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United States World War I soldiers reading in the War Library Service section of the Red Cross building at Walter Reed Hospital. (The Granger Collection, New York)

Five Books on World War I

Military history, memoir, and even a novelized series make this list of can’t-miss books about the Great War

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice between Allied forces and Germany put an end to the fighting of what was then referred to as the Great War. President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11, of the following year, Armistice Day. In 1938, an act of Congress made the day a legal holiday, and by 1954, that act was amended to create Veterans Day, to honor American veterans of all wars.

Journalist Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars (2011), an account of World War I from the perspective of both hawks and doves in Great Britain, provides his picks of books to read to better understand the conflict.

Hell’s Foundations (1992), by Geoffrey Moorhouse

Of the 84 British regiments that fought in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey in 1915 and 1916, the Lancashire Fusiliers from Bury, in northern England, suffered the most casualties. The regiment lost 13,642 men in the war—1,816 in Gallipoli alone.

For journalist Geoffrey Moorhouse, the subject hit close to home. He grew up in the small mill town of Bury, and his grandfather had survived Gallipoli. In Hell’s Foundations, Moorhouse describes the town, its residents’ attitudes toward the war and the continued suffering of the soldiers who survived.

From Hochschild: A fascinating and unusual look at the war in microcosm, by showing its effects on one English town.

Testament of Youth (1933), by Vera Brittain

In 1915, Vera Brittain, then a student at the University of Oxford, enlisted as a nurse in the British Army’s Voluntary Aid Detachment. She saw the horrors of war firsthand while stationed in England, Malta and France. Wanting to write about her experiences, she initially set to work on a novel, but was discouraged by the form. She then considered publishing her actual diaries. Ultimately, however, she wrote cathartically about her life between the years 1900 and 1925 in a memoir, Testament of Youth. The memoir has been called the best-known book of a woman’s World War I experience, and is a significant work for the feminist movement and the development of autobiography as a genre.

From Hochschild: Brittain lost her brother, her fiancé and a close friend to the war, while working as a nurse herself.

Regeneration Trilogy, by Pat Barker

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