Book Review: August 1914: France, the Great War, and a Month That Changed the World Forever


by Bruno Cabanes

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. Pp. xx, 222. Illus., map, chron., notes. $27.50. ISBN: 0300208278

Experiencing the Outbreak of the Great War

Originally published in French in 2014, August 1914 is not so much a history of the first month of the Great War as an examination of how the war was experienced by the French, and how it affected, and changed society. Prof. Cabanes (Ohio State), who has written extensively on the Great War, does this by examining several themes. So he discusses popular responses to the imminence of war and to political and military actions. Cabanes gives us a look at the outbreak of the war, mobilization, the horrors of the “Battle of the Frontiers,” and the looming threat of defeat. He examines the spontaneous maniacal search for “spies” and “saboteurs,” the rise and spread of rumors, the flight and plight of refugees, and, for those left behind, the pressures of occupation.

Cabanes is a good writer, and his translator reflects that; even the discussion of so mundane a business as the mobilization is very well done. Although some of his observations on military planning are dated – Plan XVII was far more flexible than is usually portrayed – but his analysis of the weaknesses both the French and German plans, and the decisions made by senior commanders are generally sound.

On the whole,Cabanes does a good job of telling us how people – workers, shopkeepers, soldiers, men, women, even children – experienced these events, and how these experiences and events shaped not only how the war would unfold, but the world down to the present.

Well written, this is a good read for the layman and a worthwhile one for the scholar.

Note: August 1914 is also available as an eBook, ISBN 978-0-300-22494-8


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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