Books in Brief

August 1914: France, the Great War, and a Month That Changed the World Forever, by Bruno Cabanes; translated by Stephanie O’Hara (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 230 pp., $27.50).  This superb and marvelously readable work of social and political history, drawn from a wide variety of personal and official documents and records, recounts the first weeks of World War I as they were experienced by the French people, the French Army, and the French government.  The war, half-expected since 1905, that commenced on August 1 was widely imagined by the French nation to be concluded in a matter of weeks, and certainly by Christmas.  Instead, between August 20 and 23, France lost 40,000 men in battle, the worst military defeat in her history, before the army was forced to retreat at the end of the month.  “This early catastrophe,” Cabanes writes,

left an indelible imprint on French soldiers and civilians alike.  Had it not been for the counteroffensive on the Marne at the beginning of September, the war on the Western Front might have ended there, inflicting an even more humiliating defeat on the French than had the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

Cabanes describes his book as being “first of all a history of the French as they faced one of the most frightening collective ordeals of the twentieth century”—and...

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