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The Missing of the Somme

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3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  326 ratings  ·  61 reviews
Geoff Dyer’s classic The Missing of the Somme is part travelogue, part meditation on remembrance—and completely, unabashedly, unlike any other book about the First World War. Through visits to battlefields and memorials, he examines the way that photographs and film, poetry and prose determined—sometimes in advance of the events described—the way we would think about and r ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published August 9th 2011 by Vintage (first published December 31st 2001)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 14, 2014 Jeffrey Keeten rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Around WW1 Group
”Crosses stretch away in lines so long they seem to follow the curvature of the earth. Names are written on both the front and back of each cross. The scale of the cemetery exceeds all imagining. Even the names on the crosses count for nothing. Only the numbers count, the scale of loss. But this is so huge that it is consumed by itself. It shocks, stuns, numbs. Sassoon’s nameless names here become the numberless numbers. You stand aghast while the wind hurtles through your clothes, searing your ...more
Mike Clinton
Dyer expertly and often evocatively writes about the cult of remembrance surrounding the Great War (the nomenclature he prefers to the First World War - and which feels right to me, too.) In this case, remembrance is largely in a British idiom, although some American (Dos Passos, Hemingway, Fitzgerald) and French (Barbusse, Dorgeles) references appear now and then. Dyer goes beyond literature to consider memorials, visual art, photography, popular song, ceremonies, pilgrimages - a wide range of ...more
Geoff
Jul 11, 2012 Geoff marked it as to-read
To say I'm still "currently-reading" this would be dishonest. I read exactly half of it before becoming rather distracted by my reading of Roubaud, and now it has been like a month and a half, and Geoff Dyer and this book deserve better than that, because the half I read was wonderful, so I'm setting it aside until later, when I have the will to read it all in one go. Sorry Geoff, you spell your name the right way, I will do you justice another time.
Mikey B.
This is a rambling read as the author shifts gears from time to time and swings abruptly from the past and into the present. Some of the present is uninteresting, as when the author recounts his friends and the contents of their rental car.

There are, now and then, some touching observations on the cemeteries that he visits in France. Mr. Dyer discusses the writings of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Statues and memorials commemorating the Great War are featured along with some pictures of t
...more
DoctorM
A fine meditation on memorials for the dead of the Great War and how we construct the memories we hope to fix into stone or bronze. Dyer's essay grows out of Paul Fussell's work in "The Great War and Modern Memory" but stands very much on its own. Dyer is less interested in the literary antecedents of Great War literature than in the concrete ways England tried to hold on to a memory of the war and its losses. His account (this would be in the early 1990s, a decade or so before the issues of mil ...more
Aquavit
Perhaps that is what is meant by ‘lonelyness’ — knowing that even at your moments of most exalted emotion, you do not matter (perhaps this is precisely the moment of most exalted emotion) because these things will always be here: the dark trees full of summer leaf, the fading light that has not changed in seventy-five years, the peace that lies perpetually in wait.


There's really no better closer in any book I have ever read - how he manages to take the stinking mess of millions dead, the forgott
...more
Caitlin Stamm
The Missing of the Somme is described as "part travelogue, part meditation on remembrance" and this is certainly accurate--I would say that the "meditation on remembrance" occupies most of the first half of the book, and the travelogue aspect really kicks in at the end, mingling together with the discussion on remembrance in a really beautiful way.

Dyer writes about the modes of memory surrounding and built up both by and because of World War I, focusing particularly on the war memorials and art
...more
William Kirkland
Written for a British audience and that of his generation, Dyer visits war memorials, massive grave-fields, looks at photographs, reads poems and fiction to understand "the effect of the idea of the war on my generation." Along the way he has some very interesting observations, for example, that war for most soldiers was a continuation of their laboring lives, without any protections of unions or safety rules, or that, “since [gas]could not be evaded, resisted or fled from, it eliminated the pos ...more
Nate Briggs
This thought-provoking book is extremely short. You can read it in one sitting if you have the inclination.

It takes the form of an extended essay on the topic of remembrance and commemoration - in France, but mostly in England - of the immense number of young men killed in the First World War.

The first conflict in recorded history stripped of any kind of glory. Not only a series of staggering miscalculations. But battlefields where personal heroism had nothing to do with anything. Purely theatre
...more
Deshay
Wanted to like this but found it hard reading. Made it through it because it was relatively short. Still trying to figure out what all those who gave it such wonderful reviews got out of it that I missed. I wanted it to be more of a travelog - when the author visited battlefields and memorials, it was interesting and well written. But the literary references and discussions, something I normally enjoy, were tedious and obscure.
Alex Marshall
There is no reason why--why the Great War started, why it consumed Europe, why it went in so long, why so many millions died, and went on dying for years and years afterwards. Geoff Dyer looks at and meditates on the memorials on the Flanders battlefields and elsewhere, and in the process reveals what seems to be the awful truth--that the war was fought so that we could remember those who fought in it. If that doesn't seem to make sense, that's because it doesn't make sense. It was insanity on a ...more
Colleen
Meandering critique of the art and poetry created to memorialize WWI. Missed the most important piece of information about the battle at the Somme: The Germans had a new machine, the Maxim Gun. This was an automatic machine gun with 600 bullets that fed into it on a thick ribbon of canvas. The object wasn't to aim and shoot the enemy but rather to spray bullets at top speed in their direction. The Germans figured out they could hide the gun and operators in bunkers, aim the gun in the air at pre ...more
Chas
I wish I'd known about this book when I directed Journey's End. Dyer is sympathetic, without being sentimental, and the result is an honest account of how we memorialize great tragedy.
Aaron
History, literary criticism, and travelogue all in one. A vitally important view of a vitally important moment for framing the remainder of the 20th century.
Deirdre Flynn
I had wanted a book that was not a re-telling of the history of WWI. This depicts the war from the perspective of how we choose to remember it in the form of a travelogue/memoir of the author who visited many of cemeteries and monuments to it. More interesting was his rumination on the major war time poets of the time whose names are often lost to a non poetry reading world including Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, whose poem Dulce et Decorum est is worth knowing. The topic is a good one, bu ...more
Kevin
An initially fascinating look at the Great War and how it was remembered and commemorated. I especially appreciated accounts of how the outlooks and attitudes of soldiers (officers beneath the level of general or colonel and the non-coms) differed from civilians: accounts of officers who let deserters rather then shoot them, the understood truce that developed between Germans and Allied soldiers on the Western front (don't engage in combat unless you have no other choice). But eventually I got t ...more
Norman Cohen
I wanted to read more by Geoff Dyer the second I put down "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi." I wasn't sure that "The Missing of the Somme" was the right book of his to go to next, and that feeling persisted throughout much of my reading of the first half of the book. Not that "The MIssing of the Somme" is not equal to his novel; they are just so very different. I was hoping for more insights into human personality, and more of Dyer's original take on human existence.

But I realized to my great
...more
Tim
The War to End All Wars didn't. At least in the United States, the vast majority of those alive today probably view World War I as the chapter in their history textbook before the Depression and World War II. And the death earlier this year of the last surviving combat veteran of the Great War reinforces that people with firsthand memories of the conflict recollection of it grow fewer each day. Yet British author Geoff Dyer suggests that even while it was being fought, "the characteristic attitu ...more
Caroline
Reading this book is profoundly depressing. It’s not the fault of the author, I find any books about this subject – the Great War – to be utterly demoralising. Yet I don’t feel the same about Hitler’s War. I think it’s because, despite all the atrocities, WW2 was at least justified to rid the world of a menace. But it feels like the dead of WW1 died for nothing. The world wasn’t a better place – in fact it had to get a whole lot worse before it got better.
There is an insufferable sadness and fu
...more
Al
Reading Geoff Dyer’s “The Missing of the Somme” I was struck by how the book complements Fussell’s “The Great War and Modern Memory” as a rumination on war and remembrance. Near the end of this short book, Dyer admits: “Reading [Fussell]—or anyone else for that matter—I am searching for what is not there, for what is missing, for what remains to be said.” And therein lies the crux of both the strength and weakness of this book; Dyer is going over well-trod ground in trying to come up with new in ...more
Mark Field
With the centenary of The Great War approaching I am sure there will be a revival of interest in literature related to it. Personally I like social histories of the individuals involved, and the untold stories of the common man and their role in history. I like Dyer, he is always interesting and has a very different perspective on the world to many others, his style is unconventional, whatever that actually is. this book is a meditation on remembrance, of the common man and the sacrifice made du ...more
Jonathan Hiskes
Dyer's notes on how England and France have remembered the 'Great War' through public memorials, poetry, and photography. His research leads him to conclude early on that the war's participants were concerned, immediately as the war started, with its remembrance. In the face of the first war to totally obliterate towns, landscapes, human bodies ... there is solace in any archive of that which has vanished. Dyer's humor and first-person travels are downplayed; this is something of a "sober academ ...more
Jerry Smith
An interesting idea. Dyer charts the memorial story of the Great War through his own eyes (as he travels) and also in a more general sense as a historial looking back nearly 100 years to the war itself and how we chose to remember it in the 20s, through to how we remember it now.

It is poignant and raises many questions about the nature of remembrance and how we view the war at all, the inadequacy of words, the platitudes (horror of war) that we use so much they have become cliches. Also examines
...more
Caroline
'm not really sure how to describe this book. It's not memoir, not history, not travelogue, not literary criticism, although it contains elements of all of those things. If I had to describe it as anything it would be as the written tracings of one man's interior meditation on the Great War, a personal elegy, of sorts.

Beautifully written, this is a book about war and memory and how we remember; or perhaps it would be more appropriate to write, how we approach Remembrance with the intention of re
...more
Bob Mobley
Geoff Dyer has written a most interesting book that profoundly changes your viewpoint and understanding about the first World War. In his book, he examines and delves into the mythology of heroism and sacrifice as being a worthy citizen of a nation state. As he points out in a dramatic and unusually poignant survey of World War I war memorials, "The Great War" ruptured the historical continuum destroying the legacy of the past. His book makes us think about the events that in our mind are commem ...more
Holly
Jan 18, 2014 Holly added it
Shelves: 2013-reads
An early book by one of my favorite writers, with that characteristic Dyer way of approaching a subject sideways, a little differently than anyone else. An exploration of Great War commemoration, from Owen and Sassoon to comparatively unknown memoirists who played off those, to present-day novels like Pat Barker's and Sebastian Faulks's that intentionally (Barker) and unintentionally (Faulks) echoed the memorists (who were themselves echoing Owen) and even Ondaatje's English Patient ("wrong war, ...more
Neil Griffin
I don't connect with this as much as I did his book of essays that recently came out. I'm very interested in WWI, but at the same time I don't have an Anglocentric perspective on it, so a lot of the knowledge that Dyer expects you to know while reading his musings were lost on me. An example is how he uses poets of the war to illustrate many of his points about memory, loss, and his other big themes. It becomes apparent that these poets are well known and taught in every British classroom, so re ...more
Andrew
In my opinion Jeff Dyer is one of the most fascinating writers working today. This is an account of how World War 1 became a model of how wars would be remembered and in fact the planning for its remembrance began as soon as it started. Given we are at the 100th anniversary of the war’s start, it’s a useful volume to turn to at the moment. As well as provoking much thought, it has one of the most beautifully written final pages I have encountered.
Jim Hale
A fascinating take on World War One and how it was memorialized. Dyer takes the art appreciation angle and his observations are utterly compelling. This slim book offers a unique perspective on the cataclysm that continues to shape our lives, if for no other reason than the statues and memorials.
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Geoff Dyer was born in Cheltenham, England, in 1958. He was educated at the local Grammar School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He is the author of four novels: Paris Trance, The Search, The Colour of Memory, and, most recently, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; a critical study of John Berger, Ways of Telling; five genre-defying titles: But Beautiful (winner of a 1992 Somerset Maugham Prize ...more
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