The Quick and the Dead is about the effects of total war - and the resulting catastrophic loss - on individuals and their families. Rather than a straThe Quick and the Dead is about the effects of total war - and the resulting catastrophic loss - on individuals and their families. Rather than a straightforward account of how the Home Front coped during World War One, the book is something of a rag tag, an accumulation of research. The author - more of an archivist or curator - deliberately steps back and lets the first hand material - letters, diaries, memorials, published accounts - speak for itself. The result is sometimes muddling; sometimes disjointed. Family narratives weave in and out of each other in a way that can lead to a sense of incoherence in the structuring. It's only towards the end of the book that the overall historical framing starts to pull everything together.
That said - the first hand accounts themselves (often quoted here at length) are so moving, so extraordinary and so painful to read that the book feels almost like a howl of hundred year old grief. Passages are genuinely hard to read.
Van Emden's decision to remain in the background makes perfect sense as a deeply compassionate and respectful response to the lives and events he's presenting.
Excellently clear and concise narrative history. But it's Maalouf's epilogue, in which he examines the legacy of the Crusades, that is really fascinatExcellently clear and concise narrative history. But it's Maalouf's epilogue, in which he examines the legacy of the Crusades, that is really fascinating. He asks: "[For the Arab world] henceforth progress became the embodiment of 'the other.' Modernity became alien. Should cultural and religious identity be affirmed by rejecting this modernism, which the West symbolised?" Published in 1983, this analysis of Islam's 'predicament' now looks prescient. Perhaps, almost a thousand years later, we are still living in the aftermath of the Crusades....more