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on 25 January 2018
Firstly, having struggled to write this review and read it back, I realised that I am unable to do justice to such an excellent book.
When doing research upon the location of where my Great Grandfather was fatally wounded on the Guillemont to Ginchy Road, I found reference to Ernst Junger and this book. If you are going to read it, try to source an early translation or publication. This copy was first published in 1929. As I understand from other reviewers, the later translations were not so good and were sanitised. I bought the the book as I wanted to read something written by someone about the area in which my Great Grandfather died, at the time that he was there.
I could hardly put the book down. I made myself read it over several days as I wanted to digest as much as possible. I had sourced photographs of the area and reading the book helped me to understand more about the absolute hell that it was.
Mr Junger's account of being under constant bombardment and being unable to communicate with comrades unless by shouting close to their ear, describes a situation which is unbelievable, but you know it to be true. I knew that many soldiers were vaporised in explosions, but his descriptions of this and hand to hand fighting make for incredible reading. Even the somewhat quieter times when they were in reserve or on leave, make for interesting reading.
Mr Junger's unbiased account provokes much thought and should be read as part of the school curriculum. We are lucky to have such a book. Mr Junger was lucky to survive the whole War. I'm sure the amount of soldiers on both sides that did that, are few. To have kept and published a diary has made us all the richer for his experiences.
If there are families that have diaries of Soldiers that were there at the time, they should seriously look into having them published, if only on a WW1 website. Their legacy should be that we all know what they went through. When I undertake my next visit to my Great Grandfather's grave, I will look at the area in a different light.
Ernst Junger was, like so many Soldiers of both sides, a very brave man. I have the utmost respect for all of them.
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on 21 October 2013
Widely acclaimed as being one of the greatest books to come out of World War One, Ernst Jünger's 'Storm of Steel' is essential reading for anyone interested in The First World War and especially for those wanting to gain an understanding of the conflict from a German soldier's point of view. Later in his life Jünger became a highly controversial figure and this book in particular [which is his account of his time as a German soldier fighting on the Western Front] is often seen as glorifying war. However, having spent the last few evenings reading the book, I have to say that I didn't come away with that impression of it at all.

First and foremost this is a war diary and a very interesting one at that. It is a soldier's record of his experiences in combat and therefore the focus is solely on the where, when and what happened and not on the why. Personally I found Jünger's blow-by-blow account to be a fantastic read but I can understand that the lack of any attempt to morally justify his actions, or consider the wider consequences of them, is what has given this book such a bad press over the years. It is also devoid of the sense of guilt and mawkishness which modern readers of WW1 literature have come to expect. Michael Hofmann, the man responsible for this excellent new translation of Storm of Steel, explores these issues in his detailed introduction to the book.

From his writing Jünger comes across as an intelligent and obviously brave man and throughout the book he makes some matter-of-fact but still profound observations about the nature of warfare and its effect on the men who fight it. There's also plenty of trench humour which helps to take the sting out of the often horrific events unfolding around him.

What made this book an especially worthwhile read for me though was something I unexpectedly came across about halfway through. In the chapter "Langemark" Jünger explains how, from late July until early August 1917, him and his men were in Flanders defending fortified positions located on the eastern side of a stretch of an overflowing stream called the Steenbach. This was of particular interest to me because my great-grandfather, Frederick, was deployed on the same stretch of front at almost exactly the same time as Jünger. In fact he was killed in an early morning assault across the Steenbach on 11 August 1917 about a week after Jünger and his troops had pulled out. I therefore found Jünger's description of the appalling state of the battlefield around that time particularly interesting as it has given me a greater insight into the conditions in which my great-grandfather fought and died.
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on 20 February 2018
This eclipses any other writing of WW1 that I have read. Unremitting, unsentimental, no political or social commentary. This is a book about war by a soldier who knew how to chronicle events, to describe the minute by minute unfolding of battle.

Storm of Steel differs from British accounts that I have read by not dwelling on non-military contexts, by never succumbing to self-pity or allowing judgement to intrude or colour descriptions of men at war. There is undeniable respect for all combatants, especially of Junger's British opponents. The pace, or descritive passages never flag or jar due to ill-chosen phrases or repetition. A superb book on war.
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on 13 September 2015
The author describes his four-year experience in the giant and horrifying killing machine that was northern France during WW1. He loses count of how many times he gets injured, let alone bowled over. One by one, and often in groups, men around him meet all manners of death or injury, from the stammering soldier who couldn’t get the password out in time, to others who tore off their gas masks in desperation for oxygen, others’ who paid their price for acts of carelessness or stupidity, and yet others who from one instant to another were simply no longer there because of the numerous types of inventively destructive shell or fire that rained on them by surprise. And so it goes on. The various enemy missiles get named and described. There is no moralising or overall sense of cause and I don’t remember reading of the presence of a padre; it’s just a case of being called up for mesmerising front line duty and doing one’s best in and out of trenches of hell while witnessing the unbelievable. The fine prose seems entirely at odds with what is being described. The frequent civility and concern between troops in respite and the occupied French villagers who house them become a rare and touching comfort, until either gets killed. The enemy only yards away, whether English, Scottish highlander, French, Indian, or New Zealander, is usually treated with respect. The dialogue inevitably has to refer to place names where in reality nothing is left. The trenches are shared with rainwater, rats and mice. Most of the book is the stuff of nightmares, but the account of what the author lived during the battle of Guillemont in 1916, where they were issued with steel helmets for the first time, is perhaps the most terrifyingly described, and at that point I got distracted because my grandfather was almost certainly close by trying to kill him, but never wrote any more about it than what he had to for official reasons. This is not a book one can forget or put down.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 January 2014
Junger's reputation has gone before him, on account of his alleged dalliances with the Nazis in the 1930s. Don't let any of that put you off. If you are interested in the Great War, then it is a must-read.

The book - or least this edition of it - is no fascist screed. But neither is it a pacifist tome. He does not glorify war but neither does he disparage it. It is a matter-of-fact memoir of a man who spent the best part of four years on the front and experienced a gamut of emotions, boredom, terror and exultation, grief, elation. The author was wounded several times, twice seriously. His final wound in the closing weeks of the conflict ended his participation in the war. But had the war lasted beyond November 1918, he would undoubtedly have gone straight back to the front.

He clearly enjoyed many aspects of his experience. Because the narrative is free of introspection he offers no clue as to his motivations, personal or political, other than the sense of a consummate professional who is simply doing his job. There is an absence of preaching or moralising - for or against the war. He makes little reference to his family (aside from his brother, who also fought). The account focusses on trying to record as much experience as honestly as possible. The merit of this is that it gives a convincing account of life on the front line, without hyperbole or histrionics (incidentally, most of his fallen comrades are killed by artillery, or in small-scale trench raids; the massed frontal assault against enemy lines, the stereotypical perception of trench warfare, he experiences only once, in 1918).

The narrative is not overwrought or crass - the prose is terse and economical but the horrors of war are not dimmed thereby. But clearly there was more to his experiences than horror and he is capable of exquisite sensitivity on occasion, like his reminiscence of the dead British boy solider, who appeared in his dreams after the war. The state `takes away our responsibility but not our remorse'. Another occasion he spares a British officer's life after the latter shows him a picture of his family on a terrace. Nonetheless, he kills enemy warriors without much expression of compunction but with no great malice either. It was nothing personal.

Our perceptions of the Great War have to some extent been shaped by authors like Sassoon and Owen. Their literary qualities are not in doubt. But whether their reported perceptions of the conflict were typical of the average fighting man is a moot point (to know this for sure, we would have to have access to millions of memoirs). One assumes that plenty of men, on all sides of the conflict, like Junger, fought and killed and then when it was all over went back to civvy street and got on with their lives, without plunging into nihilism or extremism or even suffering crippling long-term trauma. How typical was Junger's experience? It is certainly a question worth asking.
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on 28 June 2014
There have been comparisons made between “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque and “Storm of Steel”: which of these two books could really claim the title of being the best book to come out of the First World War? I think the books are different in two respects – the former is a moral indictment of the war, and the futility of it – the second concerns a man's attempt to push himself not only up to his limits, but beyond them. Only occasionally does one get the impression that the loss of life is senseless, although in later years Jünger was to speak about Germany's "ideology of war" as a "catastrophic mistake".

What makes this book such a magnificent read is the use of his language, and the translator, Michael Hofmann, has done a quite extraordinary job in this respect. The descriptions of the most horrific moments in battle, set against the times when there is a welcome relief from it, provide lines sometimes of unforgettable beauty. Take, for instance, his feelings the night before one of the greatest battles in La Somme. “On many a day of wrath we had fought on one and the same battlefield, and today once more the sun, now low in the Western sky, was to gild the blood of all, or nearly all”. This type of language to make poetic what was something absolutely horrific, is a thread running throughout the whole of the book. The same language can lead the reader through scenes of unimaginable suffering, while at the same time being uplifted by descriptions of moments when the smallest compensation is found in a dry dug-out, or an unexpected change in a monotonous diet. The sights and sounds of battle, are so brilliantly described, a sound-track could not do a better job of understanding what it was like to live through such terrifying ordeals. However, despite such terrible events, a sense of humour also runs through the book : I liked the description of cucumber being described as vegetarian sausage, or when, running out of cartridges, a fleeing "Tommie" is pelted with earth clods. What was so amazing about Ernst Jünger, is that he seemed to have retained his sanity, and well beyond, dying at the age of 102. With his outstanding intellect, he tried to to rationalise war, placing the blame on neither one nor the other side. He became friends with eminent authors, and was admired by heads of state. However, another person, whose political ideology, coupled with the identical battle experience to that of Jünger, and who, also, received the Iron Cross for his bravery, was not to forgive his victors so easily. Just twenty-five years later he was to lead the world into another cataclysmic conflict. By that time Junger had had enough of fighting on the battlefields, and was given work as an administrative officer in Paris. This book is a fine legacy to a quite exceptional person.
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on 4 November 2016
I was warned that this book is an uncompromising look at life and death in the first WW trenches. The author apparently revised his text several times but this final version is detailed, unflinching and contains his thoughts as he approached the end of his service, when he reports that at times he hardly cared if he lived or died. There is an introduction that seemed to be supremely well informed if a little pompous.
For those who have read "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque there is more exact detail about logistics - where the actions take place and the trench structures but the two books unsurprisingly share some common themes. Reflecting on the book afterwards, I wondered how anyone who had lived through this could ever live a life of normality.
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on 18 February 2018
Really enjoyed this, picked it up as a recommendation from a book review on the TV something I wouldn't normally do. It's well worth a read, gritty and real. It has a touch of the 'All Quiet on the Western Front' about it, but better somehow, much better.
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on 16 July 2017
An incredible account of life in the German army, 1914-18. The book starts with Ernst being sent into action and ends with his exit from the war, so don't expect too much about life away from the front.

I found the book to be both insightful and enthralling, with exciting descriptions of battles, enemy encounters and trips into no man's land. It's refreshing as a British man, to be able to read a human account of the Great War from an 'opposing' side, as it truly opens your eyes to the suffering inflicted by both sides in what was, generally speaking, a war fought by people who'd never seen anything like it before.

The story itself reads like a movie and without giving any spoilers away, the final battle described is almost Tolkien-esque, which may be no coincidence, given that Tolkien was fighting on the same battlefronts.
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on 21 January 2016
Graphic in its depiction of attrition at its worst. Should be 'compulsory' reading for all as to the obscenity and totally futility of war...The descriptive power of the author as to the brutal reality of his life in the front line is truly rare - of how he and his men struggled to survive and died. Humanity at its best - and yet its worst....
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