Owen's Reviews > Back to the Front: An Accidental Historian Walks the Trenches of World War 1

Back to the Front by Stephen O'Shea
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's review
Jul 16, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: travel, ww1, france, belgium, trench-warfare, non-fiction

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's land of Flanders is a terrific one. What an education! Fortunately for the reader, O'Shea has a competent writing hand as well, and I enjoyed the ramble he took me on.

O'Shea takes risks which, as far as this reader is concerned, nearly always come off. I was confident enough, reading the prose, to be willing to skip over any minor problems. Certainly there are no gaping wounds and nothing requiring major surgery. It seems to me I have read writing similar to this, which attempts to cut a swathe (and a swagger) through the language, while mistaking a pair of rather blunt pruning shears for a well-sharpened scythe. I congratulate this author on his use of the stone.

I can't say that it's much of a book when it comes to the war itself, but O'Shea never pretends it to be otherwise than a view at field level of what's left. If he gets a bit cross at times about some of the former silliness that took place there, who can blame him. It's a very good book and I'd be very proud to have written this.

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