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4.7 out of 5 stars
We Are At War: The Diaries of Five Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times
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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2005
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
on 30 December 2007
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
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
on 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
on 7 February 2009
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
on 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 December 2012
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 - Observation. Some people lasted only a few weeks, others carried on all through the war and then after when we were celebrating the end of hostilities but then came the aftermath of war when food was short and unemp;yment began to bite.The diaries are stored in the Special Collections Department of the Library of the University of Sussex.and there discovered by Simon Garfield. He has three books published from some of those diaries, they make wonderful reading and are an insight of the lives of ' ordinary people living in extraordinary times ' The other books are in print and very much worth reading.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 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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on 18 September 2013
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 Garfield's trilogy on Amazon. I am reading these books in chronological order of date rather than the order they were released in, as the first book released was the diaries of post war Britain, so I started off with We are at War so I could go from 1939 onward.

Simon Garfield has made an excellent job of his selections and has included some very interesting entries. I liked all the diarists but especially enjoyed the entries from Christopher Tomlin, Maggie Joy Blunt and Pam Ashford. I found Christopher Tomlin most amusing at times, especially in the way he described the conversations between his parents and himself.
Pam Ashford tells us some intriguing things and she also made me laugh a few times with her descriptions of office life, especially about the opinions of Miss Bousie - and also about her home life, her mother being another interesting character who, in 1939, didn't think war or air raids were going to come!

All in all a truly fascinating read and a thought provoking one, given that we readers know the outcome of everything. I find it particularly interesting when the diarists refer to "the future in 50 years" which would have been 1989 - it just shows how fast time goes past really. I also like it when they refer to "the future historian" as I feel like they are pointing right at me, even though they obviously did not know me and I was not born for another 45 years after they wrote those words!

A highly recommended read, you get lots of information and unknown little snippets from the past, the opinions and thoughts of someone from war time and personally, I got the feeling and atmosphere of the 1940's just by reading the words, which is a nice little means of escape from this hectic modern lifestyle! Highly recommended for any history lover.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 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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