2009: 91. The Great War and Modern Memory

“By mid-December, 1914, British troops had been fighting on the Continent for over five months.”

The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell

This book (the 1976 National Book Award for Arts & Letters), is a cultural and literary history of the Great War, using fiction and fact to write the history of the meaning of World War One.  Part literary criticism and part social history, it is damn impressive now, and it must have blown the doors off when it was first published (unless, I am much mistaken, this sort of history was much less prevalent then than it is now).  Fussell explores the war through different tropes, from the trench to the poetry, and especially focuses on the way that this war was written about differently than any war that had gone before - the notion that the participants themselves wrote the history of the war as the utmost hell (as distinct from earlier conflicts which we remember through a gauze of heroicism, even when we know it was as bloody and shitty and miserable as anything at Ypres or Passchendale).  The only thing that keeps this from being one of the best books I’ve read this year is that I’ve read it before, and taken in its ideas that it no longer strikes me as fresh and exciting - but rather as true.  Look, you’d need to be either interested in literary criticism or in World War One to enjoy this book - it tends towards the academic, otherwise, but if you are, I could not recommend it more highly  especially if the subject is new to you (only because, if you know about WWI, you’ve probably read the authors who were influenced by Fussell, so the ideas will not seem as new).


Date/Place Completed:  July 2009; D.C.

Categories:  Non-fiction; Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017