A book written in 1962 by author Barbara Tuchman
. It is an excellent and interesting analysis of the opening months of WWI
and gives an interesting perspective on the war that really ushered in the 20th Century. Below, I'll try to summarize the major points of the book as best I can.
The choice of looking at only the opening months of the war seems deliberate as they were the only time in the war were a great deal of activity was taking place. It was during this time that Germany came within 50 miles of Paris, the Russians dove in way too early to stave off the German offensive on France as well as Britain's tentative, yet important steps into defended the French (and using the invasion of Belgium by the Germans as their rationale for entering the war).
More importantly than the actual events of the war, this book makes the point that none of these countries had an idea what they were getting into. There hadn't been a large scale war in Europe since Napolean was booted from his place as emperor of France in 1814. In fact, aside from the uprisings in 1832 and 1848 as well as the Franco-Prussian War (which was a total route in favor of the recently united Germans), Europe (well, western Europe at least...Russia and Eastern Europe is always another story) had been remarkably peaceful, considering its history. But I digress. Tuchman pointed out that all of the major nations that participated in World War I were eager to go to battle. Each of them had spent the beginnig of the 1900s preparing battle plans, ranging from the French's "ra ra" plan in which their French spirit would help bring them through the heavily disputed Rhineland (and Alsace-Lorreine to victory to the German's precisely (and, in hindsight, poorly) calculated Schlieffen Plan in which the Germans, going through Belgium and Luxembourg, would quickly defeat the French before the Russians and British had time to mobilize and help the French.
The Germans (and their ally, Austria-Hungary) didnt count on the Russians quickly mobilizing at French insistence (and sounding the end for Imperial Russia), nor did they expect the Belgians to put up such a fight. Add this with a poor line of communication between the German generals, and Austro-Hungarian failures on the battlefield and suddenly, the Schlieffen Plan was in ruins.
The French, still living in the 19th Century, had invested in weak artillery and hoped that the French "spirit" (elan) would carry the day. The quickly found that the German forces were better trained, better equipped and out-numbered the French troops as they were pushed back towards Paris.
The British, due to anti-war sentiment in their country, were slow to act. The British Expeditionary Forces that were to be found on the continent, however, helped stave off the German offensive.
The Russians, after brief success' on the Eastern front, slowly began to show how ill-prepared they were for the war, and eventually began to be pushed further back.
The more minor players (Turkey, Italy, ETC) were all still choosing their sides as all of this played out. The main point off all this, according to Tuchman, is that the poor thinking on both sides is what turned WWI from a normal 19th Century skirmish, into the beginnings of the first modern war, complete with trenches, chemical warfare, planes, soldiers terrorizing locals in captured territory and massive massive death tolls.
While she seems rather focused on the Triple Entente (the Brits, French and Russian (as well as a number of other countries)) rather than on the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, ETC), her insights into the failures of both sides plans and the brutality of the Germans towards the Belgians make this for a fascinating, and dense, read.