiny, then German character brought this about in part because of a sense of superiority, a late to the game sense of desire regarding colonialism, and a personal quest to command a navy. That even if you can defeat Beligum, jesus man, maybe leave Belgium alone. That the treaty Versailles might have been ill-advised, but justified or just? And maybe feeling like it’s about time for a war, is not a great reason to have a war. And man, man, please don’t charge cavalry against entrenched machine guns.