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Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  201 ratings  ·  39 reviews
Historian and Bram Stoker Award nominee W. Scott Poole traces the confluence of history, technology, and art that gave us modern horror films and literature

In the early twentieth century, World War I was the most devastating event humanity had yet experienced. New machines of war left tens of millions killed or wounded in the most grotesque
of ways. The Great War
Kindle Edition
Published October 16th 2018 by Counterpoint
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mark monday
Sep 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: guidebooks
As a portrait of the many horrors of World Wars I & II, the book succeeds admirably. Poole is an exciting and excitable writer; his outrage at the bloodshed and senseless deaths of these wars is palpable. Many of the passages made me recall some of my favorite history teachers, and how their enthusiasm for their subjects made learning a treat. Subjects treated personally, and with emotion, are subjects that are often made all the more memorable. A dispassionate understanding of the reasons b ...more
Bill Kerwin
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: criticism, horror, history

Veterans Day 2018. As always, I emailed my friend the Colonel to tell him “thanks for your service” and to let him know I was thinking of him. But this time I added something else: “And I’m also thinking of Ypres, the Marne, the Somme, Belleau Wood . . .” What I didn’t tell him was that those memorable battles were on my mind not only because Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, but because I had recently finished reading W. Scott Poole’s Wasteland: the Great War and the Origins of
Richard Derus
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: returned, borrowed
11/11/19 UPDATE There was a Reddit AMA with the author today. It's a long thread but worthwhile reading.

I made 65 notes on this book and never wrote the review! That's terrible. A waste of note-taking not to use them for their intended purpose.

I enjoyed this fluid, fluent recounting of the modern horror genre's explosion after the nightmarish experience of WWI. The rise of the film industry, its ability to offer a new take on the Gothic tale and meld it to the lived reality of mil
Sadie Hartmann Mother Horror
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scream-mag
Review Originally in SCREAM Magazine 2018

“Horror as an art form, as escape, as a rendition of what had just happened, became the only possible response for a world that could not stop screaming.” W. Scott Poole

I don’t read a lot of non fiction. I find that in order to get the most out of my recreational reading time, I like to spend hours immersed in the fictional horrors of our talented pool of horror authors authors available to us today.
However, when I saw that t
Dominique Lamssies
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've been waiting for someone to write this book for a long time and I'm glad this is what we got.

In Wasteland, W. Scott Poole takes us through the highlights of art forms and movements in the interwar years. The book is divided into chapters that deal roughly with topics, such as fear of the corpse and what he calls "death dolls." That tends to fall away after awhile but the chapters do move chronologically. They're not entirely self contained. Most chapters have sections that focus
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Traversing Surrealism; German Expressionism; the writings of people such as T. S. Eliot & H. P. Lovecraft, and finally culminating in the Universal Horror films of the 1930s; W. Scott Poole's book THE WASTELAND is fantastic study of how "The War To End All Wars" became the foundational event in creation of modern Horror. More than just a book for fans of Stephen King, this is a must read for everyone who wonders how and why a generation's fear created the 21st century.
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The next time you hear that "horror isn't political", refer that person to this book...
Nov 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.8 Would have been five, but the structure and organization of chapters/topics was all over the place. Still, a fascinating work making solid connections between horror movies, art, and literature and the devastation of WWI. I was glad that the author covered how the creation of horror films in the era between the world wars was a mixture of warnings of the rise of Fascism and the resignation of human nature’s compulsion for self-destruction. Really excellent work, even pointing out the danger ...more
Aug 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I'm putting this on the read shelf, though I only got half way. Planning on getting back to it, just stalled out. I was intrigued by the premise but the writing just didn't grab me. Too disjointed, as if during the rough draft phase all those 3x5 cards got a bit mixed up. If you think of it as a collection of Wikipedia stubs you won't be disappointed.
Erik Graff
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Westerners
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: history
This was a surprisingly engrossing review of the western horror cinema, literature and art inspired by the European experience of WWI, with cinema, still in its infancy, receiving the most attention. Beginning with a quotation from Walter Benjamin, Poole's approach is academic without being dry, fact- and anecdote-filled without being shallow. Indeed, Poole has a point beyond his investigation of the origins of the horror genre, that being the contrast between the appropriation of the experience ...more
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thoughtful, insightful, and empathetic. If you have any interest in the interwar years, film history, horror, surrealism, and/or the history of fascism, you will likely enjoy this quite a bit. It is well written and academic without being stodgy.
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first picked up this book, I expected it to be a history of horror through the lens of WWI and WWII. However, I believe it is more accurate to say that it is a military and cultural history during the two world wars and the interwar period through the lens of horror, depicted in film, art, and literature. It traces how WWI influenced the horror genre, as well as how horror influenced society leading up to and beyond WWII. The various depictions of horror “made an eerie static noise out of ...more
Joshua Buhs
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, lit-crit, horror
The thesis is simultaneously obvious and brilliant: that modern horror is rooted in responses to the unspeakable awfulness of the Great War. Everything lines up: chronology, biography, culture. The book then spins off in other directions, some more fruitful than others--probably too much political history for this narrative. (One can feel Poole straining to stay true to his thesis while also tempted to write a cultural history of 20th century horror.) But Poole is a mostly graceful stylist, and ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book was not what I expected. The focus is less on the war itself but more on the horror genre in various presentations. That is not necessarily a bad thing, per se, but I think there must be a foundational interest in the horror genre first, rather than an interest in the history and aftermath of the war. But a very innovative approach, coupled with a compelling argument about what the war wrought. And I did learn about the horror genre (H.P. Lovecraft, for example) that made the overall wo ...more
Bryan Alexander
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nov 20, 2018 rated it liked it
I have very mixed feelings about this book. It is only fair to say that I have never enjoyed the horror genre. But the author has some important things to say about the way in which the many deaths of the first world war drove this category of literature of movies and how it was leverage by the fascists in their drive to power.

But the chapter on horror and fascism I found compelling and timely. He suggests that fascism is about art more than politics and that culture always trumps po
Shannon A
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A book I never really thought I would read as I don't care for horror. I flew through the pages.
This is one of the most intriguing histories of war and how it's influence has reached into every aspect of our lives to this day.
I simply could not put this book down!
Shannon Alden, Literati Bookstore
Lars Kokemüller
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Politics, history, art, horror, 1920 Europe - Whoever DOESN’T live this book (despite its slightly flawed theses) can never be a friend of mine.
Marco Subias
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This excellent, groundbreaking work argues that World War One not only defined the shape of horror fiction after the conflict and that it continues to do so today, but that the war essentially created the horror genre as we know it. Some horror fans know James Whale's films owe much to his military service, but Wasteland shows how the horrific martial experiences of many authors, painters, and directors caused them to create art as a reaction of the war’s very real horror. Wasteland should also ...more
Lance Eaton
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Poole's work is a fascinating study of modern horror as part byproduct of World War I. Drawing upon a host of creators in Europe and the Americas, he explores how so much of their work in horror, directly and indirectly was derived from the devastation, destruction, and violence that came with the war. He links much of the body horror (Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Nosferatu) with the returning of soldiers from war with missing body parts and scarred bodies; kept alive when they might prev ...more
Dec 06, 2018 rated it liked it
I want to make it very clear that I greatly enjoyed this book. It’s absurdly fascinating to anyone interested in cultural history, and I found his arguments very compelling, especially as he remarks that, in many ways, the Great War still continues today. I’ve never read a nonfiction history that was as humorous or as casual as this, and I greatly enjoyed that as well - Poole writes like a human being, like this is the coolest thing he’s ever learned and he just REALLY wants to talk about it. I ...more
Federico Nemmi
Dec 10, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a very enjoyable book. Well written, well sourced and extremely interesting. Furthermore, it gave me a craving for going back and watch even more silent and classic horror flicks (and read Machen). I give only 3 stars because in my opinion the book fails in convincing of the main thesis of the author. Although some of the arguments made by Poole are perfectly reasonable I think that some other (e.g. the link between Lovecraft cosmic horror and the great war) are pushed a little bit too f ...more
Matt Smith
Aug 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
An essential study of the origins of modern horror in WWI. Delves into the history of mass slaughter that began during the Great War and makes many salient connections across modern art, literature, cinema, and philosophy into the early days of WWII. Loses a little steam toward the end but for four and a half chapters it’s smart, fresh, and comprehensive. A must for cultural historians, media scholars, or simply genre fans.
Intesting and informative, had some moments of diversity in discussions of how women and people of color have been historically presented in horror but not enough. Overall cool content and I'd really dig a read/watch list from the book but not super well written. Yes well researched, just a dry read most of the time; renewed thinking I'd read more but alas I let it peter out, meh.
Elizabeth Judd Taylor
Perhaps a 4.5.
How did the First World War influence modern horror in movies, art, and literature? That’s what this book delves into, mainly in regards to movies, but with thoughtful discussion about the other mediums as well. This is a really good book about the psyche of the 20th century. Highly recommended.
David Renfrow
Nov 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It is an interesting blend of horror, philosophy and history. Traces the roots of modern horror from the trenches of the First World War to the mid century and beyond. Highly reccomend.
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting look at how World War I influenced horror in film, art and literature. Poole traces the interactions between the mediums and how they responded to the real life horror wrought across Europe and the rest of the world.
Nov 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
I really wanted to enjoy this book but I felt like the author talked in circles. I was also wishing for a deeper exploration of the ties of the horror genre and war than a basic “men saw people die therefore they could relate to watching men on screen see people die” narrative.
Walter Maier
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting book. At times, it felt like a college textbook, but the subject was quite compelling. It discusses authors, film directors, some of whom I had never heard of, and gave me some suggestions for future reading or viewing.
I was really fascinated by the premise and was looking forward to this, but I can't finish it. It's just too dry to get through. Very disappointing.
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