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The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul…
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The Great War and Modern Memory (1975)

by Paul Fussell

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With the 100 year anniversary of World War One upon us, there has been an outpouring of new books on the war. Some of these are very good indeed, but reading a few new ones drew me back to this classic. I think it may be the best book I have ever read on the War, for two reasons.

First, while the book is mostly about the war in literature and memory, Fussell captures and shows the actual day-to-day experience of the soldiers in the trenches more vividly than anything else I have read. He was in combat in Europe World War II, so he knew things in visceral terms that non- combatants don't know (and, as he points out, very often did not and do not want to know). Also, while much of his research was literary, the rest of it was about as immediate as you can get: he spent three months in a room at the Imperial War Museum, reading the Museum's (unsorted) archive of papers of the British troops in World War I. In so doing, he says, "For three months I lived in the trenches with the British soldiery, accompanying them on raids on the German trenches across the way, consoling myself with their rum, pursuing and crunching lice in my trouser seams, and affecting British phlegm as they jumped the bags and dashed directly into machine gun fire."

The day to day experience he conveys is horrible, claustrophobic, and increasingly pointless. Soldiers on both sides began to believe that the war would never end; "the war", indeed, begins to seem a great pitiless machine that chews up rank after rank of men, and spits out corpses. This is not a new thought -- no one who has read much about the War is going to believe that trench life was fun. But Fussell conveys more strongly than anyone else I have read just how awful, and endless, it was. He intended his description to make war look horrible, and it does.

Second, Fussell's most important literary observation, it seems to me, is less about literature per se than about a way of thinking -- the modern way of thinking, if you will. He goes through key themes as they appeared in the writings of several major authors of the War. What emerges overall, however, is a sense that for many the ability to believe in ideals was killed in the war, shifting the postwar world to an attitude of pessimism and irony. Many have criticized Fussell's focus on a small group of British writers, but I think his point is still valid. The First World War made it impossible for thinking people to believe in human progress, or in the basic goodness of humankind. In the century since then, it has been too easy to remain disillusioned.

This is a terrific book, for those whose interests are primarily historical, as well as for those who have literary inclinations. Read it. ( )
  annbury | Feb 16, 2014 |
Introduced by Lyn Macdonald
  narbgr01 | Feb 16, 2014 |
Hatley Park, Sandy, Beds ( )
  onesmallhole | Jan 22, 2012 |
An incredibly thorough look at the British literary and cultural experience of the Great War, and how this shaped modernism and the rest of our culture ever since. Reading some excellent weblog retrospectives on WWI around Armistice Day turned me on to this one. ( )
  jddunn | Nov 21, 2010 |
Read Andrew Hazlett's review of "The Great War and Modern Memory: The Illustrated Edition" on The Book Studio.
  thebookstudio | Dec 7, 2009 |
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To the Memory of
Technical Sergeant Edward Keith Hudson, ASN 36548772
Co. F, 410th Infantry
Killed beside me in France
March 15, 1945
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195133323, Paperback)

The year 2000 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of The Great War and Modern Memory, winner of the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and recently named by the Modern Library one of the twentieth century's 100 Best Non-Fiction Books. Fussell's landmark study of WWI remains as original and gripping today as ever before: a literate, literary, and illuminating account of the Great War, the one that changed a generation, ushered in the modern era, and revolutionized how we see the world. Exploring the work of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Edmund Blunden, David Jones, Isaac Rosenberg, and Wilfred Owen, Fussell supplies contexts, both actual and literary, for those writers who most effectively memorialized WWI as an historical experience with conspicuous imaginative and artistic meaning.

For this special edition, the author has prepared a new afterword and a suggested further reading list. As this classic work draws upon several disciplines--among them literary studies, military history, cultural criticism, and historical inquiry--it will continue to appeal to students, scholars, and general readers of various backgrounds.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:44 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"The year 2000 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of The Great War and Modern Memory, winner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and recently named by the Modern Library one of the twentieth century's 100 Best Non-Fiction Books. Fussell's landmark study of World War I remains as original and gripping today as ever before: a literate, literary, and illuminating account of the Great War, the war that changed a generation, ushered in the modern era, and revolutionized how we see the world. Exploring the work of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Edmund Blunden, David Jones, Isaac Rosenberg, and Wilfred Owen, Fussell presents those writers who most effectively memorialized World War I as a historical experience with conspicuous imaginative and artistic meaning."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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