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We Are At War: The Diaries of Five Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times [Paperback]

Simon Garfield
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

2 Mar 2006

Of all the accounts written about the Second World War, none are more compelling than the personal diaries of those who lived through it. We Are At War is the story of five everyday folk, who, living on the brink of chaos, recorded privately on paper their most intimate hopes and fears.

Pam Ashford, a woman who keeps her head when all around are losing theirs, writes with comic genius about life in her Glasgow shipping office. Christopher Tomlin, a writing-paper salesman for whom business is booming, longs to be called up like his brother. Eileen Potter organises evacuations for flea-ridden children, while mother-of-three Tilly Rice is frustrated to be sent to Cornwall. And Maggie Joy Blunt tries day-by-day to keep a semblance of her ordinary life.

Entering their world as they lived it, each diary entry is poignantly engrossing. Amid the tumultuous start to the war, these ordinary British people are by turns apprehensive and despairing, spirited and cheerful - and always fascinatingly, vividly real.

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We Are At War: The Diaries of Five Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times + Our Hidden Lives: The Remarkable Diaries of Postwar Britain + Private Battles: Our Intimate Diaries: How the War Almost Defeated Us
Price For All Three: 19.58

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press; New Ed edition (2 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091903874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091903879
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 12.5 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 60,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Garfield was born in London in 1960. He is the author of an appealingly diverse and unpredictable canon of non-fiction, including Mauve, The Nation's Favourite, The End of Innocence and The Wrestling, and has edited three popular collections of diaries from the Mass Observation Archive. His quirky history of fonts, Just My Type, turned out to be a hit, which reassured him that he was not alone in his passions.

His latest book is about maps - a wide-ranging, inquisitive and light-footed examination of how we use maps not only to find our way, but also to express all aspects of our lives - from art and crime to politics and cinema. The book is about exploration in its widest sense, travelling from the Great Library at Alexandria to the home of Google Maps, with cartographic diversions via Birmingham, Antarctica, Melbourne, the Himalayas, the East End of London, New York and the Congo. The book has some big questions too: Can men really read maps better than women? Is there anywhere in the world yet to be mapped? Will sat nav be the ruin of us all?

Garfield has been intrigued by maps since he had to find his way around the London Underground as a young boy, and he has been fascinated by geography ever since he was taught it at school by the former England cricket captain Mike Brearley (although admittedly Brearley mostly knew about India and Australia and other places he'd opened the batting).

Garfield also enjoys Hampstead Heath, cycling, globe-spinning by Presuming Ed, and writing by Tracy Kidder, Nicholson Baker, Bella Bathurst, Bill Bryson and Simon Armitage.

Product Description


"Wonderful stuff" (Sunday Times)

"Fascinating, delightful, illuminating. The diarists soon become like old friends ... and make our wartime past seem no more distant than yesterday" (Mail on Sunday)

"It's always easy to imagine people in this period becalmed in a sepia-toned limbo. This book tells the messy, but far more interesting, truth" (Time Out)

"Few books have so successfully stepped inside the minds of the British people during wartime" (Metro)

"A fascinating account of everyday life in Britain" (Good Housekeeping)

Book Description

The highly-acclaimed diaries of ordinary people's lives in WWII, packaged as a massmarket woman's read for the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of war

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A real time-machine! 28 Nov 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The unfolding drama of wartime life is captured faithfully in these first-hand accounts. I wonder what would be the reaction of the diarists to know that in sixty years time their submissions to Mass Observation would be printed and made into a book. I suspect they would secretly be quite pleased that their efforts would be enjoyed by future generations - a kind of immortality. I was particularly moved by Christopher Tomlin's honest descriptions of the struggle to keep his family afloat financially while coping with the anxiety and sleeplessness of incipient invasion. A different world indeed.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling 30 Dec 2007
By Hel S
I read each person's account seperately, as they were becoming muddled in my mind. I was struck by the differences between four of the diarists and "Eileen Potter". Why was she included I wonder? All the others had fascinating, interesting tales to tell of their ordinary lives. Hers, by comparison was very dull and was also the most incomplete. With the other four I felt I knew them and had a deep interest in how they ended up in life.

Reading the four complete diaries was an engrossing experience. How different these people were to each other and how similar they are to people today. Nothing much changes, does it? I see that there is another book just published and I shall be buying that one, too.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Coping with the Everyday in a Dangerous World 10 Aug 2008
Continuing the thread begun in Hidden Lives, Simon Garfield offers selections from the Mass-Observation Project diaries of five people caught up in the preparations and then the beginning of the infamous Blitz. The uncertainty, the anger, the fear; it's all here and it leaps off of the pages in a way that keeps you turning them.

Sometimes the diarists are not particularly likeable - you encounter racism and defeatist attitudes at certain points. But that is something that makes this volume particularly interesting. Knowing that these pages are going to be read by others, the diarists are still painfully honest in their fears and their prejudices. Very enlightening, and highly recommended, especially as a companion volume to Hidden Lives.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The war for ordinary folk 7 July 2009
In today's world, with hindsight and our intense historical knowledge of the periods encompassing both the World Wars, we feel our knowledge is complete. This book shows, more than anything else, that this is not so, and to read the five diary entries of these very different Mass Observers builds a much truer picture of the first year of war than one I have encountered before. The very difference in each Observer, their ages, their social standing, their environment, are all fundamental in painting a vivid portrayal of the way millions got through a difficult, dangerous and unprecedented period in their history. Some of the voices have strong political opinions, some slate the government, some glory in living in that time in history, whilst others bemoan the cost increases seemingly all around them. For this book Simon Garfield was exceptionally clever to choose such a broad spectrum of people, to understand that period in history is to hear all those voices together.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating portrait of those who lived in Britain in the immediate days and weeks after the declaration of the start of World War 2. Rationing,,daily comments on national events, this book has it all. Invaluable for social historians of the era it is also a very good general read. Would love to have more like this please!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-witness accounts 23 April 2011
These diaries were written for a mass observation project and make compulsive reading, often contradicting official accounts. They give insights into the wavering popularity of Chamberlain and Churchill and show the public's scepticism about media reporting on the progress of the war. The adaptability of individuals to wartime conditions is remarkable. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to get the 'feel' of life in the Second World War.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Glimpse of the Past 12 Dec 2007
Very involving and eye-opening view of the past from the grassroots rather than the usual historical overview. I really got involved with some of the characters' lives and immediately started on 'Our Hidden Lives' when I finished.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars We are at War 28 Mar 2010
I really enjoyed this book as it gave an insight into real peoples experience of the war on the home front. The characters become friends and write in a candid way about life at this time of our history. It chronicles their hopes and fears, the shortages and the loss of a way of life they had been used to.
I reccomend this book to anyone who has an interest in social history, and also likes a good read
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars We Are At War
Interesting to read what ordinary really thought and things we were never told. I enjoyed his books so much I have now got all 3 of his war books, plus some of his others and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Barbara Longley
5.0 out of 5 stars We Are AT War
This paper back has been bought for a gift it seems very interesting I am sure my sister will enjoy it
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. M. L. Dorsett
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating!
An enlightening insight into the lives of ordinary people during the war. A present for my husband who was really pleased with it. And he doesn't normally read books!
Published 2 months ago by tato
5.0 out of 5 stars A jewel of a book.
To read these extremely absorbing diaries of 5 'ordinary' men and women living through the first 2 years of World War 2 felt like a great privilege. Read more
Published 5 months ago by priorpark
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it is a hive of both information and interest. I am a huge fan of diaries after I read the Nella Last books and so I was excited when I found Simon... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Books & Crafts
5.0 out of 5 stars staffadours
I had read Simons other Diaries book and had enjoyed that so could not wait to read this. Interesting to read about peoples daily lifes and thoughts during a differcult time in... Read more
Published 18 months ago by staffadour
5.0 out of 5 stars We Are At War: The Diaries of Five Ordinary People
Shortly before the 2nd World War a projest was started whereby some 500 people were asked to record their daily lives and to submit their writings under the umbrella of Mass -... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Cambs Gal
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