The beauty and the sorrow An intimate history of the First World War

Peter Englund, 1957-

Book - 2011

Englund examines the history of World War I through the experiences of the average man and woman-- not only the tragedy and horror but also the absurdity and even, at times, the beauty. In a brilliant mosaic of perspectives that moves between the home front and the front lines, he reconstructs the feelings, impressions, experiences, and shifting spirits of twenty particular people, allowing them to speak not only for themselves but also for all those who were in some way shaped by the war, but w...hose voices have been forgotten, rejected, or simply remained unheard.

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Subjects
Published
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2011.
Edition
1st American ed
Language
English
Swedish
Item Description
"Originally published ... in Sweden as Stridens Skönhet Och Sorg by Atlantis, Stockholm, in 2009"--T.p. verso.
"A Borzoi book"--T.p. verso.
Physical Description
xvi, 540 p. : ill. ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (p. [509]-514) and index.
ISBN
9780307593863
030759386X
Main Author
Peter Englund, 1957- (-)
Other Authors
Peter Graves, 1942- (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Swedish historian and war correspondent Englund, an official of the committee that bestows the Nobel Prize in Literature, offers views of WWI through 20 people who experienced it. That approach purposely negates narrative coherence in favor of the episodic impressions Englund gathered from his subjects' letters, diaries, and, if they survived to write any, postwar memoirs. Predominantly paraphrasing this material, Englund extensively footnotes it with information about the larger matter (a battle, a type of weapon, a peace proposal) only dimly perceived by the individuals he tracks through four years of war. They represent categories of soldier, sailor, airman, nurse, doctor, driver, bureaucrat, and civilian who undergo war's characteristic emotions of excitement and boredom, fortitude and fear. What haunts this work is WWI's signature of colossal casualties. As Englund's characters confront the dead and wounded in anatomical detail, their initial enthusiasm for the war attenuates until the conflict, from their necessarily personal perspectives, simply ends. A treatment that deepens readers' appreciation for the human dimension, Englund's effort emotively supplements conventional histories of WWI. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Englund (The Battle That Shook Europe), a Swedish historian, gives us an intimate "anti-history" generated from the feelings, experiences, and moods of 20 men and women of widely ranging nationalities, ages, and wartime occupations, selected from available published primary sources. The narrative reads chronologically, often paraphrasing the individuals' words, but with actual quotations as well. The effect is riveting, as the entries—contrived from letters, diaries, and memoirs—offer glimpses into the daily lives of schoolchildren, mothers, nurses, infantrymen, pilots, and civilians as they subjectively process events across the whole theater of war and survival. VERDICT Englund adds a rich representation of voice and an opportunity for empathy not found in most studies of World War I. Although the stories seem stacked too dramatically, this is still a rewarding read.—Ben Malczewski, Ypsilanti Dist. Lib., MI [Page 92]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In a brilliant feat of retrospective journalism, leading Swedish historian Englund allows 20 individuals during WWI to convey their experiences through diaries and letters: among them, an English nurse in the Russian army, a British infantryman awarded the Victoria Cross, a German seaman, and a Venezuelan cavalryman in the Ottoman army. Englund's deft collation provides insights into more than the carnage; for example, a French infantryman at Verdun knows, despite lower figures in newspaper reports, that he went into battle with 100 men and only 30 returned. Lacking only a Turkish Muslim view, this book fleshes out the grim statistics of the Great War. Writing in the present tense as though immersed in the events, Englund describes typhus and malnutrition, the Ottoman slaughter of Armenians, French troops' mutinies, erosion of European colonialism in Africa, and governments' suppression of the extent of their armies' losses. The eloquence of everyday participants—a German schoolgirl describes the war as "a ghost in grey rags, a skull with maggots crawling out of it"—will link the reader to the era when the origins of the ensuing century's conflicts became apparent. 32 pages of photos. (Nov.) [Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A narrative history of World War I explores its impact on everyday men and women, drawing on diaries and letters by twenty individuals from various countries to present an international mosaic of perspectives.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A revelatory narrative history of World War I explores its impact on everyday men and women, drawing on diaries and letters by 20 individuals from various countries to present an international mosaic of less-represented perspectives.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

In this masterly, highly original narrative history, Peter Englund takes a revelatory new approach to the history of World War I, magnifying its least examined, most stirring component: the experiences of the average man and woman—not only the tragedy and horror but also the absurdity and even, at times, the beauty. The twenty people from whose journals and letters Englund draws are from Belgium, Denmark, and France; Great Britain, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Italy, Australia, and New Zealand; Russia, Venezuela, and the United States. There is a young man in the British army infantry who had been considering emigrating until the war offered him its “grand promise of change” and a middle-aged French civil servant, a socialist and writer whose “faith simply crumbled” at the outbreak of war. There is a twelve-year-old German girl thrilled with the news of the army’s victories because it means that she and her classmates are allowed to shout and scream at school. There is an American woman married to a Polish aristocrat, living a life of quiet luxury when the war begins but who will be moved, ultimately, to declare: Looking Death in the eyes, one loses the fear of Him. From field surgeon to nurse to fighter pilot, some are on the Western Front, others in the Balkans, East Africa, Mesopotamia. Two will die, one will never hear a shot fired; some will become prisoners of war, others will be celebrated as heroes. But despite their various war-time occupations and fates, genders and nationalities, they will be united by their involvement—witting or otherwise—in The Great, and terrible, War. A brilliant mosaic of perspectives that moves between the home front and the front lines, The Beauty and the Sorrow reconstructs the feelings, impressions, experiences, and shifting spirits of these twenty particular people, allowing them to speak not only for themselves but also for all those who were in some way shaped by the war, but whose voices have been forgotten, rejected, or simply remained unheard.