Unpublished material and powerful images
The First World War has come to epitomise the horror of mechanised warfare. As introducer Lyn Macdonald comments, this century-old war ‘casts a long shadow into our own lives’. Paul Fussell, who served during the Second World War, published his award-winning exploration of why and how the ‘Great War’ had become a part of our collective memory in 1975. Through a myriad of literary and artistic forms, he examines how the war ‘was generating new myth, and that myth is part of the fiber of our own lives’. Steeping himself in poetry, novels, memoirs and art, Fussell traces themes and images that have become familiar, from the innocence of the pre-war world to the ‘troglodyte’ existence of trench and dugout. As well as great writers, Fussell draws upon an enormous quantity of unpublished material from ordinary soldiers, sometimes lyrical, sometimes filled with mordant humour. Fussell recalls how he felt on finding ‘little notebooks still stiff with the mud of the Somme or Ypres … identity disks, their string dark with the sweat of some hopeful boy’. This edition contains a powerful collection of images, from aerial views of fields scarred with shell holes, to poppies from No Man’s Land.
'It is a model of intelligence and fine writing and will remain a key text in our culture for decades to come'
This book defies classification, encompassing history, literature and a deeply felt meditation on memory and culture. It is the work, as Fussell put it, of an essayist, rather than an academic. As such it remains a classic which continues to move and challenge its readers.
Longman-History Today Historical Picture Researcher of the Year Award 2015 won by Laura Canter for her work on this edition