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Back to the Front: An Accidental Historian Walks the Trenches of World War 1
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Back to the Front: An Accidental Historian Walks the Trenches of World War 1

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  135 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
World War I is beyond the memory of almost everyone alive today. Yet it has left as deep a scar on the imaginative landscape of our century as it has on the land where it was fought. Nowhere is that more evident than on the Western Front-the sinuous, deadly line of trenches that stretched from the coast of Belgium to the border of France and Switzerland, a narrow swath of ...more
Paperback, 216 pages
Published September 1st 2001 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 1st 1997)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 01, 2014 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Around WW1 Group
Shelves: ww1
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still
Oct 04, 2011 GoldGato rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, winter, war
World War I has ended up like a sports team that makes it to the championship game, then loses to World War II. Close, but no trophy. The Great War has always intrigued me, ever since I first visited London and saw the many poppies strewn about the war monuments. It took me a bit to realize it all started with the first World War, which was simply hellacious, but more centered on soldier annihilation than on civilian.

This book knocks off a couple of birds with one throw: Provide a history of the
Feb 07, 2016 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
p.17 Having grown up Canadian, I feel at home whenever I encounter bickering over language.
p.85 Before that time (1916), the poet could write about the nobility of sacrifice, parsons about the divinity of the cause, and propagandists about the imminence of victory, with a fairly reasonable expectation that their readerships would believe them. After 1916, skepticism and cynicism emerged triumphant.
p.88 The magnitude of the screwup led the British brass to persevere in the hope that future achiev
Jul 16, 2012 Owen rated it it was amazing
This is a strange mixture of John Hillaby and Barabara Tuchman, with maybe a little Bruce Chatwin thrown in for good measure. I read it very quickly and thoroughly enjoyed it and was even a little peeved that I hadn't thought of it myself. (Fancy missing the opportunity of a book with a title like that!) There are a number of similar walks one can do, especially in Britain; I'm thinking of the walk along Hadrian's Wall in particular. Yet the notion of walking the old trench-lined area and no-man ...more
Feb 16, 2017 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book on the Western Front. the author is of the "lions led by donkeys" school of people looking at the military history of WW1.
Tony Brewer
Jan 27, 2015 Tony Brewer rated it really liked it
One of the best non-academic books written by a non-historian about a topic I've ever read, and it is a huge topic (WWI of course). O'Shea literally and figuratively covers a lot of ground. It is extremely well-written and yes, poetic even. Very sharp and inward-facing. His asides are often where the historical details are kept rather than in the main telling. This is not "war porn," a consumption of war memorabilia O'Shea often bashes. Instead it comes across as a very personal journey, rather ...more
A rather strange book - not quite history, not quite travel, not quiet memoir, not quite polemic. The book details Mr. O'Shea's walking trip along the Western Front from the Channel to the Swiss border (as well as some other trips to parts of the Front at other times). This reader isn't sure of the author's purposes or point; however, the writing is friendly, accessible, and descriptive. Someone who wanted a "lighter" introduction to WW 1 could do worse, I suppose - Mr. O'Shea is always good com ...more
Dec 03, 2012 Debra rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A journalist wanders over the battlefields of WWI, showing us a personalized overview of the sadly misnamed "War to end all wars." Quite readable and accessible, it helps to have a bare basic knowledge of the action as he assumes such. Still his word pictures illuminate the history and strategy, sometimes horrifyingly so.

Written in an anecdotal style much like that used by Tony Horowitz or Bill Bryson, he covers the expected military and political history but also glosses over linguistic, litera
Aug 19, 2012 Jan rated it liked it
Why. does a freelance journalist specialized in writing for fashion magznes spend several summers wandering from Nieuport on the Channel coast to the Swiss border following the outline of no mans land as it was in 1916? The reader is taken on a journey of personal reflectionon diverse subjects such as family, history, France and war. An ambitious forst book, where a more seasoned author and a sterner edition could have crafted an even more compelling tome.
Jan 31, 2011 Nancy rated it liked it
This potted history of the Western Front during WWI, using the device of the author's walking trip along the trench-line, resorts too much to the obvious and facile. His snarky comment: "Peter Mayle strung together a charming chain of cliches in his books on Provence," applies equally well to his own effort.

Jan 11, 2014 Ecipullo rated it liked it
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Mar 23, 2015 Glenn rated it really liked it
A very insightful look at trench warfare in WW I by a journalist who walked the front line from the Channel to Switzerland. Decidedly anti-war, detailing the slaughter and the decision-making by leaders during the war. He walked it during the late 80's and 90's.
Apr 09, 2014 Tim rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A young man takes a backpacking journey along the Western front of World War I.
Dave rated it it was amazing
Jul 12, 2014
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