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The Beauty And The Sorrow: An intimate history of the First World War Paperback – 6 Sep 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (6 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846683432
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846683435
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 202,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Peter Englund is one of the finest writers of our time on the tactics, the killing and the psychology of war. In The Beauty and the Sorrow he superbly and humanely brings to life all the tragedy, chaos, death and gunsmoke of battle (Simon Sebag Montefiore)

A wonderfully wide and rich mosaic of personal experience from the First World War (Antony Beevor)

Extraordinary ... a work of magnificent, elegiac seriousness (Guardian)

A haunting mosaic of the experiences of war. The layers of voices build to create a richly complex and rarely heard account of the First World War that lingers in the memory long after the final page. Immensely powerful. (Juliet Gardiner, author of 'The Blitz')

He conjures up the atmosphere over and over again with just a few stark words. I loved all the detail... inspiring. (Margaret Forster)

By turns pithy, lyrical, colourful, poignant and endlessly absorbing. An exquisite book. (Kirkus Reviews (starred))

A brilliant feat of retrospective journalism (Publishers Weekly (starred))

Intense and bighearted . . . Englund's volume joins an unconventional pantheon . . . The accounts of [these] lives can be terrifying or stirring, but are most fully alive in Englund's accumulation of small moments, stray details . . . His book has the most devastating ending I can remember in a piece of nonfiction. (Dwight Garner New York Times)

Like no other, this book brings out in a poignant and effective way the meaning of World War I for those who lived through it (Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman)

Book Description

Four devastating years told by twenty eyewitnesses showing not just what the First World War was, but what it was like to live through

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Red on Black TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 17 Nov. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For the historian saying something new and original about the Great War is by definition a challenge of foreboding proportions. The chilling observation by Joseph Stalin that "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic" resonates particularly around this conflict with the level of carnage horrifically mind boggling and almost impossible to grasp today. There is heartfelt grief for all soldiers caught up in conflict and we think in our generation of the tragedy of the 365 British combatants who are sadly deceased as a result of the Afghanistan conflict. How then would we react today to a catastrophe like Passchendaele on the Ypres Salient where 260,000 British troops were causalities in 1917 and how would we feel to be involved in the wider contagion of a total war?

This excellent new book by Peter Englund "The Beauty And The Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War' attempts to answer the last question by charting the path of 20 people through the meltdown of 1914 -18. Englund is a talented Swedish historian and journalist. He is also the new permanent secretary of the academy which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature. His style is immensely readable and his twenty protagonists range from countries across the globe including in his own words "an Australian woman who drove a lorry for the Serbian Army; a Scotsman fighting Germans in East Africa; an Italian soldier who ended up in a Mental Asylum; a French civil servant who never saw the front; a German school girl who grew up close to the war on the eastern borders of Germany; a South American adventurer who fought for the Turks and witnessed the Armenian genocide and a Belgian fighter pilot"

This is not a straightforward history, indeed Englund describes it as "anti history".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. D. Holley TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 7 July 2013
Format: Hardcover
In the introduction the author states that he is not intending to compete with other histories of World War 1. Well I think he is too modest. This is perhaps the most insightful history of the war currently available.

The author is of a nationality that did not take part in either World War, and this is a huge advantage, for he does not take sides. This also leads him to give equal weight to all nationalities participating, and to all the different theatres of war (for a British reader what a relief that this isn't yet another book weighted towards the western front!). He also takes care to represent female as well as male participants, and to choose people from various walks of life. The only thing which is not representative is that the twenty chosen people are probably of above average intelligence and education - but then if they hadn't written eloquently of their experiences we wouldn't have the record of them.

The unique format, which gives voice to the beliefs and motivations of real people, brings out a number of things which might be missed by a conventional history:

1) Many of the twenty individuals were blatantly racist in their outlook, as were all nations participating in the war;
2) All sides seem to have been completely delusional (how else could they sincerely hold such mutually exclusive beliefs?);
3) Most people acted sincerely in a way which they felt was extremely moral, yet many committed appalling atrocities;
4) All sides were motivated by a desire to expand their empires by taking control over and exploiting other countries, yet as a result of 1) and 2) above most sincere individuals saw nothing wrong in that.

I found the format very easy to read and rather a page turner. Unlike some reviewers I did not find it at all disjointed.

I hope that other histories of both world wars will be positively influenced by this work.

Recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jasper Tamespeke on 25 Jun. 2012
Format: Hardcover
There are so many books about WW1 these days that it is difficult to think of how the subject can be approached in an original way, but Peter Englund has done it. He charts the lives of 20 different people who in different ways participated in the struggle. Most of them are obscure, but they certainly are not ordinary: one is a British VC, another is a Belgian flying ace, another a wealthy middle aged Scottish woman who sets up her own soup kitchen in Flanders, another an Italian-American volunteer who spends most of the war in an Italian mental asylum. The most outlandish character is a Venezuelan adventurer who has spent his life seeking out wars to fight in, and is so desperate to get involved in the big one that he ends up in the Ottoman army having been rejected in turn by the armies of Belgium, France, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro (where he was arrested as a spy), before a chance meeting with the Turkish ambassador in Sofia gives him his opportunity.

Each of the entries are short, which helps to keep the narrative moving, but the danger is that sometimes the book seems too fragmentary. Englund counters this by interjecting with general comments about the character's situation. This is confusing, and one is never sure whose voice it is at any one time, the character or the author.

Presumably to give the book some structure, he also comments throughout on the general progress of the war. Sometimes these points are in the text, at other times as copious footnotes, which is again confusing. I suppose these are necessary for the reader who is not familiar with the progress of the war, but I often found these comments irritating, and they break up the narrative at too many points. However, they are occasionally illuminating: a couple of examples:-

1.
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