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The Unknown Soldier Paperback – 1 Oct 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; Airport / Export ed edition (1 Oct. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385604548
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385604543
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,186,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The path that led me to become an author was a pretty rambling one. Along the highways, byways and frequent cul de sacs of a very chequered career, I've been a plasterer's mate, an ice-cream salesman, a holiday camp redcoat, an art gallery director, and simultaneously an art critic and a rugby commentator - now there's a combination you don't see every day. I've also been the editor of the drinker's bible, The Good Beer Guide, and the owner of the highest pub in Britain, and I've travelled round the world twice, edited an assortment of obscure magazines, made a couple of television films, been a radio broadcaster in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and written for newspapers around the world.

However, the world's longest adolescence finally had to come to an end one day and since then I've been pretty much a full-time author with around 50 published books to my name so far. Under my own name I write narrative non-fiction - popular history, though the sales figures suggest it's not quite as popular as I'd like it to be. I'm not a member of what you might call "the David Starkey School" of history, I'm less interested in kings, queens, prime ministers and generals than I am in what happens to ordinary people caught up in great events. I don't like "winner's history" either; I want to know the view from all sides of a conflict or issue and I'm as interested - and sometimes more interested - in the aftermath of great events than I am in the events themselves. Some of the best stuff I've written (in my opinion at least) really catches fire at the point where most other historians leave off, and that's as true, I think, of my book about the Spanish Armada "The Confident Hope of a Miracle", "The Dreadful Judgement" about the Great Fire of London, and The Custom of the Sea, as it is of "The Unknown Soldier", my book about the Unknowns buried in Westminster Abbey and at national shrines in Paris, Washington and all over the world.

My day-job is as a ghostwriter: a writer of other people's books for them. Clients have included a treasure diver, a kidnap negotiator, an explorer, a spy, a long-distance walker, a submariner, an England football coach, a cricketing legend, a controversial historian, an undercover investigator, an IRA informer, several travellers and adventurers, two fast-jet pilots and half a dozen SAS men. At various times I've also written screenplays, thrillers, short stories, a serious novel, a playscript for a musical, travel journalism, and book reviews. The one thing missing from my portfolio is poetry and believe me, there's a very good reason for that...

If you can still cope with yet more of me boasting about myself, my website is: http://www.neilhanson.co.uk

and my facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/pages/Neil-Hanson/456508287757319

and if you're still not sated, you can find the talk I gave about my book The Unknown Soldier at the Pritzker Military Library, Chicago at
http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/Home/Neil-Hanson.aspx

Product Description

Review

"Neil Hanson's prose has an almost unbearable poignancy.... A beautifully illustrated book that has all the sombre grandeur of Beethoven's funeral march."
-"Sunday Times"
"Of all the books I've read on WWI, this really brought home the experience."
-"Publishing News"

From the Inside Flap

Of all the million British dead of the First World War, only one – the Unknown Soldier – was ever returned to his native land. An anonymous symbol of all those lost without trace in the carnage of the battlefields, he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey amid an outpouring of grief that brought the whole nation to a standstill, far outweighing even the emotion that was to greet the death of Princess Diana over eighty years later. Inspired by this example, almost every combatant nation buried its own Unknown Soldier and the graves became the focus of a pilgrimage that still continues today.

Drawing on largely unpublished letters and diaries, Neil Hanson has resurrected the lives and experiences of three unknown soldiers – a Briton, a German and an American. Nothing is invented or exaggerated; every word is based on the testimony of those who fought, those who died and those who mourned at home. Few books have ever shown the terrible reality of warfare in such compelling, unforgettable detail, or told such a moving story of human life and loss. The rare insight into these three soldiers’ lives reveals the Great War in all its horror and tragedy.

Amid all their sufferings, the common humanity of the men and their loved ones shines through. Each soldier lives on in the memory of his family to this day. They stand at the head of a ghost army three million strong, all of whom have no known grave. Their story is the story of the Unknown Soldier. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful By 11 Group on 17 Oct. 2005
Format: Hardcover
I feel compelled to write this review, as with all great books, it is still resonates with me long after I put it down. Neil Hanson tells the story of three combatants who saw action and died during the First World War, an English soldier, a German soldier and an American airmen. Through diligent and meticulous research, Hanson allows the reader to get to know the three men and also, more importantly, care about them. The intention of the book is to follow closely, the lives and actions of these individuals to their eventual demise on the killing fields of the western front, and the fact that you are made to care elevates this book above a cold fact filled history, the narrative is gripping and ultimately humane and moving.
The last third of the book is devoted, to the minutae of how the tens of thousands of war dead were laid to rest and how they were honoured. Again Hanson's humanity shines through as he sensitively recounts how a ground swell of public feeling forced the hands of the powers at the time to create memorials fitting to the sacrifices made. Packed with fascinating detail and superb illustrations and photographs, the prevalent feelings of the time are vividly brought to life with the descriptions of the birth of the ceremonies that are taken for granted today .
I cannot recommend this work highly enough to all readers, in fact,it might be a hackneyed sentiment, but this book should be a compulsory text for schools, for all the reasons I list above.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By ch0pper on 7 Dec. 2005
Format: Hardcover
This 500 page book is by turn inspirational, horrifying and harrowing

Using mainly extracts from the letters of troops serving in WW1, Hanson tells the stories of three soldiers, a Briton, a German, and an American.

He describes the brutal and far-from-glorious nature of battle in the trenches of northern France. We're taken face-to-face with the generals who ordered Allied troops 'over the top' to make a walking advance on the German lines, a slow march forwards whilst many comrades are being mown down by machine-gun fire. It beggars belief that Generals still thought this tactic had any merit since similar behaviour during the American Civil War had already demonstrated that an advance into concentrated gunfire resulted in industrial-scale slaughter of troops.

The data on the number of dead and wounded are shocking and breathtaking, as, indeed, are the sheer number and weight of artillery shells expended.

Hanson also goes behind the scenes for a look at the concept of the 'unknown soldier', a concept hitherto unknown in Britain.

Indeed, the final pages of the book in which Hanson describes the emotions and scenes at the unveiling of the Cenotaph in London, and the burial of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey were, for me, very upsetting. But I must declare an interest, for I served 24yrs as an officer in the Armed Forces.

Many parts of the stories of Hanson's soldiers, and their dire predicament brought an occasional tear to my eye. The final pages actually made me sob, with tear running freely down my cheeks. I recalled an injunction from my Senior Command Course at the Naval Staff College; "Spend your men's lives frugally for they are precious capital.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By ch0pper on 7 Dec. 2005
Format: Hardcover
This 500 page book is at turns inspirational and horrifying and harrowing
Using mainly extracts from the letters of troops serving in WW1, Hanson tells the direct story of three soldiers, a Briton, a German, and an American.
He describes the brutal and far from glorious nature of battle in the trenches of northern France. We're taken face to face with the genrals who ordered troops 'over the top' in a walking advance on the German lines whilst being mown down by machine-gun fire.
The data on the number of dead and wounded are breathtaking, as is the sheer amount and weight of artilliery shells expended.
He also goes behind the scenes for a look at the concept of the 'unknown soldier' hitherto unknown in Britain.
Indeed, the final pages of the book in which Hanson describes the emotions and scenes at the unveiling of the Cenotaph in London, and the burying of the unkown soldier in Westminster Abbey were, for me, very upsetting.
Many parts of the stories of Hanson's soldiers and their predicament brought an odd tear to my eye. The final pages actually made me sob, with tear running freely down my face.
Well worth reading, but be prepared to feel slightly sad and depressed. My admiration for the bravery of the troops involved has been increased, as has my contempt for the High Command who rarely ventured closer than 30 miles to the trenches, and for the profiligate squandering of the lives of brave young men.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 22 Jan. 2006
Format: Hardcover
Pointless to say this is a book all politicians should read as it is a story that in variously repeated ways has made no difference to them for the past almost 100 years... Nonetheless, this extraordinary, heartbreaking & very beautiful book should be read by everybody for it's recounting of war through its human perspective. The First World War is captured principally through the experiences of ordinary English, German and American soldiers, though countless other soldiers are also granted their voice, lost for so long. Neil Hanson has obviously worked tirelessly and with dedication to bring these voices to the 21st century. Hopefully, this text will becomes indispensable in the years to come.
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