‘Guns of August’ still reverberating

08/29/2014 7:00 AM

08/29/2014 2:57 PM

One hundred years later, the “great war” leads to a great discussion.

After a special tour of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, FYI Book Club readers gathered recently to discuss “The Guns of August,” the classic nonfiction work by Barbara W. Tuchman.

The group was equally divided between participants who had previously read the book and those who read it for the first time. All agreed that Tuchman’s special gift was in bringing the history to life in a dynamic way.

“I really liked that she included photos, maps and other enhancements,” said James Warner of Olathe. “It helped me understand the trajectory of the war.”

Some readers wished that Tuchman had included a more detailed discussion of the events that led to the start of the war.

But Nancy Cramer of Raymore, a Liberty Memorial docent, said Tuchman makes it clear from the beginning that isn’t the purpose of the book. Cramer suggested Tuchman’s “The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914” for readers who want an in-depth analysis of those events.

For a book that covered only one month of the “war to end all wars,” readers especially enjoyed the way Tuchman presented the era’s historical figures.

Linda Rives of Kansas City said the way Tuchman used personal documents helped craft a more “accurate, human portrait of the people involved in the strategic planning of the war. Just because it’s war doesn’t mean everyone’s on the same page.”

David Klose of Kansas City was especially struck by “the interactions and relationships between the generals and the hard-heartedness of their strategy,” he said. “There were so many inflexible reactions. I have a newfound respect for plucky Belgium.”

Kathy Lindsey of Overland Park, a first-time reader of the book, said she was “surprised to learn about all the strategy and planning that went into the war and how misguided so much of it was.”

Linda Marcusen of Prairie Village agreed, noting the many conflicts that drove Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

“He was erratic, certainly blew hot and cold on the many war-related issues,” she said.

“When you look up ‘loose cannon,’” said Phil Royer of Kansas City, “there’s a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm.”

Readers were fascinated with the many maneuvers that didn’t go as planned.

“The widespread incompetence was fascinating,” said Steve Hargrave of Prairie Village. “Even the British looked incompetent.”

Leigh Blackman of Prairie Village summed up the book this way: “Tuchman showed how decades of plans for war didn’t pan out. This one specific month, August of 1914, explains the entire war to come for readers. I changed my mind about the contributions made by every nation involved in this sad, sad war.”

Jenny Weber of Kansas City told book club members about her trip last year to European battlefields.

“It’s devastating what happened to these villages,” she said. “There’s nothing there. Tuchman makes the reader understand the regular people caught up in these extraordinary circumstances.

“What do you do when war shows up in your front yard? At your front door? It’s incredible what’s been left behind after 100 years, and it still affects us today.”

Kaite Stover is director of readers' services for the Kansas City Public Library.

FYI Book Club

The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a “book of the moment” selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. If you would like to participate in a book discussion led by the library's Kaite Stover, email kaitestover@kclibrary.org. Watch for the next selection, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by Caitlin Doughty, to be introduced in FYI.

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