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The Faces of World War I: The Great War in words & pictures Hardcover – 7 May 2012
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A picture is worth 1,000 words and Max Arthur has trawled through the archives of the Imperial War Musem to tell the story of the Great War in poignant black and white. --Tribune Magazine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The tragedy of the Great War in words and pictures, covering all aspects and armies who foughtSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
Neither are true. I've been keenly interested in The Great War for 30 years or more. I have dozens of books on my shelves, and I've read dozens more, borrowed from libraries. I've seen hundreds upon hundreds of photo's. There's a few in this book that have been used before. Most notably, one of a German officer reading the Kaiser's mobilisation order to a Berlin crowd on 1st August 1914, German infantry marching across open country in open formation, and that of 8 stretcher bearers struggling through knee-deep mud in Flanders, trying to get one stretcher-case back. Possibly only the photo of the Tommy with the "thousand yard stare" is more iconic than the latter (and missing from this book, I might add!). The majority of these I have not seen before.
As for quality, in the first place, these are now century old photo's. In the second, if photography wasn't still in its infancy, it was certainly still in its early childhood. And war photography certainly was in its infancy. Are some shots of less than great quality? Yes. Again, though, the vast majority are fair or better. A few, a very few, are not so good. But then if the author wishes to show something in particular, and his choice is a poorer quality photo or none at all, what is he to do? Take Gavrilo Princip, who can be viewed as the one man that actually started the war, the spark to the powderkeg. There aren't that many extant photo's of him. Use the same one that usually gets used? Rufus will complain. Use another of lesser quality? Rufus will complain!
Basically, the photo's are fine, both in terms of their quality, and in their not having been used before, either widely or at all. What can be criticised is the authorship. Max Arthur is also the author of Forgotten Voices of the Great War. I criticised the limited selection of viewpoints in that book; I do the same again here. There are sections of pre-war & post-war photo's. There are some pictures from the Home Front, of civilians, of refugees, a brief section of half-a-dozen or so from Gallipoli.
But essentially, as with the FV book, this isn't a book of the War as a whole; it's a book of the Western Front Armies. If you read only these two Max Arthur tomes, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Navies did nothing during the War, that the Air Forces did not exist. That there was no Eastern Front, no Italian front, no fighting in the Middle East or Africa, and that the war was fought solely between Germany, France, and the British Empire (with a late intervention from the US) in France & Belgium.
The other criticism is that the captioning on some shots is rather dubious. I offer two examples. One is a shot of a Tommy sat on an abandoned gun limber, head in hand, that Arthur captions "An exhausted British soldier, lost in thought..." It certainly looks like he might be... But how does the author KNOW that he is exhausted? He gives no indication; is he just guessing? Or there is the shot of French soliders at Verdun throwing rocks (yes, throwing rocks!) at Germans. There are several reasons why I get the impression that this was a staged propaganda photo, but the author, on the basis of the caption, appears to take it at face value.
In other circumstances, I might well take away 1* because of those two points. However, you've everything from holiday celebrations to delousing & showering, recruits & training, soldiers in the trenches & out, even shots of firing squads and of serious war wounds. The breadth of the War may be missing, but the variety of experiences isn't. Along with their being mostly new to my eyes, I think this is still worth 5*. Imperfect, but 5* nevertheless.
The large format lends itself to the often panoramic images - and also allows you to see in detail extraordinary and haunting portraits - the 'faces' after which the book is named. It's a collection to please the expert and the interested browser alike - a WWI buff will appreciate the precisely captioned battle scenes - but any reader will feel the impact of the personal quotations which accompany many images - they add an extraordinary dimension to one's understanding of life and conditions in the trenches. It's an immensely moving photo-record, but my heart was particularly wrenched by the three Australian brothers who all died in one two-day attack, the home images of the average, working-class man who went to fight for king and country... not the Eton toffs, but the desperately poor. The images depict a world of contrasts, both in Britain and in Germany - but when it came down to it, all the men at the front were in the same boat, and returned after the conflict to their bleak lives with their terrible disfigurements, mental scars and the memory of lost comrades.
Children (and some adults) are all too dismissive of the previous generations and, although I would not recommend showing this to young children, it could help teenagers studying history to get a real sense of the conditions the men fighting in the First World War were subject to. The author does not shy away from showing the dead in photographs and I think it gives the reader something to think about and possibly discuss.
As a book, it is well thought out and presented beautifully. It's a book I would happily leave on my coffee table for friends to flick through. A couple of friends can not understand why I would want to look at pictures from the War (as they find the subject of warfare disturbing) but I've never believed in wrapping people in cotton wool - I think people should know what those men went through and be proud of them. Although it is a collection of frank photographs of war, I think the subject has been handled sensitively too - there are no gratuitous shots what so ever in this book.
Highly recommended to anyone who wants to get a real sense of the lives of the men involved.