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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A challenge to what we thought we knew about the Great War
This book is not really about the Great War as such, although the author is authoritative on that subject when necessary. Rather, it is about the way the war has been remembered, and the way myths have been created which most people do not realise are myths. Todman takes us through the books and poems, the films and songs, the images, the memorials and the Armistice Day...
Published on 15 Feb 2006 by G A Goldstone

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Every page is redundant
A book that attempts to turn common sense on its head, attributing negative perceptions of the war to ‘imaginative inertia’ and asserting that (revisionist) historians are showing the ‘complexities’ of the war. A rambling and diffuse production is the result, criticizing both Alan Clark (pp. 100-03) and Paul Fussell (pp. 158-59) for inaccuracy...
Published 3 months ago by Rod Beecham


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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A challenge to what we thought we knew about the Great War, 15 Feb 2006
By 
G A Goldstone (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This book is not really about the Great War as such, although the author is authoritative on that subject when necessary. Rather, it is about the way the war has been remembered, and the way myths have been created which most people do not realise are myths. Todman takes us through the books and poems, the films and songs, the images, the memorials and the Armistice Day services, and discusses the impressions they have left us. There is a lot of comment on British social history and attitudes throughout the last century - much of it astute and wryly humourous. I was fascinated by the comments on the things that have influenced me - (I was born in 1946) - books by AJP Taylor and Alan Clark, 'Oh What A Lovely War', the BBC's 'Great War', Wilfred Owen, 'Birdsong', 'Blackadder Goes Forth', visiting the war cemeteries. With all of these, Todman enlightens us on how and why these images and versions of the war were produced, and what effect they had. There is a wealth of interesting detail and anecdote.
As a schoolteacher, I was particularly interested in the discussion of the way the teaching of the war poets in countless English lessons (by people who are not trained historians) has helped produce a set of assumptions about the war which are at least debatable. The whole book is a really useful commentary on how all history is created.
Reading the book, I have been constantly and delightedly reminded of things in my own cultural background whose significance I had never really considered. So, I found it stimulating and challenging.
My only complaints are that there are more typos than one would have expected, and that the author's knowledge of the titles of pop records in 1968 is not secure, if my memory serves me right. Maybe I am wrong, but I was there. In other respects, Todman has made me much more aware of where I have been and of the influences on me. It is a very good book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Great War: Myth and Memory, 16 Oct 2007
This review is from: The Great War: Myth and Memory (Paperback)
It is good news for all those interested in the Great War that `Hambledon Continuum' have republished Dan Todman's book, `The Great War - Myth and Memory'.

He provides the reader with an insight into how history can be manipulated by individuals, groups and society as a whole. He explains how the Great War myths were formulated. In order to do this he breaks the war down into seven distinct areas; Mud, Death, Donkeys, Futility, Poets, Veterans and Modern Memory.

Each topic is examined in an interest and analytical manner. He refers the reader to many of the books that have lead to the much vaunted view of `Butchers and Bunglers'.

I personally had my original views of the Great War formulated by the writings of books by AJP Taylor and Alan Clark, the war poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, along with the television serial, 'Blackadder Goes Forth'. Dan Todman enlightens the reader as to how and why these images and versions of the war were produced, and what effect they on society as a whole.

Professor Peter Simkins rates Dan Todman's book as being one that should be read by all those who have an interest in the Great War. It is a good book which certainly `debunks' many of the well held and factually wrong views of the war.

I would recommend it whole heartedly.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced account, 19 Feb 2006
By A Customer
If you grew up having to recite Great War poetry in school, whilst being expected to empathise with Owen and Sassoon and their 'true' representation of war in the trenches; or if you believe (but don't really know why) that Haig was donkey-in-chief of the British army and that the war was futile, then this book will tell you why.
It is an excellent account of how popular understanding of the war developed from the stunned numbness in the face of catastrophic loss, well reflected in the poetry, that people felt at the time, to the modern ingrained assumption of a 'futile' or 'unnecessary' war.
It is easy to read, well referenced, historically accurate and well balanced. Which is to say the author does not attempt to completely debunk the 'myths' (often the aim of revision) but exposes what underpins them, leaving the reader with a more sympathetic view of the motives and actions of those who participated in the Great War.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Every page is redundant, 25 Sep 2014
By 
Rod Beecham "WWI Freak" (Monbulk, Victoria Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Great War: Myth and Memory (Paperback)
A book that attempts to turn common sense on its head, attributing negative perceptions of the war to ‘imaginative inertia’ and asserting that (revisionist) historians are showing the ‘complexities’ of the war. A rambling and diffuse production is the result, criticizing both Alan Clark (pp. 100-03) and Paul Fussell (pp. 158-59) for inaccuracy without giving a single example in either case, employing an obtuse relativism that necessarily denies the possibility of aesthetic value when discussing literature (pp. 162-65), periodically collapsing into unwarranted and absurd assertions about why men joined the army in 1914 (p. 189), the mood of the 1920s (p. 222), ‘the triumph of liberal democracy’ (p. 150), and concluding with a paragraph about reductive argument that could be applied without alteration to Todman’s own text (p. 227). A consistent feature of the book is that Todman never engages directly with what he purports to be discussing: the externalities, whether they be biography, reviewers’ comments or critical responses, are discussed in preference to the text or the event itself. This may be because Todman is not capable of such engagement: his remarks about ‘mystic imagery’ (pp. 170-71) are probably the most inept to have ever been made about the poetry of Wilfred Owen. At least two concessions fatal to the revisionist position are contained in the book: Todman admits that the Third Battle of Ypres nearly broke British morale (p. 80) and that ‘war books’ are not responsible for perceptions of British military incompetence (p. 84).
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wide-ranging and knowledgeable, 19 Jan 2007
By 
Peter Grant (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Great War: Myth and Memory (Paperback)
Dan Todman's book provides a further insight into the social and cultural history of the Great War to offset the 'futile slaughter' view still held by so many people. He is particularly good on tracing the development of deeply held myths and covers a wide range of topics. My only reservation about a fine analysis is that to my mind he plays down the key importance of the 1960s in shaping these myths. It is true that not all came to prominence in the 60s but the continuing misrepresentation of the Great War is highly dependent upon those whose ideas were shaped in that decade.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant dissection of how British views of their part changed from "victory" to "failure". It should be required reading., 9 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Great War: Myth and Memory (Paperback)
At the time of writing, Amazon wants to know if books are “verified purchases”. Not all of my books have come up as such, so I shall prove I have read the book by making page / chapter references.

Of the few people who have criticised this book, most have either a) misunderstood what he is putting forward, or b) appear to be incapable of understanding how British perceptions of the war have been changed from favourable to unfavourable. The book is necessarily parochial as it deals exclusively with British perceptions of the British Army in the last 100 years in Britain. It makes no pretensions of being concerned with other people’s perceptions of the war - and why should it ? If the British wish to study themselves, especially with a view to finding out why a stupendous victory is now regarded as a pointless failure, then why shouldn’t we ?

Those raised on the Somme reduced to “20,000 dead ... worst day for casualties” and “In Dulce Decorum Est” will be very surprised to learn that when the war was over, Haig was seen as a hero not an idiot (p18, p73, p83), and the war was seen as worthwhile (p5-6, p17, p128-9, p202 as some of many examples). How things have changed ...

If I tell you what Todman’s thesis is, then there’s very little point in you buying the book. And buy the book you should. It presents a compelling, well argued, and well-researched argument, backed up with lots of details and references. Nor are these wacky individual opinions: doing my own research has confirmed that those who have written popular polemical tomes / works have not always done so with the soundest of motives, research or presentation. I will leave it to you to find out who bare-facedly lied (yes, really, p99-103), who forced people to have their point of view (yes, really, p103 et seq) and recruited a historical advisor was later found to be a Communist spy (yes, really, ditto), who completely re-wrote history to make an inverted snob point about posh people’s contempt for the working class (actually you can probably guess who that one is, p225-6), and the documentary where the balanced view was not wanted (yes, really, p147).

And what is so galling is that these faulty, opinionated works of shoddy historiography are still (muffled scream) selling in great quantities, and far more so than decently researched, sensible books like this one, or the “Battle Story” series, or anything else that starts with original sources and uses those to guide the historian to the conclusion.

Too many of the books, plays, films, poems that make up the British view of the British contribution to WW1 have started with the creator’s inherent, pre-existing, personal, private political prejudices that have led them to a highly subjective, narrow view. And we, the British people, have had this rammed down our throats until any other view becomes impossible.

Please read this book, then go and read some “proper” history books, and ask some really, really awkward questions about what you are being told, how you are being told it, and why. There is no ‘conspiracy theory’, it’s just that some opinions become self-reinforcing. For example, Todman relates the tale of a 15-year-old girl praising a (blatantly leftist) drama for its “realism” (how would she know ?), when actual WW1 veterans were hopping mad about the lack of realism (p39, p66 et seq) ! Just how stupid do things have to get before someone notices ?

There are a couple of problems I noticed. Todman mentions on p153 that there are 2,225 identifiable WW1 poets. Well, some names would have helped, because you try finding WW1 poetry that isn’t Owen, Sassoon, etc and similar. Similarly, he mentions the boom in “battlefield gothic” as a post-war / inter-war literary genre and its popularity (p26, p155). Well, again, you try and find it, as everyone wants to point you at the anti-war stuff.

Overall, this is an excellent book that ought to be on the school reading list (in current form for A-level, needs simplifying for O-level). A wake-up call for a nation to re-discover the wider view of what the people who served actually felt.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Debunking the myths that have grown up around the First World War, 4 July 2014
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This review is from: The Great War: Myth and Memory (Paperback)
Vital reading if you are to arm yourself with a smart response rather then falling back on the myths.
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29 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and poorly researched, 30 Nov 2007
This review is from: The Great War: Myth and Memory (Paperback)
I bought this book after having read the enthusiastic comments of previous readers but I have to say I was quite disappointed. The book promises a revolution in the interpretation of the Great War from the point of view of military history and cultural history, but does it manage to achieve that? I reckon it doesn't, as it has left too many things out of the picture, that is, those things that do not fit the author's thesis. For example, Todman strongly absolvitory idea that there is no relation between the rise of Nazism and the end of W.W.I is totally questionable. Surely he manages to sound persuasive because he leaves Fascism out of the picture, by the way ignoring all the researches carried out by important Italian historians like Mario Isnenghi and Giorgio Rochat, who have thoroughly analysed how W.W.I paved the way to Fascism (a political movement whish was mostly led by war veterans, like Mussolini and Italo Balbo, and which in turn strongly influenced Adolph Hitler--another Great War veteran). His exploration of the negative myth of the Great War is not complete, not at all, because he seems to suggest that it's the British war poets who created the negative image of the war, while, had he bothered to read e.g. A.D. Harvey's Muse of Fire, he might have understood that it's an international phenomenon, and that there are dozens of books which depict the great war as the hell it was--sure, if you stick to a parochial point of view which only takes into account British authors you may think that only a few malcontents complained about the war, but if you read also Dorgeles, Lussu, Hemingway, Renn, Remarque, O'Flaherty, Dos Passos, cummings, Kraus and many others you may see things differently (and I am mentioning the literary authors, to whom one should add dozens of diaries, memorials, etc.). Then the issue of how the commanders were judged by subsequent historians is oddly incomplete: no mention of such a key essay like Tim Travers' The Killing Ground, no mention of the fundamental essays by John Keegan. So I see no reason to extol this book, whose intentions may have been good (e.g. I do believe that a totally negative picture of the life led by soldiers in the treches is not totally acceptable, and other classics of war literature might be mentioned, such as Ernst Juenger or Blaise Cendrars), but whose achievemnets are limited and whose overall thesis ("the war wasn't that bad") is still disputable. Then, I absolutely disapprove of another smug argument that Todman seems to like so much, that is, what might be summarized as "we won the war, so what's all this fuss?" It seems that he ignores the story of Pyrrhus' victory--which, for a historian, is unforgivable.
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The Great War: Myth and Memory by Dan Todman (Paperback - 1 Jan 2006)
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