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Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger

Storm of Steel (1920)

by Ernst Jünger

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  1. 41
    All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Taken together, Jünger's memoir and Remarque's novel present a pair of radically different views concerning the German soldier's experience in World War I.
  2. 00
    Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (Anonymous user)

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English (25)  Dutch (3)  French (2)  Danish (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (33)
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Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel is an autobiographical reflection on his experience as a German infantry soldier in World War I. Written in 1920, when Junger was still just 25, the narrative is unadulterated by politics and anti-war sentiment that appears in other works written during the 1920s; instead, Junger's tale is simply the story of life as a solider on the Western Front. While I am a fan of All Quiet on the Western Front, one can't help but feel like that classic is but a watered-down version of Storm of Steel. Although at times a bit grusome--take this as a warning for the feint-of-heart--Storm of Steel is far superior in capturing the experiences of life in the trenches, dugouts, and craters. It includes discussions of the use of gas, the experience of living through artillery bombardments, the night-raids, medical care and life in the hospitals, and the duties and responsibilities of junior officers. Overall, it is a thoughtful and vivid portrait of the First World War on the ground. ( )
  featherby | Sep 21, 2014 |
As I'm much more familiar with British and Canadian memoirs of the First World War, I was excited to begin Jünger's "Storm of Steel" if only to get a sense of the "other side" of the conflict that was not Remarque's more famous "All Quiet on the Western Front". After first reading, I am struck by the tone of Jünger's work. There is jovial, high-spirited air to what seems at times to be an excited retelling of the author's war experience. It was somewhat jarring in comparison to more prevailing sense of misery and terror normally associated with First World War. This one is worth re-reading. ( )
  musecure | Aug 31, 2014 |
An oddly jaunty memoir of the Western Front, characterised by what Jünger describes somewhere as his ‘strange mood of melancholy exultation’. I am surprised so many people have found his prose ‘clean’, ‘sparse’, ‘unemotional’ – I thought the opposite, that it was rather over-literary in many places; not overwritten exactly, but with touches of a grand Romantic sensibility that I haven't found in English or French writers of the First World War:

The white ball of a shrapnel shell melted far off, suffusing the grey December sky. The breath of battle blew across to us, and we shuddered. Did we sense that almost all of us – some sooner, some later – were to be consumed by it, on days when the dark grumbling yonder would crash over our heads like an incessant thunder?

In the heat of battle, where Barbusse and Genevoix feel a nauseated horror, Jünger instead feels ‘an almost visionary excitement’ – even ‘a twinge of arousal’. Where Sassoon and Manning lament the loss or corruption of their entire generation, Jünger merely comments with apparent approbation that ‘over four years, the fire smelted an ever-purer, ever-bolder warriorhood’.

It's all very slightly off-putting; and the tone is quite hard to judge, despite the newness of this translation from Michael Hofmann. He (Hofmann) spends a lot of time in his introduction denigrating his predecessor Basil Creighton's version of 1929; this is not a classy move, particularly when I wouldn't call his own translation especially fluent (though I'm sure there are fewer direct errors). There are many odd word choices – like ‘grunt’ for soldier, which to my ears is very American and anyway wasn't used before the 1960s; and repeatedly using ‘splinter’ to describe a huge piece of shrapnel that can pierce a man's chest gives, I think, the wrong impression. Most of all, there is a lot of that awkward juxtaposition between high and low register that is the hallmark of ‘translationese’:

A lark ascends; its trilling gets on my wick.

Hofmann knows his subject, though, and his introductory essay has some interesting comments that contextualise Storm of Steel (what an appropriately George-RR-Martinesque title that is!). He makes the intriguing and, I think, convincing suggestion that Jünger's book has a ‘natural epic form’, as opposed to comparable accounts in English which are ‘lyrical or dramatic’. There are indeed many moments here that you might fairly call Homeric, not least in their tone of gung-ho excitement – and considering this helped me clarify what it was I disliked about the book.

Because isn't it the case that the epic form, with its tendency to revel in the ‘glory’ of war, is in some sense fundamentally dishonest – and, more to the point, isn't that precisely one of the lessons that the First World War taught us? ( )
  Widsith | Jul 23, 2014 |
I have often lamented the lack of German World War I perspectives. Erich Maria-Remarque aside, I usually read works by British and French scholars, memoirists, diarists, and novelists. Fortunately here is a fine memoir translated from the German by the esteemed Michael Hofmann. I like its very flat spare prose. Everything is simply allowed to stand for itself: bravery, death, corpses, blood, shrapnel, friendship, dreams. Plainly declarative, there is no unnecessary coloration, no prolixity, no subtext, little in the way of moral judgement.

After reading Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That about the efficiency of the German trenches, I found it fascinating to get a sense of how those fortifications were built and how they functioned. Niall Ferguson in The Pity of War goes on at some length about the greater efficiency of German soldiers than their opponents. Jünger has here provided at least one example: the Germans simply didn't have the resources--munitions, for example--that the Entente Powers had. They had to do more with less, and did so:

Hundreds of British soldiers were running forward through a flat communications trench, little troubled by the weak gunfire we were able to direct at them. The scene was indicative of the inequality of resources with which we had to fight. Had we essayed the same thing, our units would have been shot to pieces in a matter of minutes.
Author Ernst Jünger was nineteen, the proverbial ephebe, when he went to the front. He was at first an enlisted man in the infantry who after a brief convalescence was commissioned an ensign and given responsibility for a platoon. He was frequently on the frontlines during the early years, responsible for his short stretch of the line, his poor comrades dropping all around him like flies. I suppose the oddest moments are when the tone becomes madcap, devil may care, despite the storm of steel..

Jünger was wounded with varying degrees of severity fourteen times by his count, except for the last time he was afterward always sent back to the front. Such travails you would think might sour a man, yet the attitude he evinced toward the British, which his soldiers shared, was anything but ungentlemanly:

The [British] sargeant practically had both legs sheered off by hand-grenade splinters; even so, with stoical calm, he kept his pipe clenched between his teeth to the end. This incident, like all our other encounters with the Britishers, left us pleasantly impressed by their bravery and manliness.
In the Introduction to the book translator Michael Hofmann quotes Gide who wrote in his diary: "Ernst Jünger's book on the 1914 War, Storm of Steel, is without question the finest book on war that I know: utterly honest, truthful, in good faith." I would agree. It is the finest book on World War I from the German perspective that I know. It also represents an utterly obsolete means of statecraft. War's elimination will only happen by way of the collective will of human beings. Please sign the Charter for Compassion at http://charterforcompassion.org/. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Not for the faint-hearted: graphic descriptions of war fatalities. Well-written/translated memoir relating Great War experiences in detail. Author's revelations of insight and of emotional trauma are relatively rare. Translator explains how he tried to maintain idiomatic fidelity. Good resource for those engaged in research. ( )
  christineplouvier | Apr 20, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (32 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ernst Jüngerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hofmann, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindström, UrbanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zampa, GiorgioContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zampaglione, GiorgioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142437905, Paperback)

A memoir of astonishing power, savagery, and ashen lyricism, Storm of Steel illuminates not only the horrors but also the fascination of total war, seen through the eyes of an ordinary German soldier. Young, tough, patriotic, but also disturbingly self-aware, Jünger exulted in the Great War, which he saw not just as a great national conflict but—more importantly—as a unique personal struggle. Leading raiding parties, defending trenches against murderous British incursions, simply enduring as shells tore his comrades apart, Jünger kept testing himself, braced for the death that will mark his failure.

Published shortly after the war’s end, Storm of Steel was a worldwide bestseller and can now be rediscovered through Michael Hofmann’s brilliant new translation.

First time in Penguin Classics
Acclaimed new translation based on a new authoritative text
Widely viewed as the best account ever written of fighting in World War I

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:15 -0400)

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'As though walking through a deep dream, I saw steel helmets approaching through the craters. They seemed to sprout from the fire-harrowed soil like some iron harvest'. "Storm of Steel" is one of the greatest works to emerge from the catastrophe of the First World War. A memoir of astonishing power, savagery and ashen lyricism, it illuminates like no other book the horrors but also the fascination of total war, presenting the conflict through the eyes of an ordinary German soldier. As an account of the terrors of the Western Front and of the sickening allure that made men keep fighting on for four long years, "Storm of Steel" has no equal.… (more)

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