The Beauty and the Sorrow

An Intimate History of the First World War

By Peter Englund; Peter Graves (Translator)
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307593863, 560pp.)

Publication Date: November 8, 2011

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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Description

In this masterly, highly original narrative history, Peter Englund takes a revelatory new approach to the history of World War I, magnifying its least examined, most stirring component: the experiences of the average man and woman—not only the tragedy and horror but also the absurdity and even, at times, the beauty.
 
The twenty people from whose journals and letters Englund draws are from Belgium, Denmark, and France; Great Britain, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Italy, Australia, and New Zealand; Russia, Venezuela, and the United States. There is a young man in the British army infantry who had been considering emigrating until the war offered him its “grand promise of change” and a middle-aged French civil servant, a socialist and writer whose “faith simply crumbled” at the outbreak of war. There is a twelve-year-old German girl thrilled with the news of the army’s victories because it means that she and her classmates are allowed to shout and scream at school. There is an American woman married to a Polish aristocrat, living a life of quiet luxury when the war begins but who will be moved, ultimately, to declare: Looking Death in the eyes, one loses the fear of Him. From field surgeon to nurse to fighter pilot, some are on the Western Front, others in the Balkans, East Africa, Mesopotamia. Two will die, one will never hear a shot fired; some will become prisoners of war, others will be celebrated as heroes. But despite their various war-time occupations and fates, genders and nationalities, they will be united by their involvement—witting or otherwise—in The Great, and terrible, War.
 
A brilliant mosaic of perspectives that moves between the home front and the front lines, The Beauty and the Sorrow reconstructs the feelings, impressions, experiences, and shifting spirits of these twenty particular people, allowing them to speak not only for themselves but also for all those who were in some way shaped by the war, but whose voices have been forgotten, rejected, or simply remained unheard.




About the Author

Peter Englund is a Swedish historian, who has received numerous prizes in his own country and whose works have been translated into fifteen languages. He has also been working as a war correspondent in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Englund is a member of the Swedish Academy (which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature), and in 2008 was appointed its new permanent secretary, an office he still holds.




Praise For The Beauty and the Sorrow

“Intense and bighearted . . . The best books about World War I have often been oblique, like Paul Fussell’s Great War and Modern Memory, or novels, like Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, rather than comprehensive histories. Englund’s volume joins an unconventional pantheon . . . The accounts of [these] lives can be terrifying or stirring, but are most fully alive in Englund’s accumulation of small moments, stray details . . . His book has the most devastating ending I can remember in a piece of nonfiction.”
The New York Times

“A wonderfully wide and rich mosaic of personal experience from the First World War.”
—Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad and D-Day: The Battle for Normandy
 
“Powerful and compelling . . . Of the many books about the First World War this is among the most strikingly original . . . Almost every page of Englund’s book is fresh and revelatory.”
Daily Express (UK)
 
“Englund covers a lot of ground in The Beauty and the Sorrow, geographically, topically, and in point of view . . . Englund succeeds in his goal to humanize the war.”
Dallas Morning News

“Englund frees individual experience from the collective cloak of history and geography [in] this extraordinary book . . . The details build like a symphony.”
Mail on Sunday (UK)
 
“They call them the lost generation, but you’ll find their story here.”
New York Post

“A brilliant feat of retrospective journalism . . . Englund’s deft collation provides insights into more than the carnage . . . This book fleshes out the grim statistics of the Great War . . . The eloquence of everyday participants will link the reader to the era when the origins of the ensuing century’s conflicts became apparent.”
 —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“An exquisite book . . . There are adventures and battles, of course, but also many moments of quiet contemplation with closely observed details of street scenes, restaurants, railway stations, and deserted battlefields . . . By turns pithy, lyrical, colorful, poignant, and endlessly absorbing.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)
 
“[There are] hundreds of eerie, moving, upsetting, and surprising incidents from the First World War within this extraordinary book . . . Like a great novel, The Beauty and the Sorrow manages to be both more universal and more particular [than other books on WWI]. Peter Englund frees individual experience from the collective cloak of history and geography . . . The details build like a symphony . . . Englund writes with a calm clarity, beautifully conveyed by his translator.”
Mail on Sunday (5 stars, UK)
 
“Anthologies of war reminiscences are often lazy stuff, mere compilations of extracted passages from diaries and letters . . . [But] Englund’s choice of witnesses and his use of their material are admirably judged. This is an anthology well above the common run . . . This is a book about men and women living at the outer edge of human experience.”
—Max Hastings, Sunday Times (UK)

“Peter Englund is one of the finest writers of our time on the tactics, the killing and the psychology of war. In The Beauty and the Sorrow he superbly and humanely brings to life all the tragedy, chaos, death and gunsmoke of battle.”
—Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin and Young Stalin
 
“The book is a masterpiece . . . as entertaining as [it is] thrilling. Peter Englund has truly outdone himself.”
Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden)
 
“Magisterial . . . The Great War from the inside. As vivid as real life. Never has there been such an up-close, intimate and at the same time harrowing encounter with the military aspects of this war. No one has ever told World War I like Peter Englund tells it.”
El País (Spain)
 
“A magnificent book: you can feel their breathing on your skin. So near, so overwhelming.”
—Geert Mak, author of In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century
 
The Beauty and Sorrow has given me the most intense reading experience [I’ve had] in a very long time. Englund is a genius in portraying scenes, in which his actors perform with great intensity, in an often poetic way.”
Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)
 
“Englund’s work is exquisite. As a historian, his skill is astonishing. But the prose—spare, painstakingly detailed and intimate—is the work of another Englund, of an extremely powerful storyteller.”
Qué Leer (Spain)
 
“Until now I had only read two books on the First World War that I found absolutely essential. The first is Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The second is The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, an intelligent work by an accomplished historian. The Beauty and the Sorrow is a good complement to these two.”
La Vanguardia, Culturas (Spain)
 
 
 
 

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