History writing doesn’t get much better than this.
If I had to make a list of the places throughout human history I would least want to find myself, a few come to mind. Standing in the surrounded Roman legions at the Battle of Cannae, waiting for Hannibal’s soldiers to inevitably chop me to pieces would be awful. Of course, the death camps of World War II and the Gulags of Stalin’s Communism are near the top of the list. Also near the top of that list would be the trenches of World War I.
World War I is fascinating in its horrors. Just the thought of having to go over the top of the trench, charging into machine gun fire that has mowed down thousands already that day, makes me cringe. How do you do it? Stories are told of men being forced to go out of the trenches at gun point because they knew death awaited. Its not that life in the trench was much better though, standing in mud surrounded by your dead friends and plagued by rats…my mind can’t comprehend.
Tuchman’s book is not about the whole of the Great War, just the beginning of it. But it is one of the books that really got me into reading history as an adult. The stories human history holds, stories of people like us, are tantalizing. If you’ve never read history but just might be curious, you can do a lot worse than starting with Tuchman. That is why this just might be the highest ranked work of history on my list.