Back over there One American time-traveler, 100 years since the Great War, 500 miles of battle-scarred French countryside, and too many trenches, shells, legends and ghosts to count

Richard Rubin

Book - 2017

The author of The Last of the Doughboys goes back to French battlegrounds of World War I to understand why memories of that war are so present in the minds and hearts of modern-day French people.

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 940.4144/Rubin Withdrawn
Travel writing
New York : St. Martin's Press 2017.
First edition
Physical Description
294 pages,16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [281]-282) and index.
Main Author
Richard Rubin (author)
  • Follow me
  • Like traveling back in time
  • The soul of the battlefield
  • Chemin des Américains
  • From the bowels of the earth
  • What if
  • The burnt woods and the ball-shaped tree
  • Red giant
  • The devil's basket
  • History and memory.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Even though a century has passed, WWI remains vividly present today in France. As journalist Rubin ventures through the still-battle-scarred countryside in this travelogue based on his New York Times series Over There, he is universally met with broad smiles and hospitality simply because he is an American. He visits villagers who are steeped in knowledge about the war (which is referred to simply as 14–18), scavenges for the treasures left behind by soldiers in the fields, attends solemn memorial ceremonies, and clambers into the concrete-lined trenches still in place for battles that ended long ago. He masterfully weaves the stories of the conflict into his accounts of what now remains, bringing into sharp focus the voices of long-dead soldiers and the personalities of the famous men who made fateful decisions. From the first American to shed his blood in the war to the young man from Baltimore felled just one minute before its end, Rubin presents an exceptional narrative of America's involvement in a war that, for many, lives on. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Many of the social, political, and financial events of the 20th century can be attributed to the aftermath of World War I, according to Rubin (The Last of the Doughboys). The author has written this folksy accounting of remnants of battles, relatives of the dead, and those who lived during this time. There are descriptions of artifacts in the Alsace-Lorraine theatre (in present-day France near the German border), including the remainders of shrapnel and spent cartridges that still litter the ground in local fields. Using his high school-learned French to communicate, Rubin visited combat sites that still contain German concrete trenches, machine gun nests, blockhouses, and opposing French trenches just deep enough to protect the men inside. He visits people in the villages, where the first man was killed in the war, and the site where the last American was killed in 1918. These bloody, gas-choked battles, which took place in the French countryside, brought about a 20-year cease-fire that spawned World War II. VERDICT Rubin succeeds in reminding readers how the Great War is the genesis of today's political and social complexities. Recommended for amateur historians and high school history classes.—Harry Willems, Great Bend P.L., KS Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Moving chronologically and based on a popular New York Times series, this travelogue visits the locations of American battle sites in France during World War I, visiting cemeteries, farmland and bombed out ghost towns that were never rebuilt.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Presents the author's findings when he traveled to France to explore the ruins of the first World War, describing the environment as he followed the path of the American Expeditionary Forces and explored tunnels, bunkers, and graffiti.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Based on Richard Rubin's wildly popular New York Times series, Back Over There is a timely journey, in turns reverent and iconoclastic but always fascinating, through a place where the past and present are never really separated. In The Last of the Doughboys, Richard Rubin introduced readers to a forgotten generation of Americans: the men and women who fought and won the First World War. Interviewing the war’s last survivors face-to-face, he knew well the importance of being present if you want to get the real story. But he soon came to realize that to get the whole story, he had to go Over There, too. So he did, and discovered that while most Americans regard that war as dead and gone, to the French, who still live among its ruins and memories, it remains very much alive.Years later, with the centennial of the war only magnifying this paradox, Rubin decided to go back Over There to see if he could, at last, resolve it. For months he followed the trail of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front, finding trenches, tunnels, bunkers, century-old graffiti and ubiquitous artifacts. But he also found an abiding fondness for America and Americans, and a colorful corps of local after-hours historians and archeologists who tirelessly explore these sites and preserve the memories they embody while patiently waiting for Americans to return and reclaim their own history and heritage. None of whom seemed to mind that his French needed work.