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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

If you're looking for a history book for somebody this Christmas

I've just finished this book. Most histories are written from the top down. The main chapters are devoted to the big stories. The personal details are in the footnotes.

The Beauty And The Sorrow by Peter Englund works the other way round. Sub-titled "an intimate history of the First World War", it interweaves the diaries of twenty young people who were caught up in the conflict, from Belgian pilots to English nurses with the Russian army, from gung-ho young men looking for glory to soldiers of fortune looking for a scrap, from 12-year-old German girls to stranded Polish mothers.

Wilfred Owen talked about "the pity war distills". You feel that pity on every page of this book.