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Verdun (Prion Lost Treasures) Paperback – 6 Dec 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 500 pages
  • Publisher: Prion Books Ltd; New edition edition (6 Dec. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1853753580
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853753589
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 13 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 605,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 9 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback
The memorials stand in every French village today; on 11 November there is still a commemoration, of the increasingly elderly members of that village to "remember." The First World War, as it is now called, brought to an end the optimistic belief in human progress that characterized "La Belle Epoque." It was the stalemate, and endless slaughter of men; certainly at the beginning, filled with "elan," charging machine gun nests; and "elan" came out on the losing side. Ypes and the Somme are more known in the English-speaking world. The Battle at Verdun, in 1916 is best known for the French. Marshall Petain, whose role collaborating with the Germans during the Second World War brought him into disrepute (and almost a death sentence) after the Liberation, was the "hero" of WW I, famous for declaring "They Shall Not Pass" in relationship to the Germans at Verdun.

Of all the books on World War I, I still consider Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front to be the best. It is not specifically about the battle at Verdun; rather the locales are non-specific. Jules Romains novel tells the French point of view, and is specific to this small corner of eastern France. The novel was first translated into English in 1938, and at over 500 pages, is almost three fold as long as Remarque's. Almost half the book sets the stage for the battle. Overall, I found the action somewhat disjointed, and at least some of the characters only partially developed. Romains might have been more effective if the novel was only half the 500 pages.

However, there are some searing insights, expressed to "perfection.
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Format: Paperback
Who ever derided the French soldier or his officers was completely wrong. The burden and suffering of the men caught up in this must have been horrendous while their couragem discipline and determination was universal and common to all ranks. A story everyone must know!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Good exploration of life during WW1 14 Aug. 2001
By Jake Battle (no pun intended) - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I just finished reading this book for the second time and got a great deal more out of it than during my first reading. My problem with the book on first reading, and perhaps the first reviewer's problem as well, is that this book isn't intended as a history of the battle of Verdun. While the author describes the experience of being in the battle of Verdun, he never 'zooms out' to explain the bigger picture. Instead, it explains what the common soldier thought and felt during the second winter of the war. Once I came back to the book with a better understanding of the events of the battle, I enjoyed it thouroughly.
The first several chapters give a brilliant review of the first year and a half of the war. The writer explains at a high level the events of the war, and describes how the French general staff vainly struggled to understand the new rules of war. (The entire book is presented only from the French prespective)
The remainder of the book is a series of vignettes, each presenting the war from the point of view of soldiers, industrialists, war widows, shirkers, and others. Some characters are present throughout the book, some appear only for a chapter. While one of the 'points' of the book is that the soldiers' attitudes towards the war, the enemy, and their countrymen behind the lines were complex, multi-faceted, and impossible to definitively explain, I feel I have gained a better understanding of what the average soldier in the trenches must have felt.
To sum up, this book does a poor job explaining the details of the battle of Verdun, but an excellent job exploring various French wartime cultures. I thought it was extremely well written. The descriptions of being under bombardment were terrifying, and the dialogue between the soldiers cracked me up several times.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Brilliance in the Suffering 1 Feb. 2001
By Zachary Rosenberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I found the other review to this stunning novel rather offensive and misplaced, almost as if the person never read this powerful novel the entire way through. He states the novel lacks a plot and character development but I question both points. First, as far as a plot is concerned, we are talking about human suffering in the face of one of the most catastrophic battles mankind has ever witnessed. There is no need for a "plot." The plot is there, lived by over one million men, both French and German who either lost their lives or were wounded in the filth and suffering of the trenches. Second, as far as character development is concerned, I believe that is one of the startling points of the novel, that is, men do not progress nor grow in an environment such as Verdun. Men die, bleed, cry, agonize and wither away in the insanity of war. This book is a treasure to be discovered and studied by all who wish never to repeat that which happened in our so called "civilized" and "advanced" world.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A novel without any other like it 12 Aug. 2007
By J. Thiry - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
First I think this novel should be read together with its preceding volume (see "Verdun, the Prelude + the Battle) to be fully appreciated. No other novel conveys an sensation of what it was like to be a soldier in that war. "The Prelude" is very interesting if you want to understand the bigger picture and the shared responsibilities for the war: although a Frenchman, Jules Romains did not engage in any propaganda whatsoever and showed the Germans were not the only bad guys in 1914. This is not a novel based on a plot, in fact the only plot to speak of is the war itself with its slow inexorable advance towards a nominal victory for one side, but a defeat for Europe as a whole. If all you want is a good story, don't read this book. The characters are very real and you feel identifying with them and their sufferings and frustrations all the time. You sympathize with the men and their shattered dreams, their longings for family and girlfriends, their anger at callous higher officers and at profiteers who had contrived to stay behind the lines and be out of harm's way.

These two novels (The Prelude + Verdun) are part of a series of 27 (!!) volumes by Jules Romains entitled "The Men of Good Will". I don't know whether they are still available in English but if you can read French go for them and you will get hooked!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Meat Grinder... 9 Sept. 2011
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The memorials stand in every French village today; on 11 November there is still a commemoration, of the increasingly elderly members of that village to "remember." The First World War, as it is now called, brought to an end the optimistic belief in human progress that characterized "La Belle Epoque." It was the stalemate, and endless slaughter of men; certainly at the beginning, filled with "elan," charging machine gun nests; and "elan" came out on the losing side. Ypes and the Somme are more known in the English-speaking world. The Battle at Verdun, in 1916 is best known for the French. Marshall Petain, whose role collaborating with the Germans during the Second World War brought him into disrepute (and almost a death sentence) after the Liberation, was the "hero" of WW I, famous for declaring "They Shall Not Pass" in relationship to the Germans at Verdun.

Of all the books on World War I, I still consider Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front Publisher: Ballantine Books to be the best. It is not specifically about the battle at Verdun; rather the locales are non-specific. Jules Romains novel tells the French point of view, and is specific to this small corner of eastern France. The novel was first translated into English in 1938, and at over 500 pages, is almost three fold as long as Remarque's. Almost half the book sets the stage for the battle. Overall, I found the action somewhat disjointed, and at least some of the characters only partially developed. Romains might have been more effective if the novel was only half the 500 pages.

However, there are some searing insights, expressed to "perfection." Is it any wonder that the French "gratin", the elites, did not embrace this novel? Consider, for example, this sardonic view of the human condition which results in a continuing imperative for war: "Sometimes I think I have discovered the secret of this monstrous tragedy in which we have been caught. There are not enough people in the world who value living for its own sake, not enough who can find in the peace of every day the most wondrous miracle of all. Most men and women are tormented by miserable little worries and demand the dramatic as a dog devoured by fleas demands a violent counter-irritant and jumps into the fire to find it. I would go even so far as to say that many human beings ought never to have been born at all and spend most of their lives trying to correct that elementary mistake. The pity is that they should have to involve us in their attempt to get back to the primordial chaos."

And what conscript has not thought the following: "The worst offenders are the regulars, the men who deliberately chose the army as a calling in the days before the war, but who, now when we civilians are asked to spill our blood, just take to cover. Their fellow-soldiers hate them as bitterly as we do. Whom else shall I mention? Certain ambitious generals, with hearts of stone, to whom the lives of thousands or tens of thousands mean nothing if, by sacrificing them, they can assure their own advancement..."

And on pages 470-71, Romains does a brilliant, if bleak, summation of the character types, and their outlooks, who were in the battle. They range from an idealistic fresh lieutenant, recent graduate of St. Cyr, to a husband whose wife has deserted him for a neighbor, and no longer sees a reason to live, to a fanatical Catholic who think that this is all God's punishment wrought on a corrupt and faithless generation, and Romains concluded with "that is why Verdun still stands."

Overall, another bitter indictment of the folly of war. Five-stars for that; somewhat less so for presentation and coherence. Bottom-line: 4-stars.
3 of 18 people found the following review helpful
A Treasure Better Off Lost 15 Jan. 2001
By Michael Shurkin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Verdun" is, sadly, a wretched novel. The writing is shabby, the translation shabbier. The characters are undeveloped and there is no plot. Although in some war novels the chronology alone might suffice to drive the narrative, here the writer leaves so many gaps in the chronology that the narrative breaks down. No wonder the French original is out of print. "Verdun" is no "The Killer Angels," let alone "All's Quiet." I had hoped to find a novel with which I could teach WWI from the French perspective, but I must stick with Remarque.
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