Monday, August 4, 2014

Reading Through World War 1

("Another war soon gets begun," is a line from a prescient poem by Robert Graves)
Today is the anniversary of the declaration of war by Great Britain on Germany, following Germany's invasion of Belgium. A terrible series of events, starting with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, led to one of the most catastrophic conflicts in history.

Americans tend to know less about this war than others, probably because America was neutral for most of it. In some ways it feels remote from us. Really, it isn't. The effects in Europe, The Balkans, Russia, and elsewhere are still felt today. Decisions made in 1919 have repercussions even now.

Don't believe me? Just read a small selection of the books in this list:

Poetry:
World War One British Poets. This is a small collection. Contains the famous "In Flanders Fields" as well as lesser known works.
In Flanders Fields is probably the most famous poem to come out of WW1. This book is suitable for children.

Fiction:
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. A classic for a reason, a look at the German experience. If you haven't read this one since high school, give it another chance.

Fear: A Novel by World War I by Gabriel Chevallier. A French point of view. Part memoir, part fiction. Honest and horrifying.

1914: A Novel by Jean Echenoz. Another French perspective. Short but unsettling.

A Soldier on the Southern Front: A Classic Italian Memoir of World War I by Emilio Lussu. I'm reading this one right now, so I can't tell you all it contains but it is an often overlooked perspective, that of an ordinary Italian soldier.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. I'm not a Hemingway fan, but this is one of the most acclaimed American novels from the Great War, so it's worth a look.

Wake by Anna Hope. I had mixed feelings about this one (see my Goodreads review). It's unsettling, some of the characters never quite become sympathetic, and yet it's quite well written. Deals with the aftermath, rather than the war itself.
The Passing Bells by Philip Rock. First in a trilogy, re-released for our Downton Abbey-crazed times. Memorable characters. Poignant story lines. I could do without some of the "romance novel" scenes, but I recommend them if you can overlook that.

No Graves as Yet by Anne Perry is the first in a fascinating series. These capture the tragedy and also the quiet moments of triumph. They're not great literature, but they are one of those series you'll want to binge read.
The other books are:


After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson. First in a series. Mysteries set in the 1920s in which the Great War still plays a role.

Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn. Another mystery series set in the '20s. Slightly more light hearted than the Dandy Gilver series, but the war is still playing a role here, too. If you enjoy this one, there are 20 more in the series to date.

In My Father's House by Bodie Thoene. The Thoene's were some of my favorite Christian fiction writers when I was a teenager. This is their take on the American aftermath of the Great War. First in a series.

For another Thoene book that deals with the affects of The Great War see The Gathering Storm (Zion Diaries Book 1) The sections of this book dealing with the Tin Noses Shop (see this article for more about that: The Faces of War) are great. The rest of the book, well, not so much. Unlike Thoene's earlier work, this one delves into some mysticism that ruins the story for me.

The Ian Rutledge series is set in the 1920's. Rutledge is a Scotland Yard detective still dealing with the war. The series is long now, and some entries are better than others, but this is overall a great look at how the war may have affected the men who survived.

The John Madden mysteries are set in Britain between the wars. The Great War may be over, but it is certainly not forgotten. These are NOT cozy mysteries and they are not to everyone's taste (I prefer the Rutlege series, honestly) but they make for riveting reading.

I just had to include this one. Of all Sayers' Wimsey books, this one deals the most directly with the Great War and its aftershocks. Probably one of my favorites in the series.

Non-Fiction:
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. I highly recommend this one. It is extremely well written and helps explain why the war dissolved into a war of attrition so quickly. If you can only read one or two books on this list, make sure this is one of them.

The First World War: A Complete History by Martin Gilbert. Gilbert is an acclaimed historian for a reason.

All the Kaiser's Men. A much needed look at the German side. Informative and touching, with many pictures.

World War 1 from DK. Helps explain the lead up to war. Lots of illustrations and maps.

What Tommy Took to War is a poignant collection of photos that show what every British soldier on the Western Front (and other arenas) would have carried. This book would be suitable for a tween or teen studying the war.

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm is a biography of the three royal cousins involved in the Great War. Provides an interesting perspective, based on their relationships.

The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell. This one is difficult. It raises unanswered questions. It veers from one style to another, and all the styles will give your vocabulary a work out.

The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War. Quality of the essays vary but some are outstanding.

Wounded by Emily Mayhew. I'm currently reading this one. The personal stories are incredible. I've read several portions aloud to Philip. So far I'd say that this one may be appropriate for a teen. There hasn't been any cursing or things like that. It does deal with serious issues so I hesitate to recommend it for younger readers.

The Missing of the Somme. Examines how the war is remembered today.

The Somme: Heroism and Horror in the First World War by Martin Gilbert. Another great effort by Gilbert.

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings. I haven't actually read this one, although it's on my "read someday" list. I admire Hastings' works about WW2 and I know this one is worth the time.

The World Crisis 1911-1918 by Winston Churchill. Churchill is a masterful writer. So much talent and ability in one man is almost ridiculous.

The Great Silence by Juliet Nicolson. This book about the aftermath of the Great War is so well done, you'll almost forget it's nonfiction. Highly recommended.

Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan is a MUST read. We listened to the audiobook version and it was absolutely riveting. (Imagine driving out of your way just so you could hear the end of a section - it happened to us more than once!) If you've ever wondered why the Second World War followed so closely after the first, this book can help explain both that and why we're still feeling the effects of Europe's war, 100 years later.

Children's Books:

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. A gentle introduction to the Great War, suitable for tweens or teens (although I still love it). Also notable for its look at the Canadian homefront which seems to be a somewhat neglected subject.

The scrapbook format of Where Poppies Grow will appeal to some children.

A look at one of the most famous events near the beginning of the war.

Another look at the Christmas Truce. Of the two, I love this one the most.

This book deals with the Christmas Truce, as well as an overview of the war itself. For older children.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. For older children. The reader is introduced to many characters and points of view as the horse makes his way through the war. The basis for the recent movie.

Have you read about World War 1? Let me know if I missed a book that you think should be on this list.

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