Monday, September 13, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: The War to End All Wars

The War to End All Wars: World War I. Russell Freedman. 2010. August 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 192 pages.

Those who lived through World War I called it the Great War because of its massive scale: some two dozen countries joined the conflict, which swept across continents and killed perhaps 20 million people.

I'm not as familiar with World War I as I am with World War II. I've read less nonfiction and fiction books on this war. (The fiction book that immediately comes to mind--for me--is Rilla of Ingleside. Oh, how I love Rilla of Ingleside. And last year I read Helen Frost's Crossing Stones, which was amazing.) But. When I saw that Russell Freedman's new book was on World War I, well, I knew I just had to read it.

It did not disappoint. It was wonderful. It was everything I was expecting. It was informative, fascinating, and oh-so-compelling. One of my favorite aspects of the book was Freedman's use of quotes. How he weaves together primary sources. These details make the soldiers' experiences so vivid. Heartbreaking but vivid.

Here is an example:
On the Western Front alone, more than a half million men lost their lives in 1916. Second Lieutenant Alfred Joubaire, serving with the French 124th Regiment at Verdun, made the following entry in his diary on May 23, 1916: "Humanity is mad! It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre. What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!"
That was the last entry in Alfred Joubaire's diary. That day, or possibly the next, his life was ended by a German shell. He was twenty-one. (101)
The book follows each year of the war. From the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to the peace treaty and the formation of the League of Nations. The final chapter, "Losing the Peace" takes readers from the close of World War I to the beginning of World War II showing readers how these two wars are connected.

The book is compelling and intense. Freedman's writing is informative, clear (easy-to-follow), and fascinating. He includes just the right amount of detail. I never expected to find a book about battles, strategy, and politics so interesting, so compelling.

The book has plenty of photographs (black-and-white) too. And maps.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

It sounds like a truly fascinating book. The excerpt was really moving - especially as the movie I mentioned to you earlier - Paths of Glory - was set in 1916 France. L.

Diana said...

I love how detailed and thorough your blog is. I just started my own book review blog and you've given me some great ideas for how I can improve! Thanks!