Hadrian's Reviews > The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War

The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
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's review
Dec 07, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: history, nonfiction, war
Read in December, 2011

Out of the many millions of people who have served, in some sense, during the First World War, the last one passed away today (7 Feb 2012) - a little old lady, aged 110, who served as a waitress to the British Royal Air Force. Now the last fragments of war shall fade from memory, and into history.

And this emphasizes the importance of this new narrative history. It follows the lives of some 20 individuals, each offering various perspectives and detailing new incidents about the war - a German schoolgirl in one chapter, a Venezuelan man-at-arms for the Ottoman Empire, a French civil servant, a Russian engineer, and so forth. The 'big names' of history get a passing mention at best. Paul von Hindenburg is met by a civilian, who finds him to be a bit stuffy and proud of himself. Instead, you get a long slow look of life at the bottom. One gets a sense of the unending tedium of horror, the easiness with which life is destroyed, and rots away.

In a way, I'm morbidly glad that this collection of stories is selling well, and is critically acclaimed. We all need a reminder about this 'war to end all wars', and how wars are their own cause and destruction, and why none should ever wish for them.
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06/10/2016 marked as: read

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