The Beauty and the Sorrow

The Beauty and the Sorrow

An Intimate History of the First World War

Book - 2011
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Random House, Inc.
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.

Baker & Taylor
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.

& Taylor

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.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
Edition: 1st American ed
ISBN: 9780307593863
Characteristics: xvi, 540 p. : ill. ; 25 cm


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Nov 25, 2014

If you read only one book on the First World War, read this one. The generals, war heroes and political leaders will always have their say in the history books, but the average man and woman rarely gets heard. Garnered from diaries, memoirs and letters, this narrative history relates the war experiences of 20 ordinary men and women.. And because it is written in the present tense, it has the immediacy of fiction. For example, when homesick Belgian pilot Willy Coppins flies sixty miles into German-occupied territory one February morning in 1918, he risks being shot down by German anti-aircraft batteries. But "... the very thought of this flight made him tremble with excitement." Flying the Belgian colors over occupied Brussels is an act of defiance. And, he gets to see his hometown again. "At 9:52 he flies in over the city. At the Gare du Midi he goes into a steep dive and sweeps low over the roof..... there are the trees in the Parc Solvay.....; there his parents' house, a tall white house with a red roof. Home! ..... inside one window of the house he sees the silhouettes of two women and instantly concludes that one of them must be his mother." These 20 people, who otherwise would remain anonymous, are as rich in their complexity as those you'd find in Tolstoy's War and Peace. Thanks to the author the reader is privileged to meet them.

debwalker Nov 13, 2011

An unconventional history, focusing on personal accounts of the worst war ever.


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