Friday, 8 October 2010

My Top Ten List - Number 10

Well, here it is; let the bells ring and the banners fly. This post will cover one of my All-time Top Ten favourite books. A bit of a explanation first as to how I chose them. I would say that my top five were relatively easy. But in my Top Ten, I initially had 15 or so books. In general, I chose books that were timeless to me; books I can pick up at any time and read with complete enjoyment. Some, and here I'm probably talking mostly about the top five or six, I've read a few times. Others I may only have read once, but they did have quite an impact on me; books I can recall fairly easily, also books that I've enjoyed in other formats such as movies.

Looking at my list, I do have a preponderance of science fiction, but that has always been one of my favourite styles of literature. I'll maybe talk more about sci-fi in future blogs, but sci-fi, at its best, can be all-encompassing, from the most exciting adventures on far flung planets to discussion of personal and current worldly issues and finally to true scientific issues. But at this point I'm digressing as my first book is not sci-fi. The choice of making this story number ten might be somewhat arbitrary as I'm only really sure which make up the top three or four. But be that as it may, it's a good starting point.

Barbara Tuchman is a prominent historian who won the Pulitzer Prize for my number Ten book, The Guns of August.  The book was initially published in 1962 and according to the Foreword of this edition was an immediate success; which isn't surprising to me at all.

I had reread this novel recently as my good wife got it for me for Xmas 2009. As I was making up my Top Ten list, I tried to remember the first time I read The Guns of August. I want to say it was when my father was stationed in Chatham, New Brunswick in the 1960's and that I got it from the base library. It was a place I loved to frequent, browsing the shelves for interesting looking books.

However, it is possible that it was in Grade 9, while we were in Lahr, Germany, 1971. I was a member of the Library club (yup, you've got it; I was a bit of a geek) so had even more ready access to the books there and took full advantage of the library.

At any rate, the book was fascinating. Briefly, it covers the first month of WWI. It details the declaration of war and ends with the stop of the relentless advance of the German army through Luxembourg, Belgium and France, by the Franco-English alliance.

Barbara Tuchman turns these events into a tense, exciting story. She details the negotiations between France and England to try and get England into the war. It covers the brave defence of Belgium as they wait fruitlessly for assistance from England and France. She covers the main personalities of the war on both sides, making them interesting and real and often covers minute details and events that make you feel as though you are in the action. The story held my attention when I read it so many years ago, back in the late 60's and once again when I read it in early 2010.

Whether you enjoy history or not, this is a must read as it provides an excellent perspective of these critical events that culminated in the 'War to End all Wars'. Having read the story once again, it's made me interested in reading others of Barbara Tuchman's histories, especially The Zimmerman Telegram which deals with an incident between Germany and Mexico in 1917 and was an influence in provoking the US entry into WWI.

History was never my favourite subject in school. In fact, at the first opportunity, when I had more choice in the subjects I could take, I dropped it. However, books like The Guns of August and others, e.g. Vimy by Pierre Berton, Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan, The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester, etc. have held my interest and made the past come alive. I plan to discuss in more detail some of the historic novels that grabbed my attention in future Blogs.

But to summarize, if you want to read about and feel the events that led up to the initial invasion of France by the German army in August 1914, start with Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August.

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