The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War

Peter Englund

The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War

There are many books on the First World War, but here the historian Peter Englund takes a daring new approach. Describing the experiences of twenty ordinary people from around the world, all now unknown, he explores the everyday aspects of war: not only the tragedy and horror, but also the absurdity, monotony and even beauty. Two of these twenty will perish, two will become prisoners of war, two will become celebrated heroes and two others end up as physical wrecks. One of them go mad, another will never hear a shot fired. Following soldiers and sailors, nurses and government workers from Britain, Russia and Germany, and from Australia and South America — and in theatres of war often neglected by major histories on the period — Englund reconstructs their feelings, impressions, experiences and moods. 4.6 out of 5 based on 8 reviews
The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History
Format Hardback
Pages 544
RRP £25.00
Date of Publication October 2011
ISBN 978-1846683428
Publisher Profile
 

There are many books on the First World War, but here the historian Peter Englund takes a daring new approach. Describing the experiences of twenty ordinary people from around the world, all now unknown, he explores the everyday aspects of war: not only the tragedy and horror, but also the absurdity, monotony and even beauty. Two of these twenty will perish, two will become prisoners of war, two will become celebrated heroes and two others end up as physical wrecks. One of them go mad, another will never hear a shot fired. Following soldiers and sailors, nurses and government workers from Britain, Russia and Germany, and from Australia and South America — and in theatres of war often neglected by major histories on the period — Englund reconstructs their feelings, impressions, experiences and moods.

Reviews

The Guardian

Ian Jack

Among the great merits of Peter Englund's book is its geographical scope, which takes in Mesopotamia, east Africa, the Dolomites, the Balkans and Russia as well the familiar imagery of Flanders and Verdun … a literary as well as historical achievement (well served by its English translator, Peter Graves).

12/11/2011

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The Literary Review

Nigel Jones

… a monumental work of oral history in which the author strives to give a complete picture of a world at war — the humorous side of things as well as the horror — through the words of twenty very different witnesses … Englund is drawn to outsiders: to Florence Farmborough, an Englishwoman serving as a nurse with the Russian army as it, too, mutinied and caused a revolution; to Kresten Andresen, a Dane who joined the German army; and to Rafael de Nogales, a Venezuelan adventurer who — bizarrely — enlisted as a cavalryman in the Ottoman army.

01/11/2011

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The New York Times

Dwight Garner

Intense and bighearted ... The best books about World War I have often been oblique, like Paul Fussell’s “Great War and Modern Memory,” or novels, like Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” rather than comprehensive histories. Mr. Englund’s volume joins an unconventional pantheon. His book has the most devastating ending I can remember in a piece of nonfiction.

10/11/2011

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The Daily Telegraph

Toby Clements

Riveting … Englund has chosen his voices with great care, and the resulting picture of the war in the round, with all its sorrows but also its joys, is made all the more vivid by the eloquent translation from the Swedish by Peter Graves.

12/11/2011

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The Daily Express

Christopher Silvester

Almost every page of Englund’s book is fresh and revelatory ... Englund’s choice of witnesses is quirky and intriguing … The overall effect of their often peculiar narratives is powerful and compelling.

04/11/2011

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The Financial Times

Tony Barber

The Beauty and the Sorrow was published to much acclaim in Sweden in 2008 and has already been translated into various European languages. It deserves its success because it is perceptive, humane and elegantly written ... Englund [makes little attempt] to question the reliability of memory. It is a point the reader needs to keep in mind. A second reservation is that its author intersperses the first-hand accounts of the war, often put in indirect speech, with his own judgments of their wider significance. The boundaries between the two modes of writing are not always clear.

12/11/2011

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The Sunday Telegraph

Jonathan Sale

Fascinating … None of the 20 is a general or politician. This is the view of the conflict as experienced by the poor bloody infantry, the poor bloody cavalry and the poor bloody civilians.

13/11/2011

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The Sunday Times

Max Hastings

The author’s choice of the present tense throughout his text, to promote immediacy, can irritate. The work suffers from its absence of historical context and explanation of the wider circumstances in which individual experiences took place. But Englund’s choice of witnesses and his use of their material are admirably judged. This is an anthology well above the common run, though not one for bedside reading by anyone who wishes sleep to come easily.

16/10/2011

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