The cover of The Guns of August

The Guns of August

by Barbara W. Tuchman

The microscope-level view in this book makes obvious a ton of things that, to someone in 2020, are incomprehensible. The lack of information, of communication, of training and education; the patriotic zeal of soldiers and civilians; the clashing nationalistic identity of people who lived miles apart.

And there’s some things that are incomprehensible for other reasons. The speed at which casualties mounted is unreal. I found myself, mid-book, thinking that surely months had elapsed since the beginning — in reality, it was days.

But of all the things that are hard to understand about World War I, I struggle the most with the egos of the leaders. Even when confronted with stark evidence that their plans were flawed, even with constant advice from experts and forward scouts, the generals and presidents and kaisers and kings of Europe ordered soldiers into certain death for no gain whatsoever.