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The Secret Battle: Emotional Survival in the Great War (Cultural History of Modern War) Paperback – 15 Jul 2010


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Review

"Roper has not only written a highly readable, riveting account of certain emotions at war, but has also contributed something very new to the history of warfare generally. There is simply nothing else like this book currently in the field. It will serve as a model upon which further research is conducted." --Professor Joanna Bourke, Birkbeck College


"Roper has not only written a highly readable, riveting account of certain emotions at war, but has also contributed something very new to the history of warfare generally. There is simply nothing else like this book currently in the field. It will serve as a model upon which further research is conducted.'"


About the Author

Michael Roper is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex.


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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
4.0 out of 5 stars intriguing topic, middling treatment of it 31 Mar. 2016
By hmf22 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In The Secret Battle, Michael Roper explores British soldiers' emotional lives and emotional survival in the First World War. The topic is an interesting one, and the well-written book is rich in anecdotes, human interest, and historical detail. Best of all, it's studded with rare and revealing photographs from the Western Front. But although the characters are engaging, Roper does not offer much analysis that will be new or illuminating to those who are already fairly well-read on soldiers' experiences in the First World War.

Two specific concerns about Roper's analysis stick with me. First, he seems to be absolutely determined to highlight soldiers' relationships with their mothers (p. 3: "This book is about the relationships between British men on the Western Front and their families, particularly their mothers"), even though much of his evidence (in Chapter 1, for example) makes it clear that family emotional structures varied considerably and fathers, siblings, friends, and sweethearts were absolutely central to many soldiers' emotional worlds. Why emphasize mother-son relationships so stridently? It comes across as an ideological choice, and a clumsy one. Secondly, Roper constantly brings up psycho-analytical interpretations of the evidence, even though (as he acknowledges) they often don't fit the facts well, and he doesn't really seem to believe in them himself. What's the point? What does this add to the book? His discussion of other historiography (e.g. Paul Fussell and his disciples) is better; I wish he had focused on that instead.

Overall, I found this an intriguing project that fell short of its promise. I prefer Anthony Fletcher's Life, Death, and Growing Up on the Western Front (2013), which deals with similar questions in a better-organized, more illuminating way. That said, Roper focuses on class differences and the experiences of ordinary "Tommies" more than Fletcher does, and he offers some good observations on the gap between the typical upbringing of subalterns and the typical upbringing of working-class enlisted men. That may be one of the book's best contributions.
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