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The Great War and Modern Memory

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  5,427 ratings  ·  264 reviews
The year 2000 marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most original and gripping volumes ever written about the First World War. Fussell illuminates a war that changed a generation and revolutionised the way we see the world. He explores the British experience on the western Front from 1914 to 1918, focusing on the various literary means by which it has been remembered, c ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 2nd 2000 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1975)
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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
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When Bill (aka Quo) recommended this to me a couple of weeks ago I really didn’t think I would get to it anytime soon. I also decided that it would be a military book or sorts, dealing, perhaps, with how what is remembered of a war isn’t necessarily what actually happened. If that had been what it was about, it would have been an interesting enough book, but this proved much better than I could have anticipated.

This book looks at how various (mostly British) writers wrote about the Great War and
Jul 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
This masterful book, published in 1975, provides a rewarding set of explorations in the way our experience of the war has been captured by literature and thereby filtered into our collective memory and understanding of it. Fussell focuses almost exclusively on the British experience at the Western Front, which includes, out of the 500 miles of the continuous line from the Belgian coast to Switzerland, the trenches of the Somme region of Picardy and of the Yrpes salient in Flanders. His thesis is ...more
Richard Derus
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read for a history course at Southwest Texas State in the 1980s. It was a before-and-after book: Before the Great War was retronymed "World War One" in my database, after it was not. That by itself was a huge reorientation of my thinking.

A friend called this read to mind today, and I got to thinking about historiography and its pleasures, the mental laziness of accepting the nonce-words bandied about instead of seeking out the contemporaneous views and language..."Armistice Day" instead of "Vete
Nick Milne
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A great book. Using the tools of literary criticism to reflect on WW1, Fussell digs into how the war changed consciousness. It was the war Fussell argues, that makes the modern age an age of irony. Traditional notions of the war virtues like honour, valour 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 day ...more
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Erin Deathstar
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Carol Storm
Mar 26, 2015 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
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Every war should have a guide like this, something to help later generations understand how the people who experienced the conflict interpreted their experiences. It makes me wonder how much of other wars we gloss over without grasping the context of things that mattered a great deal to the participants and shaped their actions and memories. The only other book I can think of that is as effective as The Great War and Modern Memory at interpreting soldiers and a society at war is Margaret Leech’s ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An exceptional book, especially for those of us who appreciate the interconnections Fussell makes between literature and war. With a deft hand, he pulls together literary tradition right into the middle of the fray and opens the very heart of the wound. This is the first time I've truly understood war, and I see how it had to be done through literature. This will be a very personal book -- there will be lovers and haters. I can't imagine sitting on the fence on this one.

Steven Hull
Jan 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a difficult book to read. I first began reading The Great War and Modern Memory in 1979 and quit. Then eighteen months ago I tried again, got half way through and stopped. This time before starting, I committed finishing it within a two-eek period and was successful.

Paul Fussell (1924-2012) was a refreshing anomaly. Well educated (Pomona College and Harvard), erudite, and a true scholar (British literature), he was also a U.S. Army rifle platoon leader in World War II where he earned t
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
In many ways the First World War dealt Europe ("Western civilization") a blow from which it has never truly recovered. This book is an examination of the cultural and psychological impact of the war which uses literary criticism as a tool of mapping the changes that it wrought in people's thinking and emotions. Fussell makes draws some very broad conclusions that aren't necessarily convincing given the evidence that he cites. But the arguments he makes are fascinating and enjoyable to contemplat ...more
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
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY is not a military history, it's a cultural history of World War One from the British soldier's point of view. Fascinating, and nabbed author Fussell the National Book Award back in 1975. Still very much "recommended reading" today. With chapters like "Oh, What a Literary War" and "Soldier Boys," Fussell, an American WWII combat veteran, showed the world that there was more to the Great War than the suffering it entailed -- he maintained that the war ushered in the ...more
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important books I've ever read. ...more
Paul Haspel
The Great War of 1914-18 was called “The War to End All Wars” – though it wasn’t, and it didn’t. What it did do, as we all know, is kill 17 million people. It also wounded 20 million more, turned large parts of Europe into a wasteland, and destabilized the continent’s governments in a manner that would encourage the rise of totalitarian regimes and the outbreak of an even bloodier Second World War. And according to Paul Fussell, the Great War did one other thing: it exerted virtually a controlli ...more
Jan 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
James Henderson
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
Jul 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell

The title of this book should read “The Literary Testimonies of the Great War” because if you approach Fussell’s book as a source of historiography of WWI, you likewise will be disappointed. The author has successfully compiled an annotated compilation of various poems, prose and memoirs of British soldiers whom after the War published their work in England. Names such as Wilfred Owen, Edmund Blunden, Robert Graves, and Siegfried Sassoon, their wri
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book about thirty years ago. With the 100 anniversary of World War 1 in our midst, I thought it would be good to read again.

It is a moving, erudite, and eye-opening read regarding the Great War and its impact to what was then Victorian society. How the terrible war altered that society, changed the dynamics of how people viewed the world, and set the stage for what was a terrible century for the world.

The trench scenes are excellent. The people like Robert Graves, Thomas Hardy,
Oct 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
I almost never abandon a book. And I did keep slogging toward the end despite my waning interest. Now I do believe that for a certain audience this book would be a "5", but I'm not in that audience. First you need a thorough understanding of English literature, particularly poetry. I don't. Next you have to enjoy reading pages and pages of war poetry. It made me tired and though you can "speed read" prose, poetry can only be understood slowly, thoughtfully. I tried the "speed reading" approach. ...more
Steve Mayer
Jan 07, 2015 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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