Wednesday, January 1, 2014

'14: The Year of the Great War

As 2014 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Great War, I'm dedicating part of my reading to reflect on its tragic importance. At least one book every month will focus on the Great War; after beginning with a general history, I'll explore different aspects of and theaters in every succeeding month. My aim, besides honoring those who were 'butchered and damned', is to understand the conflict more than I do presently. Virtually all of my Great War studies in university or out of it have looked at western Europe -- either the trenches or the skies. I know nothing of Italy and Austria's meatgrinding struggle in the Alps, nor do I have any real appreciation of the German-Russian conflict.  To that end I'll be reading books specific to these areas of the war largely unknown to me. Although I don't and won't have a scheduled reading list, below are some of the titles I am considering.

The First World War, John Keegan
La Feu (Under Fire), Henri Barbusse
The Great War in Modern Memory, Paul Fussell
The Great War at Sea, Richard Hough
To Crown the Waves: The Great Navies of the First World War, ed. Vincent O'Hara et al
Wipers: A Soldier's Tale from the Great War, Jeff Simmons
Forgotten Voices of the Great War, Max Arthur
The Eastern Front, Norman Stone
Rites of Spring: the Great War  and the Birth of the Modern Age, Modris Eksteins
World War 1 Companion, Mathias Strohn, editor.
Collision of Empires, Prit Buttar
Silent Night,  Stanley Weintraub

Considering the way book recommendations multiply like rabbits once a subject is considered in earnest, I'm confident many more will surface. The top three of these will definitely be attempted, as I've wanted to read them for a long time;  the others I only discovered after beginning preparations for this.  In addition to learning about theaters of the war I'm largely ignorant of, I also want to explore how the war was portrayed in fiction and culture, to discern its impact on the human soul.

Suggestions are welcome.

"Gassed", John Singer Sargent


  1. Paul Fussell's book is very good and very interesting. One book I can highly recommend if you wanted to read about front line nursing/female experience is The Forbidden Zone by Mary Borden. It is unflinching and occasionally uncomfortable collection of short stories but it is probably one of the best WW1 books I have read (and trust me, I've read a lot - kinda an obsession of mine).

  2. I shall look forward to your reading on this. I'm planning to do something similar but not at the rate of one a month!

    Interestingly I don't think that, at least at the moment, we are intending reading the same books... Most of my reading will be concentrating on the European conflict (being Euro focused as a rule) but I'm also very interested in the naval and air side of things (oh, and tanks of course).

    Looks like some interesting mutual reviewing ahead!

  3. @ Ellie: I hadn't even considered that aspect. I've been looking through a few short-story collections focused on the war; this one definitely sounds of interest. I see you also have an interest in Barbusse. Thanks!

    @ Cyberkitten

    While looking for photos I could use as a header on this post, I discovered one made for a LibraryThing group who have the same idea. Their list might be of interest to you. I chose one a month because it seemed like an easy way to keep my nose to the grindstone,as it were. ;)

    LibraryThing list:

    I think I'm going to need a happier theme for 2015. By the end of the year my head will be filled with gas, death, and ruined farmland.

  4. There's quite a few new books being published on the First World War at the moment. I've picked up a few already and have added more to my Amazon Wish List for later. I'm planning (or at least expecting) to be reading something about it over the next five years to keep it in focus - lest we forget and all that...

    I definitely think you'll need to leaven things out with a bit of light and fluffy from time to time. Just too depressing otherwise!

  5. Oh, yes -- I saw a great many books published in 2013, just in time for the big anniversary. At least one of the books on my list is part of that, the Companion. A similar thing happened in 2012, for the Titanic, but I missed the boat completely.


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