Apart from Goodbye to All That (Penguin Modern Classics)
I hadn't read any eyewitness-accounts of the First World War (though some historical books on the subject), and even this one I stumbled across quite by accident. I cannot claim to be a passionate reader on the subject, let alone an expert. But still, somehow, this book had me by the throat from page one. Looking back, I think it is the strange mix of detachment and involvement in the writing that makes this so powerful a book.
On the one hand, Jünger describes his experiences in the trenches in a very detached, unemotional matter. Events, even of the most gruesome sort, are described 'as he witnessed them' as if he was there as a neutral, impartial observer instead of a participant. The very first sentence of the book is typical: 'The train stopped at Bazancourt, a small town in Champagne, and we got out.'. But then again, in the stories about dozens of attacks, counter-attacks and nightly patrols, one can feel the Jünger's fascination with the sheer immensity and impact of all-out, total war. Rarely if ever is this motivated by patriotism, in fact there's hardly any motivation at all: the how and the what of being in the trenches for four years are there, but there is no attempt to consider the why. There is no hatred towards the French or the British for being French or British, they are quite simply 'the enemy' and that suffices for the warrior in Jünger.
And an awesome warrior he must have been, the youngest ever recipient of 'pour le Mérite' (the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order until the end of the First World War). But here again, he does not revel in this, he does not glorify it, he just describes what he does. And he is definitely not 'a moron with lots of courage'. On the contrary, in between the scenes of brutal and merciless fighting, Jünger describes in the same economical manner how he feels and does so with astonishing honesty and powerful imagery, as when he describes waiting for an impending attack as 'a scene that grips the spirit like some terrible silent ceremonial that portends human sacrifice'.
The dedication of Jünger's memoir is 'To the fallen', and if only for the millions of those we should all read this book and never forget.