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The Great Silence

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  697 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
Juliet Nicolson pieces together colorful personalities, historic moments, and intimate details to create a social history of the two years following the Great War in Britain. Not since Nicolson's The Perfect Summer have we seen an account that so vividly captures a nation's psyche at a particular moment in history.
The euphoria of Armistice Day 1918 vaporizes to reveal th
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Published June 1st 2010 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (first published 2009)
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Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww1
I had high hopes for this book, and was looking forward to finding out more about the two years immediately after the end of World War 1 which presaged a period of enormous social change. The book takes a chronological approach, and gives almost every chapter a one word title (e.g. Wound, Hopelessness, Yearning, Resignation etc.).

For every interesting piece of information (e.g. the tragedy of the Scottish soldiers returning to the Isle of Lewis, the Spanish flu epidemic, or the development of r
This is an excellent social history of a snapshot in England's past, right after the First World War, after the death and destruction, and shows the journey as a nation attempted to come to terms with what had happened and the emptiness left behind by the loss of so many men.

I loved The Perfect Summer England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson, so this book was an auto-buy for me as soon as I spotted it in kindle version. The writing style is very similar - the author effortlessly weaves her glimpse at a snapshot of time into themes, using the quotes and
Jan 13, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Pasquale Iantosca
Shelves: european-history
Nicolson, the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and the diplomat Harold Nicolson, has written a moderately interesting social history of Britain in the first few years after World War I, when people were numb with grief but most tried to keep a stiff upper lip. Her writing method is to pile anecdotes on top of each other; the effect can be somewhat disjointed and amateurish, as if you're reading her notes directly off the index cards.

I did learn something new, but it had nothing to do with Br
Oct 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The silence that followed 'the incessant thunder' of WW I

Juliet Nicholson has that rare ability to recreate an historic period, making it so real that we feel as though we are living it. The theme of this perfectly written book is the effect that World War I had on England, more specifically the silence that fell over this island nation after the destruction of a huge majority of the men of England. But it is far more than the agony of dealing with the deaths of almost a million young men and ol
I've always been fascinated with how people coped during and after World War I. As with most wars, they thought it would end quickly. Each side convinced that the other would drop their weapons after the first shots were fired. It wasn't touched on much in this book, but the weaponry of WWI far exceeded the expectation and ability of the soldiers and doctors. You have the introduction of nerve and mustard gas. The utter futility of trench warfare and the constant barrage of shells and fear of de ...more
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have mixed feelings about this book. It was interesting, but it did not keep my attention very well and it took me a long time to finish it. I ended up skimming a great deal of the last half.

Nicolson describes the aftermath of WWI in Britain through vignettes of real people; some famous, some not. This is a very interesting way to go about it, but sometimes she switches between personalities so abruptly I found it jarring. In general I just felt it could have been put together in a much more c
Feb 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwi
There were a lot of interesting things in this book, but I felt it was poorly written. For me, there were too many little anecdotes about people or events that weren't tied in with anything else. However, parts of it were fascinating. I especially valued the parts about Harold Gillies and his pioneering plastic surgery work. I've read a little about the "gueules cassees" as the French call the soldiers whose faces were so horribly damaged, but I didn't know much about the reconstructive work tha ...more
Jan 03, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
'In 1918, 77% of households were renting – of which 1% were socially renting, while the remaining 23% were owner occupiers.' (From A Century of Home Ownership and Renting in England and Wales, Part of the 2011 Census Analysis by The Office for National Statistics.)
Most male homeowners (those over twenty one) could vote and in 1918 women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications or were married to men who did could vote as well. We now had full representation, Hooray! Suffragette
Jul 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In The Great Silence Juliet Nicolson has a way of accumulating details that made me feel as if I was living in post-WWI Britain. Using sources that included archives, letters, diaries, newspaper articles and even interviews Nicholson tells moving personal anecdotes about both well known and lesser known British citizens coping with the aftermath of a war that forever changed the social order. Every class from royal to commoner fought in the war, which helped change the way people thought. After ...more
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Where I got the book: bought retail with a Borders gift card, in a huge rush after the bankruptcy was announced. It had been on my TBR list for a while.

The Great Silence is a snapshot of Britain just after World War I. It covers the period from when the guns fell silent on November 11, 1918, to late 1920 when the body of the Unknown Soldier was interred in Westminster Abbey. It covers subjects as diverse as shell shock, plastic surgery for horrendous facial wounds, the Paris Peace Conference, bi
Aug 05, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before reading I had read some reviews about this book. Some of the reviews were saying that this book spent too much time telling stories and not enough time giving evidence on which I quit agree with. The book is really just a collection of stories of real life characters which normally would be great if the author was able to actually weave in the stories to the main point of the book. 90% of the time Nicolson would intrigue you into the telling of an interesting story of a first person accou ...more
Jill Hutchinson
This moving look at the two years immediately following the Great War truly affected me in its poignancy. The author, who has impeccable literary and political credentials, has done a magnificent job in presenting the unimaginable grief and struggle for understanding that gripped Britain as an entire generation was wiped out in the muddy trenches. She examines the sorrow of all classes of the population, from the aristocracy to the shop keeper, as they individually and collectively attempted to ...more
Feb 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brit-lit
Brilliant. This is a fantastic book. It's rare to find someone who adores research and has the gift of storytelling. Not every author is capable of adding humanity to history, creating wonderful bits of scholarly achievement and leaving the reader somewhat less charmed. Nicolson delicately pieces the tales together. It's quite a bit like one of those pictures made of thousands of smaller images. You comprehend the parts and they make up the whole without losing anything in the process.
Daniel Kukwa
Mar 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
What an excellent & satisfying read. "The Great Silence" examines the transformation of life (primarily in Britain) in the two years after the first world war...and does so using chapters labelled after stages of grief and other human emotional states. It follows a large cross-section of society, and never loses its focus on the transformative power of traumatic on the people within this society. It's effective as a secondary history resource AND effective as an epic story worthy of film.
Apr 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written in the journalistic style Nicolson employed in her other books, this one follows the English people through WWI and immediately after, documenting their struggles during the war and the changes in society that the war actually caused. Ordinary people in addition to the aristocracy are quoted, talking about the ways in which they coped with the war and its impact on everyday life. A very good read for those who are interested in British history and culture.
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, favourites, read-2014
The Great Silence explores life in Britain during the first two years after WWI, in compelling episodes and fascinating detail. Juliet Nicolson has a rare talent for writing nonfiction as richly atmospheric and evocative as a truly brilliant novel. A poignant, touching and hauntingly beautiful portrait of the time.
Kate Hewitt
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this for research purposes, for a novel I'm writing set during this time, and I found it both fascinating and incredibly poignant. There are lots of little vignettes, glimpses into the human condition and grief and loss. So many history books can seem dry, but this one isn't at all.
Not critical enough of her themes. Was 1920's plastic surgery really all that successful? Just as an example. Too muddled.
Sue Robinson
Very interesting research but lacklustre presentation.
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and well written.
Sep 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
There must be few people left in the British Isles, if any, who can remember a time before the annual November Remembrance Day commemoration was an established part of our lives. The stone memorials to the victims of the 1914-18 War have, for us, always been there. Stopping for two minutes silence on eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is something we almost take for granted. Sadly, there have been other wars to mark in the same way, and it has also become normal to use a per ...more
Aug 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The Great Silence, a history of the aftermath of WWI as experienced by the people of Great Britain is curiously relevant as we wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The issues facing returning soldiers then are the same as the issues facing returning soldiers now: disfiguring injuries, PTSD (called "shellshock" during and after WWI) and a lack of jobs. A significant difference for families is that we are much better at retrieving and returning bodies of our dead soldiers to their families ...more
A fascinating and sobering topic, but also shockingly poorly written (or edited) in places. Nicolson's message is important, as we like to think, "Then the war (whichever war it is) ended and all was happy again", when of course that isn't true. Her careful exhumation of various details of national and personal mourning and response to the shattering losses of "the Great War" is thought-provoking and sad: I read this in sessions rather than all the way through, as it got overwhelming at times! H ...more
Alison C
The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age, by Juliet Nicolson, covers just two years of British history, from the Armistice of 1918 to Armistice Day of 1920, but it packs a lot of history in that short period of time. About 1/3 of English men between the ages of 20 and 24 were killed or permanently wounded in World War I (which is not as high a percentage as France or Germany, but still), and the world that the survivors returned to was very di ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I stumbled on Juliet Nicolson's "The Great Silence" while I was wandering the aisles of one of my favorite bookstores a week ago and haven't been able to put it down since. Nicolson does a superb job of depicting the staggering but largely unvoiced grief that paralyzed Great Britain in the wake of the First World War and of the multitude of ways in which this grief was processed, both individually and collectively, during the two years immediately following the Armistice that officially brought ...more
If, as many historians have claimed, the Victorian era didn't really end until the outbreak of the First World War, then those four years of bloodshed and conflict served as both the death-throes of one era and the birth pains of another: the modern world, our world, emerging from the bloody fields of Flanders. But it didn't come into being all in one go. There was a period of 'in-between', after the shattering noise of the war and the busy, jazzy jangle of the Roaring Twenties, there was two ye ...more
Jill Meyer
Jun 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The Great Silence" is Juliet Nicholson's second book, after publishing "The Perfect Summer" in 2007. The first book was a social history of that glorious summer of 1911, the first summer after the ending of the Victorian and Edwardian ages.

With "Silence", Nicholson has returned with a meticulously written view of the two years in England after the end of "The Great War" in 1918. British soldiers returned after demob to their homes but in many cases, their lives would never be the same after fou
Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully written social history of Britain in the years immediately after World War I. The book is a series of vingettes that illustrate how the British people struggled to come to terms with the overwhelming carnage and disillusionment left by the war. The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, and crowds in London and across the country cheered and partied the night away. It didn't take long for a troubling reality -- the huge death toll, disabled veterans, economic losses, an ...more
Aug 25, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is an interesting book to me, but I'm hard-pressed to think of anyone else I would recommend it to.

It isn't, perhaps, the most cohesive book. It's interestingly arranged in an almost "five stages of death" order, but within each chapter (each "assigned" a specific month and year post-November 1918) it's a bit haphazard--Nicolson is clearly reliant on specific memoirs and she breaks them up into tidbits that she scatters over a wide swath of chapters.

I was still fascinated by the book and
Kate F
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has moved me to tears in several places, not the least of which was the account of the burial of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey on the 20th November 1920. I knew of course the bare outline of what the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier meant but I was unaware of how the idea had come about and how the day itself proceeded. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Great War I find myself wanting to know more about the conflict. Books like this give voice to a cast of characters wh ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • The Long Week-End: A Social History of Great Britain, 1918-39
  • Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War
  • The Roses of No Man's Land
  • Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940
  • Unknown Soldiers: The Story of the Missing of the First World War
  • Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant
  • Inheritance: The Story of Knole and the Sackvilles
  • The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century
  • Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England
  • Aristocrats: Power, Grace, and Decadence: Britain's Great Ruling Classes from 1066 to the Present
  • Dr. Johnson's London
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy
  • 1939: The Last Season
  • Eye-Deep In Hell: Trench Warfare In World War I
  • Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
  • After the Victorians: The Decline of Britain in the World
  • The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace
  • Forgotten Voices of the Great War
Juliet Nicolson is the author of 'The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm' and 'The Great Silence: Britain From the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age.' She read English at Oxford University and has worked in publishing in both the UK and the United States. She has two daughters, and lives with her husband in Sussex.
More about Juliet Nicolson...

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“Silence can bring with it a vacancy that in its turn craves the distraction of the human voice or the obscuring impact music. These distractions can help to stifle the terror of being abandoned to the silence of the noisy mind.” 2 likes
“I suppose you think the war is over and that we shall go back to the kind of world you lived in before,’ Lawrence snapped, in a tone of deep scorn. ‘But the war isn’t over,’ he continued, answering his own question. ‘The hate and evil is greater now than ever . . . It makes me sick to see you rejoicing like a butterfly in the last rays of the sun before the winter . . . hate will be dammed up in men’s hearts and will show itself in all sorts of ways which will be worse than war. Whatever happens there can be no peace on earth.” 0 likes
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