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The Great War and Modern Memory

4.2  ·  Rating Details ·  4,120 Ratings  ·  211 Reviews

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 literat

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Published July 24th 1975 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1975)
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When war broke out, the undergraduate Robert Graves pictured what service he might render as garrison duty—literally holding down the fort while the professional Regular Army charged to glory on the continent. The 100,000-strong force of British Regulars ferried across the channel in August 1914 to protect Belgium and assist the French was all used up by early November. It is said, “the high command and the staff officers survived: the old army was beyond recall.” “This isn’t war!” cried an appa ...more
Very enjoyable, very thought-provoking, but not necessarily very convincing, Fussell's sui-generis book is an extended literary criticism masquerading as social history – or perhaps the other way round. There are various arguments going on in here, but the main thrust is that much of how we think about the modern world – indeed our whole contemporary mindset – has its origin in ideas that came about as an attempt to respond to the unprecedented scale and irony of the 1914-18 conflict.

‘Irony’ is
Nick Milne
Jul 10, 2013 Nick Milne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwi
[Note: I've read this book twice, the first time years ago -- I set the read date as today so it updates on the Facebook wall properly.]

In this landmark text from 1975, Fussell (an American scholar and veteran) looks at a selection of writings from certain soldier-authors on the Western Front and examines the implications of same when it comes to how the war should best be understood. It's difficult to express how influential this book has been, or how widely it has been hailed since its publica
A great book. Using the tools of literary criticism to reflect on WW1 Fussell digs into how consciousness was changed by the war. It was the war Fussell argues, that makes the modern age an age of irony. Traditional notions of the war virtues like honour, valor and bravery disappeared into the shit and mud of the Western Front. The cynicism towards authority and the official view portrayed in newspapers etc started in the war. The troops could read The Times or The Daily Mail in the trenches two ...more
Carol Storm
Mar 26, 2015 Carol Storm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY is the kind of war book that is especially cherished by people who feel morally obligated to "hate" war, or perhaps more accurately to hate the soldiers (mostly, but not always men) who fight it. Back in the days of Operation Desert Storm, when Barnard educated NY Times columnist Anna Quindlen was sneering at American combat troops as blue-collar rabble "not smart, not rich, not directed enough for college" she also found time to make a ritualistic little salute t ...more
Erin Deathstar
Sep 10, 2011 Erin Deathstar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary. One of the best books I've read on WWI. By employing literary critique, Fussell manages to capture virtually every aspect of the war from its mammoth obscenity to its myriad tiny obscenities, to the beauties of light and birdsong as experienced in the trenches, to the social fabric of the poor doomed trench-bound souls, to the wit and wonder of The Wipers Times.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for conveying the vast and complex reality of WWI . Perhaps Fussell's idiosyn
Paul Fussell's now classic examination at how World War I is remembered by looking at British literature - both fiction and non-fiction. This is not a military history of World War I though Fussell does provide some background in order to put things into context. It's a literary criticism. If you're interested in how a historical event comes to be percieved by later generations then you'll find this an interesting read.

It has been pointed out by some that this book is now out of date and Fussel
Dec 02, 2011 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Paul Fussell raises a provocative question in his most acclaimed nonfiction work The Great War and Modern Memory: What happened to the world between 1914 and 1918? His shocking but illuminating conclusion is that the mindset of an entire generation completely changed. How we write poetry, how we talk about war, how we see reality. His study delves into the poetry and prose of the First World War, focusing primarily on the British experience whose countrymen endured the horrors of the war at leas ...more
One of the most important books I've ever read.
Jan 19, 2012 Al rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before tackling Paul Fussell's book, it's useful to understand that this is in no way a conventional history of World War I. While the events of the war are covered insightfully, the war serves as the source of Fussel's analysis of how those who wrote about the war reflected the influence of the literature of the times as well as how the Great War writers would influence those who later wrote about war such as Norman Mailer or Joseph Heller. At times it reads like someone's brilliant dissertatio ...more
Aug 08, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a most remarkable book. Over the years I have read quite a bit of history, but never a book quite like this one - it is thoroughly unique. It brings together poetry, literature, language, and all sorts of events that changed our way of speaking and thinking of war forever. All this was done in one fairly small book. Some might find it a little scholarly, but never, in my opinion, was it petulant. This book brings with it a deeply, touching human side to those who suffered though the '14- ...more
Paul Fussell's landmark study of WWI remains in my mind as fresh and gripping today as when I read it many years ago. It is 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 effectiv ...more
Suzie Wilde
I learnt more about WW1 from this book than almost any other. Fussell charts the war's progress via language use. There was a huge shift away from the heroic, used as a tool to lure thousands to their death. For example, 'the fallen' quickly became 'the dead', 'chargers' became 'horses', clearly showing the men's utter disillusionment and contempt for euphemism. Their new way of speaking made it impossible for them to talk candidily when they returned home. It was a literal, as well as ideologic ...more
Erika Schelby
Sep 02, 2013 Erika Schelby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book that is very special to me, autographed by Paul Fussell
himself during a two-hour class meeting of only three people.
My professor and Fussell were old friends, and both were
extraordinary as teachers. It was an intense, fascinating
experience, and I have treasured this fine book ever since,
Dec 30, 2011 Manray9 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great-war
Wade Davis said of Fussell's masterpiece: "Every page is a revelation." He was right on the mark.
May 29, 2017 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory (1975) is a tour de force and more than a tour de force. It could easily be the single book assigned for a semester-long graduate seminar focusing on how Great Britain’s literary culture helped shape contemporary understanding of World War I–casting it in romantic, pastoral, theatrical and homoerotic terms–and how World War I returned the favor by shaping the western world’s literature thereafter.

The unspeakable folly
Apr 26, 2017 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I rarely read non-fiction, but this just took my breath away. It's both a wonderful (and achingly sad) introduction to the poets and writers who emerged (or didn't) from World War I, as well as an eye-opening description of how that conflict shaped modern life.
Mark Broadhead
Everything is "ironic" about the war - in the Alanis Morrisette usage of irony. That is, he should have looked up the word before using it twenty times in the first 10 pages.
Rachel Louise Atkin
A hugely insightful work, providing a look at how the war has been presented, commemorated and eternalised through the work that came after it. Fussell provides analysis, as well as historical background to a selection of the most famous and relevant pieces of First World War literature. I found the chapter "Oh What a Literary War" especially interesting, but this book was littered with quotations that are extremely helpful to me in my study.
I'm so glad I took the time to read the entirety of t
Jun 03, 2009 Tyler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone; Fans of Literature
Recommended to Tyler by: Book Awards
Fussell’s “elegiac commentary” unearths the cultural terrain of the Great War to find out what made the war distinct. Doing this means properly locating the war within an ephemeral cultural and technological firmament. He first uncovers the immediate past from which the war had emerged and by which it came to be understood. Then he takes on a much trickier task: to help readers see through a glass darkly to an event now totally masked by World War II. This thorough and daring excavation of the w ...more
Edward Waverley
Jun 20, 2013 Edward Waverley marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rushdoony
Historian Otto Scott spoke with RJ Rushdoony in 1990 about this book: "This is one of those remarkable works in which everything worked. Most writers have this. They have one book in which everything works. And this is Fussell’s. I think it was his first. He is talking about World War I. And he began by examining the poetry of Hardy and others before the war. And, of course, you recall that what happened?

[Rushdoony] When was it written?
[Scott] Well, part... 1975.
[Rushdoony] I... I must have read
Jun 11, 2017 Phrodrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Great War, and Modern Memory is not a military history or a literary history. It draws from history and from literature mostly to help the author comprehend the experience of war. In the afterward he will describe this book as elegiac, meaning it is similar to an elegy. Elegy, meaning writing mourning the dead. It is very respectful of these many millions of dead, but this is incomplete. What Fussell does is to lead us into the special horrors that was trench warfare in WWI and try to explai ...more
Jun 26, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historians, Literature students, Military history buffs
Recommended to Michael by: Victoria Belco
By academic standards, this book is "old," but it remains a very useful study. Fussell doesn't claim to tell us anything new about the "Great War" (called World War One in the US), but rather looks at how it was remembered by those who lived through it. He says himself that the book is about "some of the literary means by which it [the British experience on the Western Front] has been remembered, conventionalized, and mythologized" adding that it is "also about the literary dimensions of the tre ...more
It's almost impossible to overstate the importance of this book. It's definitely one of the landmark publications on Great War literature, and Fussell's arguments and conclusions are so lucid and compelling that you almost find it strange that no-one else thought of it before him.

Each chapter draws on a central theme found throughout the war poetry; the binary oppositions of 'us' and 'them', the troglodyte horrors of the trenches, the comparison of the war to theatre, the homoeroticism of soldie
May 15, 2007 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was reminded of this book because the PG Six band ( is rehearsing Fleetwood Mac's "Dust" whose lyrics (despite the lack of credits on the LP sleeve) were adapted from Rupert Brooke who is usually mentioned in the same breath as Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen as one of the quintessential literary figures of World War I. Fussell's book is about the literary culture that grew up around the war and its profound impact on 20th century literary con ...more
Aug 01, 2007 Kay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A magisterial and sweeping examination of the historical experience of WWI, especially as portrayed by writers such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves. More concerned with literary matters than military ones, Fussell's analysis goes surprisingly deep -- to the heart of the profound change in thinking that took place during and after the war. The consciousness of an entire generation, if not an entire country, underwent a profound shift. Things that are pervasive in modern time ...more
Jeffrey Williams
Paul Fussell's "The Great War and Modern Memory," first published in 1975, has become a classic read for those who are interested in the literature of World War I. In it, Fussell fuses together the literary influences of Great Britain, biographies of such notable First World War authors like Sigfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and observations of the detailed minute of life in the trenches, to create a composite image of how the British, through literature, remember the Great War of a century ago ...more
Jul 24, 2012 Bethany rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
First off, I haven't read the main subjects of this analysis - Robert Graves, Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon. That put me at a disadvantage, but I still found this book fascinating. The author's premise is that WWI was a turning point in Western literary consciousness, the place where irony infiltrated all literature and criticism and there's no going back. I really enjoyed the chapters on the literary environment of the average trench soldier and on the development of homoerotic sentiment ...more
Patrick Santana
Aug 04, 2012 Patrick Santana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's so much here that falls outside my inherited knowledge of World War I. Russell weaves in literature, poetry, poster art, songs, Uranians, Walt Whitman, painting, and more into his thesis that modernity (ironic, violent, self-aware, cynical) was forged in the crucible of this European bloodbath. It's a pretty heavy read at times, full of reference and quotation from a lot of not-well-known authors. Still, I enjoyed it immensely. You learn how and where phrases like "over the top" come fro ...more
Steve Mayer
Jan 07, 2015 Steve Mayer rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It would be wrong to say that I hated every page, because I enjoyed the exegesis of Goodbye To All That (which I read forty years ago). And the resolute Englishness of its focus was fun at first. And it is full of interesting WWI factoids, such as the fact that it was easy to send post from England to the front. But after 260 pages, I've had enough. I don't care whether yet another diarist, or poet, or novelist, contrasted the trenches to flowers, birds,grassy meadows or reindeer. Goodbye To All ...more
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Paul Fussell was an American cultural and literary historian, author and university professor. His writings covered a variety of topics, from scholarly works on eighteenth-century English literature to commentary on America’s class system. He was an U.S. Army Infantry officer in the European theater during World War II (103rd U.S. Infantry Division) and was awarded both the Bronze Star and the Pur ...more
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“Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected. Every war constitutes an irony of situation because its means are so melodramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends.” 23 likes
“If truth is the main casualty in war, ambiguity is another.” 12 likes
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