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The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War (Stridens skönhet och sorg)

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  1,372 Ratings  ·  181 Reviews
In this masterly, highly original narrative history, Peter Englund takes a revelatory new approach to the history of World War I, magnifying its least examined, most stirring component: the experiences of the average man and woman—not only the tragedy and horror but also the absurdity and even, at times, the beauty.
The twenty people from whose journals and letters Engl
Hardcover, 540 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Knopf (first published October 4th 2008)
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Dec 07, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, war, nonfiction
Out of the many millions of people who have served, in some sense, during the First World War, the last one passed away today (7 Feb 2012) - a little old lady, aged 110, who served as a waitress to the British Royal Air Force. Now the last fragments of war shall fade from memory, and into history.

And this emphasizes the importance of this new narrative history. It follows the lives of some 20 individuals, each offering various perspectives and detailing new incidents about the war - a German sch
Jan 11, 2012 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-i
For obvious reasons, writers and historians usually approach history from the top down. The focus is on the kings and emperors and presidents and field marshals and generals who make the big decisions that set the dominoes falling. To be sure, any writer worth his salt will throw in a few viewpoints from the common man, for a bit of color; mainly, though, history is told through the eyes of the fellows atop the organizational flowchart.

This is all well and good if your sole object in reading a h
May 09, 2012 Adam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beauty and the Sorrow is appropriate in both its slightly pretentious title and its subtitle as an “intimate history” of the first world war. Pretentious may be the wrong word as this book is very much filled with beauty and with much, much sorrow. Tracing about twenty lives through the events of those years and revealing history only as it affect each of them (though Englund does provide witty and informed footnotes to hint at wider events.), this is an ideal fusing of historical narrative and ...more

Disclaimer: I won this book in a giveaway sponsored by Regal Literary.

Englund’s book isn’t a history of the First World War, at least not a normal history. Following the experiences of twenty nobodies, The Beauty and the Sorrow showcases the experience of people during the war, from the battlefields to the nursing stations to the home front. His cast is diverse, Germans, Brits, Americans, nurses, one house wife, and a schoolgirl. The book is organized by year and jumps around. The people come a
Sep 28, 2013 Cathy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I can't explain the rave reviews on this one. The reporting is definitely there. The author has found 20 ordinary, but interesting, people engaged at some level in World War I. They come from all sides of the conflict (no Turks -- but he's got a S. American who fought for the Ottoman Empire). It looks like quite a bit of the material comes from memoirs that would have been lost in some dusty old library (if they ever made it to one to begin with). Unfortunately, the writer just forgot to. . . wr ...more
João Carlos
Jan 23, 2015 João Carlos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, l2015

Buckingham Palace, Londres festejos do fim da Primeira Grande Guerra

“A Beleza e a Dor da Guerra – História Íntima da Primeira Guerra Mundial” é um livro do historiador sueco Peter Englund (n. 1957), que desde 2008, é o Secretário Permanente da Academia Sueca, que atribui o Prémio Nobel da Literatura.

“Este é um livro sobre a Primeira Guerra Mundial. Não é porém, um livro sobre o que foi essa guerra – as suas causas, a sua evolução, a sua conclusão e as suas consequências. É antes um livro como fo
Feb 18, 2012 Jaylia3 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Drawn from personal journals and letters, The Beauty and The Sorrow interweaves poignant and harrowing stories of twenty ordinary people with widely varying backgrounds, nationalities and occupations, who are all caught up in the turmoil of World War I. The individuals include an English nurse in Russia, a 12-year-old German girl, an Australian army engineer, a Venezuelan cavalryman in the Ottoman army, and an American opera singer married to a Polish aristocrat. The number of entries for each p ...more
Oct 26, 2014 Xan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A través de los recuerdos personales de varios protagonistas de la contienda (unos en el frente, otros en casa) el narrador construye una visión del avance de la guerra en la que el entusiasmo patriota va dejando paso al miedo y al hastío. Interesante porque la narración en primera persona se basa en los diarios y cartas de los protagonistas, que cubren un amplio espectro de la población que sufrió la guerra, de manera que son los detalles cotidianos que escapan a los grandes libros de historia ...more
Oct 07, 2015 Karyl rated it really liked it
One hundred years ago (and some change), the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Yugoslav nationalist, and it was this seemingly small event that touched off one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern history, that of World War I.

I have the sense that a lot of people have largely forgotten World War I. We still have veterans alive that fought in World War II, and there was a clear evil we were fighting in that war. But all of the people who fought in the First World War and
Harry Maier
Aug 08, 2013 Harry Maier rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Englund treats us to a masterful perspectival account of WW I. The narrative takes the form of a chronologically arranged set of diary entries from 20 different people who experienced the war, whether as soldiers, politicians, mothers, children, nurses etc. Englund offers an account that is thus non-reductive and that avoids cliches and moralizing. There is a kind of sleight of hand in the way Englund summarizes diary entries on the way toward quoting parts of them. This has a tendency to masque ...more
Nov 03, 2012 Alexandra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It was great, if you love history or wars (which I do!). It had a lot of detail. I mean, right down to the way things sounded when they exploded or whizzed past your head. Or the way decaying bodies smelled. The details were sometimes hard to read (I mean, it's war. Things are horrible). But It followed the lives of several people throughout the war. It used their diaries and letters to loved ones to follow their lives during the war. Some were part of the army for various nations, some were nur ...more
Aug 12, 2012 Lindsey rated it it was amazing
After "Birdsong" I wanted to read more about World War I, but whereas that novel had been solely about the western front, this history described every aspect of the war. I especially enjoyed the sections on East Africa and Mesopotamia, as I had very little prior knowledge about the fighting there.

The book also uses an unusual and highly effective format; basically, the author follows twenty individuals using their diaries, letters, and other sources, and as the years march from 1914-18, we read
Peter Englund tells the story of the First World War through the eyes, letters, and diaries of twenty individuals. They cover a range of nationalities and social classes. All lives are changed, and sadly, some are lost. The result is a powerful book about what war does to the people who participate in it. The war took a profound toll on old world Europe. The seeds of the world we know today were sown in the conflict that started in June 1914 and really did not end until September 1945. During th ...more
Nov 30, 2014 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm glad I read this after reading multiple non-fiction books on WWI - that allowed me to enjoy the stories having a lot of context.

I gave it 3 stars because while I enjoyed the book, it was rather easy for me to put it down. The nature of the method used - short sections - 2-3 pages - alternating between about 20 people, makes the reading a bit choppy.

The stories are definitely on the sorrowful side. But I do agree with what has been written about this book - this is the "feeling" of the war, a
Christine Borchert
Greg and I chose this as a book to read out loud to one another. It took us almost 6 months, however, it was absolutely worth the time invested. The Beauty and the Sorrow walks you through the 4 years of WWI through the diaries of 20 different people who lived through it. This was a great way for me to learn some history and stay emotionally connected to it. I'd highly recommend this book.
Nov 11, 2011 Tom marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, war, genre-bender
Just when I thought I'd covered any and all approaches to WWI writing, along comes something totally new and unexpected. NYT review persuades me (gladly) that apparently some topics are inexhaustible.
I really enjoyed this book. It read like a Ken Burns documentary. The author selected approximately 20 people from around the world and followed them through the war chronologically, using a lot of primary source documents.

I really appreciated how Englund stayed away from the WW1 archetypes and instead offered a very global view of the war. For example: an American woman married to a Polish aristocrat; a Venezuelan in the Ottoman army; an Australian woman ambulance driver/mechanic in Serbia; a B
Viskas gerai su šita knyga - Peterio Englundo "Karo liūdesys ir grožis", - nors ir nelipo ji man: skaičiau nuo liepos, vargau, kėlė mažai emocijų. Ne, blogai pradedu apžvalgą - taip tik nuvertinu tikrai gerą knygą. Pradėkim kitaip - tai puiki, talentingai parašyta, daug darbo kainavusi švedų istoriko studija apie Pirmąjį pasaulinį karą.

Skaitydama knygą, aptikau fotografo Lalage Snow 8 mėnesius vykdytą projektą apie britų karius prieš, per ir po karo:

Jul 01, 2013 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Englund follows the war through the experiences of 20 ordinary people from around the world. It really is the story of the war through the windows of these people's experiences rather than these people's stories during the war. Because of this, narrativemomentum is thwarted as the book criss crosses between the different accounts.

Still, i thought it was an excellent and fascinating book. I feel like i've never had a good handle on WWI at all, despite being very interested in it. There's somethin
Mary Ellen
Nov 14, 2011 Mary Ellen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in WWI
This is a tremendous book, a montage of the experiences of 20 people who lived during - if not, always, through - WWI. It goes way beyond the trenches of the Western Front (though it does include the accounts of several soldiers who fought there) to Mesopotamia and East Africa and Russia and beyond. There are men and women, the middle-aged and a young teen, civilians, sailors, soldiers, aid workers. Although the majority were on the side of the Allies, he includes the narratives of a German sail ...more
Patrick Sprunger
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
R.d. Mumma
I thought I'd read a lot more about World War I in this centennial year of the war's start. I began the year with Barbara Tuchman's "Guns of August", which gives more of a general's-eye view of the war's beginnings, so this more personal kenburnsian approach which follows twenty "normal" people through the years 1914-1918 had a lot of appeal. The structure of the book sometimes makes it hard to keep the characters straight, but I had a great tip from someone who read the book before me and I mad ...more
Jan 01, 2012 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A narrative history of the first world war. The author, an historian and war correspondent, uses the diaries and reports of about 20 different people - soldiers, nurses, a German child, the brain surgeon Harvey Cushing - and runs through the war years chronologically, telling us what each different person is doing at one time wherever they happen to be. Unlike some books of this type, the book is not made from extracts of the diaries themselves, rather the author describes what each has said in ...more
Aug 10, 2014 Jossi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is a narrative of WWI, told through the journal entries & letters of people affected by the war. I expected it to be disjointed and choppy, but it just continued to flow and I couldn't put it down. One of my favorite historical books in recent memory,and a great way to get a very intimate view into the events of the time. While not necessary for the enjoyment of this book, I would recommend to first brush up on general WW1 history, to be able to get a little more out of it. (I ended ...more
Dec 28, 2011 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I wasn't sure when I picked this up if I really wanted 500 pages of personal narratives of WWI. But I am so glad I started reading it anyway--I was immediately engrossed and could hardly put it down. Englund told these stories SO well, I could almost hear the artillery shells. I ached for all the narrators as their initial enthusiasm for war turned to disillusionment. What a record of the cost of war. Englund did only minimal situating the narratives in the "bigger picture" and I think tried to ...more
Feb 09, 2013 Florence rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have always been puzzled about the details of the First World War, formerly called the Great War. This book clarifies that part of history. It follows the lives of twenty people of different nationalities, both civilian and military, who lived through the war. Some survived and some didn't. All of the stories are deeply personal. They take you into the trenches, in the mud, the cold, with rats, excrement, and decomposing bodies. Some nursed people with horrible wounds both physical and psychic ...more
Washington Post
Oct 28, 2013 Washington Post rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This remarkable history, one of our top 10 books of 2011, captures World War I as seen through the eyes of 20 people who experienced it, including an English nurse in the Russian army, a Scots soldier in Africa, an American fighting with the Italians and a Venezuelan cowboy who joins the Ottoman army because of the French. These voices convey the war’s complexity better than any of the grand histories so far written.

Read Gerard DeGroot's review here:
Claudia Zuchowski
This was a page-turner of a history book. It follows a number on individuals and their experiences in World War I. In the process, one sees the war on a very personal level rather than on the more traditional impersonal view of politics, strategy, and tactics. It also covers many locations, not just the Western Front. This book will appeal to the regular reader of history and is highly recommended to the reader who would like to learn a bit about WWI but is hesitant to tackle a history book.
Riku Sarlin
Apr 21, 2014 Riku Sarlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hyvä henkilötason kuvaus ensimmäisestä maailmansodasta - kerrottu 20 eri henkilön silmin. Tulee selväksi, että sotatekniikka oli kaukana taktiikan edellä. Myrkkykaasuja. Täysin sekavaa meininkiä, kun viestiyhteydet eivät toimineet. Turhia ruumita suuressa mittakaavassa. Hieno opus.
Jan 05, 2014 Yvonne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The most interesting book about about the Great War I have ever read. Now I need to learn more.
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Peter Englund (born April 4, 1957 in Boden) is a Swedish author and historian, and a member of the Swedish Academy since 2002.

Englund was born into a military family in Boden and studied caretaking for two years and then humanistic subjects for another two years in secondary school. He was then conscripted and served 15 months in the Swedish Army at the Norrbotten Regiment located in Boden. He was
More about Peter Englund...

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