At this month’s Athenaeum we read Barbara Tuchman’s account of the first month of WWI, The Guns of August. Most agreed that she ended the narrative at a very unfortunate place: the moment at which Britain agrees to join the French armies at the Battle of the Marne. To our dismay, she didn’t add another two chapters to describe the pushing back of the Germans to the north of France, where the European theater became more or less trench warfare for the remainder of the war.
Nevertheless, all in attendance felt that she deserved the Pulitzer that the book earned. The inside stories, momentous conversations, the opening funeral of King Edward, the account of the rape of Belgium and the destruction of the library at Louvain, were all fascinating accounts.
But it has been remarked before that our generation is woefully ignorant of WWI, and that was true for most of us at the table (there may have been one or two exceptions, such as those who attended West Point.) And this limited our appreciation of the book, especially at places where she ended an anecdote with, “…and we all know what came after that!” We collectively responded, “No, we don’t,” but she never told us.
The next book is Life is a Miracle, by Wendel Berry.
October’s book will be The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.