The Great Silence

Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age

By Juliet Nicolson
(Grove Press, Hardcover, 9780802119445, 304pp.)

Publication Date: June 2010

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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Description

Juliet Nicolson pieces together colorful personalities, historic moments, and intimate details to create a social history of the two years following the Great War in Britain. Not since Nicolson’s The Perfect Summer have we seen an account that so vividly captures a nation’s psyche at a particular moment in history.
The euphoria of Armistice Day 1918 vaporizes to reveal the carnage that war has left in its wake. But from Britain’s despair emerges new life. For veterans with faces demolished in the trenches, surgeon Harold Gillies brings hope with his miraculous skin-grafting procedure. Women win the vote, skirt hems leap, and Brits forget their troubles at packed dance halls. The remains of a nameless soldier are laid to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey. “The Great Silence,” observed in memory of the countless dead, halts citizens in silent reverence.
Nicolson crafts her narrative using a lively cast of characters: from an aging butler to a pair of newlyweds, from the Prince of Wales to T.E. Lawrence, the real-life Lawrence of Arabia. The Great Silence depicts a nation fighting the forces that threaten to tear it apart and discovering the common bonds that hold it together.




NPR
Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010

The Daily Beast editor chats with Renee Montagne about the best things she's been reading lately. Brown's focus this month: surviving and thriving in adversity, from the challenges of rescuing a major corporation to the difficulties of readjusting to life after wartime. More at NPR.org

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Praise For The Great Silence

“Wonderfully vivid…When we study history we…tend to overlook the transitional periods. Juliet Nicolson has, in a short time, become the voice of these critical gaps in the fabric of British history…In another splendid work of social history, Nicolson focuses on the years between 1918 and 1920. At once grand and intimate, Nicolson takes on a captivating journey.”—The Daily Beast

“[Nicolson has] a strong narrative, an empathic interest in characters under stress and a gift for the telling moment. The large historical shifts are here, but the small scenes steal the show…eloquent.”—Catherine Holmes, The Post and Courier (Charleston)

“[A] vivid account of the aftermath of the carnage we glamorize as the Great War…[Nicolson] excels at ferreting out revealing details…[she offers] some wonderful vignettes. And the final pages of The Great Silence, which document Britain’s official tribute to the dead, are magnificent.”—Miranda Seymour, The New York Times Book Review

“Nicolson’s anecdotal history describes with facts and feeling the two years of silence and emptiness that followed the joyless armistice...a moving account…When the unknown British soldier was buried with solemn pomp in Westminster Abbey, some found the ritual stagy, sentimental, and hypocritical but most found it healing and hopeful. Nicolson ends her history with a long and loving re-creation of this collective expression of grief and gratitude. It may make you cry.”—Barbara Fisher, The Boston Globe

“This is social history at its very best, as Nicolson fascinatingly describes the fast-changing lives of everyday men and women in Britain from 1918 to 1920…Colorful characters abound in Nicolson’s historically insightful and utterly absorbing narrative.”—Chuck Leddy, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“A pearl of anecdotal history, The Great Silence is a satisfying companion to major studies of World War I and its aftermath…as Nicolson proceeds through the familiar stages of grief—denial, anger and acceptance—she gives you a deeper understanding of not only this brief period, but also how war’s sacrifices don’t end after the fighting stops.”—Ellen Emry Heltzel, The Seattle Times

“Vividly [portrays] the horrors of trench warfare and the misery of the bereaved and wounded.”—Publishers Weekly

"[Nicolson’s] approach is anecdotal and eclectic, drawing freely on contemporary diaries, letters and memoirs to create an impressionistic picture of the lull preceding the Roaring ‘20s…Nicolson is at her most effective when describing the nation’s search for a fitting public expression of its abiding sense of grief…[she] observes with poignant understatement.”—Elizabeth Lowry, The Wall Street Journal

“If, instead of looking at the great sweep of history, you take just two years, and you find out the small, everyday things that people of all stations in life were doing—the king and his manservant, the prime minister and the postman—you can convey a sense of the past that no conventional history can offer…the method enables [Nicolson] to take us into places that even people who think they know something about the period did not know existed…This is a small treasure-house of a book from a writer who understands the vital importance of small details.”—Francis Beckett, The Guardian

“Terribly moving…so full of feeling and intelligence and interest: the densely detailed, whelmingly sad story of a country with a broken heart.”—Sam Leith, The Daily Mail (UK)

“This masterful book collects random details and somehow manages to orchestrate them into a symphony. Nicolson is particularly brilliant at plucking out the significant detail within the apparently ephemeral…The Great Silence works beautifully as a mosaic of a country at a particular time, artfully constructed from all these extraordinary details plucked from far and wide…a book that contains so much that is truly poignant or fascinating or thoughtful. Nicolson’s concluding description of the final great silence—in Westminster Abbey, at the burial of the coffin of the Unknown Soldier—is piercingly beautiful.”—Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday (UK)

“Nicolson writes with such admirable pace and fluency that it would be easy to suppose that this book had been effortlessly scribbled down. It is, on the contrary, a triumph of balance and organization; a study which comprehends the cultural and the intellectual, the political and the social, and weaves them all into a lively and convincing narrative.”—Philip Ziegler, The Spectator

“Juliet Nicolson’s second book of social history confirms her as one of those writers—particularly unusual among social historians—who can spin straw into gold…Nicolson’s magpie delight in the richness of her material goes a long way to offering the reader an intoxicating peep-show of postwar society.”—Virginia Nicholson, Eastern Daily Press

“An excellent book…quite a story and a worldwide lesson of horror.”—Women on the Web

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