The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War

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  • Hardcover
  • 488 pages
  • The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War
  • Peter Englund
  • English
  • 19 August 2018
  • 1846683424

About the Author: Peter Englund

Peter Englund born April 4, 1957 in Boden is a Swedish author and historian, and a member of the Swedish Academy since 2002.Englund was born into a military family in Boden and studied caretaking for two years and then humanistic subjects for another two years in secondary school He was then conscripted and served 15 months in the Swedish Army at the Norrbotten Regiment located in Boden He was politically active in his youth and supported the FNL.Englund studied archaeology, history, and theoretical philosophy at Uppsala University, completing a bachelor s degree in 1983, after which he began doctoral studies in History He was awarded his Ph.D in 1989 for his dissertation Det hotade huset English title in the dissertation abstract A House in Peril 1989 , an investigation of the worldview of the 17th century Swedish nobility During his period as a doctoral student, he had also worked for some time for the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service MUST , and the year before receiving his doctorate he had published the bestselling Poltava, a detailed description of the Battle of Poltava, where the troops of Swedish king Charles XII were defeated by the Russian army of Tsar Peter I in 1709.Englund has received the August Prize 1993 and the Selma Lagerl f Prize for Literature 2002 He was elected a member of the Swedish Academy in 2002.Englund writes non fiction books and essays, mainly about history, and especially about the Rise of Sweden as a Great Power, but also about other historical events He writes in a very accessible style, providing narrative details usually omitted in typical books about history His books have gained popularity and are translated into several languages, such as German and Czech.


The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World WarFour Devastating Years Told By Twenty Eyewitnesses Showing Not Just What The First World War Was, But What It Was Like To Live ThroughThere Are Many Books On The First World War, But Award Winning And Bestselling Historian Peter Englund Takes A Daring And Stunning New Approach Describing The Experiences Of Twenty Ordinary People From Around The World, All Now Unknown, He Explores The Everyday Aspects Of War Not Only The Tragedy And Horror, But Also The Absurdity, Monotony And Even Beauty Two Of These Twenty Will Perish, Two Will Become Prisoners Of War, Two Will Become Celebrated Heroes And Two Others End Up As Physical Wrecks One Of Them Goes Mad, Another Will Never Hear A Shot FiredFollowing Soldiers And Sailors, Nurses And Government Workers, From Britain, Russia, Germany, Australia And South America And In Theatres Of War Often Neglected By Major Histories On The Period Englund Reconstructs Their Feelings, Impressions, Experiences And Moods This Is A Piece Of Anti History It Brings This Epoch Making Event Back To Its Smallest Component, The Individual

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10 thoughts on “The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War

  1. Matt says:

    For obvious reasons, writers and historians usually approach history from the top down The focus is on the kings and emperors and presidents and field marshals and generals who make the big decisions that set the dominoes falling To be sure, any writer worth his salt will throw in a few viewpoints from the common man, for a bit of color mainly, though, history is told through the eyes of the fellows atop the organizational flowchart.This is all well and good if your sole object in reading a h For obvious reasons, writers and historians usually approach history from the top down The focus is on the kings and emperors and presidents and field marshals and generals who make the big decisions that set the dominoes falling To be sure, any writer worth his salt will throw in a few viewpoints from the common man, for a bit of color mainly, though, history is told through the eyes of the fellows atop the organizational flowchart.This is all well and good if your sole object in reading a history book is to learn, in broad strokes, what happened I ve always been of a mind, though, that history isthan a timeline, or a recounting, or a description of abstract political cultural socioeconomic movements It is the story of normal people in extraordinary times The central conceit of Peter Englund s The Beauty and the Sorrow is to upend the usual construct and give us a history as told from the ground floor As the subtitle states, this is an intimate history of World War I.To that end, he has chosen to follow the lives of twenty men and women throughout the cataclysm of the Great War With a couple exceptions the glaring one being famed Belgium fighter ace Willy Coppens these individuals come to us unknown They are from thirteen different countries They are soldiers, sailors, nurses, politicians, and civilians fleeing an oncoming army Some of them see battle others never fire a shot still others are far away from the front lines.Englund divides his book into five chapters one chapter for each year of the war, from 1914 1918 as well as a concluding chapter that sort of attempts to tie up loose ends At the start of each chapter is a broad chronology of major events taking place that year The chapters themselves are constructed much like a diary There will be a heading with the date, and then a short introduction telling you which character is involved, where that person is, and what he she is doing Englund does his best to minimize his own presence He writes in the present tense again, mimicking a diary or journal and maintains the oft constricted viewpoint of his chosen character, referring geopolitical contexts and broader explanations to footnotes.The prose is oddly lifeless At first, I attributed this to the translation from Swedish to English Upon further reflection, though, I think it was intentional When Englund directly quotes his characters, their words often leap off the page with piercing details, exceptional insights, and flashes of real elegance In keeping his own writing minimalist and uninflected, I think Englund was just staying out of the way For instance, at the beginning of 1918, we meet up with Pal Kelemen, a twenty year old Austro Hungarian cavalryman He watches an Italian bomber crash By the time I get there the body of the Italian flying captain, killed by a machine gun bullet, is laid out on the turf beside the plane The Italian officer is clad in a full leather suit, his faultless elegance disturbed only by the angle at which his cap is crushed over his clean shaven face A fine worked silver wrist watch ticks on unshaken and the whole body stretched out at ease seems to be only sleeping.We search his pockets his portfolio is handed to me Besides letters, banknotes, slips of paper, there is a double folded card in a hard black binding Season tickets to the circus, Verona Here on this barren, shell plowed field the circus is just a printed name on a piece of cardboard The glittering lamps at the base of the box rows, the grubbed up carpet of the sawdust, the snapping whip of the ringmaster, the bareback rider with her tulle skirt and flashing jewels, and all the other endless delights of youth have been left behind forever by one young life I should like to slide the card back under the bloodstained shirt so that, as in pagan times when everything that served the hero followed him into the tomb, this property of his also should disappear from the face of the earth and there should be at least one place left empty in his memory, in the circus in Verona.When you have diarists and memoirists of such talent, it is perhaps wise to let them take center stage Despite the obvious literary talents of the people Englund chose to follow, I found the book uneven Certain of the characters make a lasting impression just as many, however, flit in and out of the narrative, leaving just the faintest mark And frankly, some of the stories told in this book are barely worth the mention Certainly, they illustrate a point that a soldier s life is just as much boredom as terror and excitement but that doesn t necessarily make for thrilling reading Despite following a number of soldiers, The Beauty and the Sorrow is an unusual World War I book in that battles are the last thing on its mind They are few are far between and described only fleetingly by the participants This is only an observation, not a critique Anyone looking for first person accounts of trench warfare can easily pick up Storm of Steel When I finished The Beauty and the Sorrow, my overall impression was one of respect, rather than love I really liked the idea of a pointillist view of World War I History as seen through a pinhole No generals No politicians No talk of strategy Rather, a book that focused on the details the fear and sadness of fleeing your home the youthful pride of putting on a uniform and marching off to war the mundane details about what people ate for dinner in 1916 However much I liked the concept, I was not won over by the execution In distributing the stories across twenty people and thirteen nationalities Englund provided breadth, but sacrificed depth and detail and also left me trying to remember who was who Moreover, Englund s understated style of writing, while a humble choice, also kept me at arm s length As I noted before, he billed this book as an intimate history, but his style belies that assertion This was a book that I wanted to cuddle with, but could not I was kept at bay by the dry, often inert presentation Lately, I ve been on a real World War I kick After consuming a couple general histories, and then digging into a detailed study of the Battle of the Marne a book meant to refute arguments I didn t know existed , I found The Beauty and the Sorrow to be a bracing tonic It cleared my head of hopelessly complicated maps and strategy and gave me a nice does of humanity I m glad it was written I m glad I read it It just fell short of the emotional jolt I initially expected

  2. Adam says:

    Beauty and the Sorrow is appropriate in both its slightly pretentious title and its subtitle as an intimate history of the first world war Pretentious may be the wrong word as this book is very much filled with beauty and with much, much sorrow Tracing about twenty lives through the events of those years and revealing history only as it affect each of them though Englund does provide witty and informed footnotes to hint at wider events , this is an ideal fusing of historical narrative and Beauty and the Sorrow is appropriate in both its slightly pretentious title and its subtitle as an intimate history of the first world war Pretentious may be the wrong word as this book is very much filled with beauty and with much, much sorrow Tracing about twenty lives through the events of those years and revealing history only as it affect each of them though Englund does provide witty and informed footnotes to hint at wider events , this is an ideal fusing of historical narrative and novelistic technique The non fiction novel that was so sought in the sixties realized Lightness of style and clearheaded prose in translation makes this addictively readable Most discussion and portrayal of this war is dominated by the grim imagery of the western front, while not ignored in the book, a wider canvas is employed giving all the forgotten theaters their due, such as the destruction of Serbia, genocide of the Armenians, the terror of the Zeppelin bombing raids,the eastern front, the horrific siege of Kut, bloody battle for Gaza, and the absurd guerilla campaign in Africa The cast of characters is varied and provides piece by piece a very epic and thorough history without losing it s, for lack of a better word, intimacy Whatever name you lay on this war, for all its cruelty and pointlessness, birthed the twentieth century and thus the world we inherited Coming up on the hundredth year anniversary of its start I m sure it will be much discussed, and this book should make the top shelf of books to turn to A marvelous piece of history and literature

  3. Cathy says:

    I can t explain the rave reviews on this one The reporting is definitely there The author has found 20 ordinary, but interesting, people engaged at some level in World War I They come from all sides of the conflict no Turks but he s got a S American who fought for the Ottoman Empire It looks like quite a bit of the material comes from memoirs that would have been lost in some dusty old library if they ever made it to one to begin with Unfortunately, the writer just forgot to wr I can t explain the rave reviews on this one The reporting is definitely there The author has found 20 ordinary, but interesting, people engaged at some level in World War I They come from all sides of the conflict no Turks but he s got a S American who fought for the Ottoman Empire It looks like quite a bit of the material comes from memoirs that would have been lost in some dusty old library if they ever made it to one to begin with Unfortunately, the writer just forgot to write The book takes the reader through the war years with short journal entry style chapters Cutting to the chase is definitely not Mr Englund s style We re subjected to 500 pages of paragraphs that start with Early autumn, clear skies , A light mist Hazy sunshine or Nothing of any importance has occurred Particularly aggravating is that some of the best material is in the footnotes long, footnotes that sometimes take up half the page in itty, bitty type The author also makes the mistake of quoting some of the memoir writers at length This is when you realize that while these people led interesting lives during the war, their turgid prose was probably one reason we haven t heard of them today We don t have any Primo Levi s in the bunch.I stuck it out because I was curious about the people but I wish the author had spenttime editing and crafting the narrative

  4. Christine says:

    Disclaimer I won this book in a giveaway sponsored by Regal Literary Englund s book isn t a history of the First World War, at least not a normal history Following the experiences of twenty nobodies, The Beauty and the Sorrow showcases the experience of people during the war, from the battlefields to the nursing stations to the home front His cast is diverse, Germans, Brits, Americans, nurses, one house wife, and a schoolgirl The book is organized by year and jumps around The people come a Disclaimer I won this book in a giveaway sponsored by Regal Literary Englund s book isn t a history of the First World War, at least not a normal history Following the experiences of twenty nobodies, The Beauty and the Sorrow showcases the experience of people during the war, from the battlefields to the nursing stations to the home front His cast is diverse, Germans, Brits, Americans, nurses, one house wife, and a schoolgirl The book is organized by year and jumps around The people come and go and not everyone makes it The book isabout personal experience than the general battle, though Englund does include a timeline for each year So the reader discovers what the nurses went through or hears about cavalry man who had to see to the death of his horse and then eat the gelding If works such as Tuchman s give you a global scope, this is intimate, and farimportant because of that In the 100 years since the War, it is important that we remember it simply because of how it changed everything IN the US, we don t really think about it, and while the National Mall in DC does boast a WW I memorial, it is for those from the area, not a National memorial like for the other wars This book deals with the war in a farintimate way, and does not romanticize it in a way that certain televised dramas do Highly recommended for history bluffs Highly recommended for everyone

  5. Harry Maier says:

    Englund treats us to a masterful perspectival account of WW I The narrative takes the form of a chronologically arranged set of diary entries from 20 different people who experienced the war, whether as soldiers, politicians, mothers, children, nurses etc Englund offers an account that is thus non reductive and that avoids cliches and moralizing There is a kind of sleight of hand in the way Englund summarizes diary entries on the way toward quoting parts of them This has a tendency to masque Englund treats us to a masterful perspectival account of WW I The narrative takes the form of a chronologically arranged set of diary entries from 20 different people who experienced the war, whether as soldiers, politicians, mothers, children, nurses etc Englund offers an account that is thus non reductive and that avoids cliches and moralizing There is a kind of sleight of hand in the way Englund summarizes diary entries on the way toward quoting parts of them This has a tendency to masque Englund s narration since selection, as is will known in historiography, is always value laden History is as much the history we tell as what happened and some would argue history is ever only the history we chose Still, Englund honours an irreducible event by asking us to pause and see events unfold through the eyes of those the diaries represent This is not a patriot s history Nor is it an objector s one It is an account that asks us to take time to ponder a conflict whose aftershocks we still experience in our contemporary global order It asks us to look down the well of history and see there an entire generation of 20 30 year olds wiped out in four years, a conflict so gruesome and so massive that its conclusion in 1918, as the term armistice implies, did not spell the end of the global conflict, only a hiatus while everyone waited forpeople to be born, to grow up, and to fight Anyone who has a romantic view of war should read this book what would it mean to drown in mud, to use cadavers or bits of them as barricades to hide behind to avoid being gunned down by machine guns, to starve to death at home to support a war no one believed in any , to fall prey to insane generals and maniacal rulers Englund does not answer these questions for us, he shows rather than tells, and this is what makes this such a masterful account He does not wrap himself in the flag, nor does he put daisies in the barrels of guns He honours history by asking us to take possession of it in these accounts of people whose lives were made and unmade in a terrible conflict This is a great book

  6. Jaylia3 says:

    Drawn from personal journals and letters, The Beauty and The Sorrow interweaves poignant and harrowing stories of twenty ordinary people with widely varying backgrounds, nationalities and occupations, who are all caught up in the turmoil of World War I The individuals include an English nurse in Russia, a 12 year old German girl, an Australian army engineer, a Venezuelan cavalryman in the Ottoman army, and an American opera singer married to a Polish aristocrat The number of entries for each p Drawn from personal journals and letters, The Beauty and The Sorrow interweaves poignant and harrowing stories of twenty ordinary people with widely varying backgrounds, nationalities and occupations, who are all caught up in the turmoil of World War I The individuals include an English nurse in Russia, a 12 year old German girl, an Australian army engineer, a Venezuelan cavalryman in the Ottoman army, and an American opera singer married to a Polish aristocrat The number of entries for each person varies, and their stories are intermingled, presented in the order that they happened, but I found I enjoyed the bookwhen I untangled some of the accounts using the index so I could follow the people I was most interested in straight through from start to finish Every chapter covers one year of the war, and begins with a chronological list of that year s battles and invasions Some of the source materials the author draws on are available in their entirety fromor through Google Books, and the ones I ve perused so far are well worth looking up if you wantinformation I ve especially enjoyed the book When the Prussians Came to Poland, written by Laura Turczynowicz, the American opera singer who was living in Poland with her family and leading a Downton Abbey like life of luxury when the war began As the Downton Abbey characters did, Laura abandoned some of her aristocratic lifestyle to tend to gravely wounded soldiers, but unlike her fictional British counterparts Laura s grand family home had to be abruptly abandoned when it became the front line of battle, and she and her children escaped with littlethan their lives

  7. Michael C. says:

    Totally different perspective of the Great War told through the experiences of twenty unique participants woven gracefully together by the author.

  8. Karyl says:

    One hundred years ago and some change , the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Yugoslav nationalist, and it was this seemingly small event that touched off one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern history, that of World War I I have the sense that a lot of people have largely forgotten World War I We still have veterans alive that fought in World War II, and there was a clear evil we were fighting in that war But all of the people who fought in the First World War and One hundred years ago and some change , the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Yugoslav nationalist, and it was this seemingly small event that touched off one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern history, that of World War I I have the sense that a lot of people have largely forgotten World War I We still have veterans alive that fought in World War II, and there was a clear evil we were fighting in that war But all of the people who fought in the First World War and most of the people who had to endure a war torn Europe are dead now, and we tend to forget that it was Germany s loss in the WWI that set Adolf Hitler on his mad rise to power which ultimately turned into WWII Peter Englund has chosen to show us not the tactics or battle formations or even the lives of the most important characters of WWI, but instead the most ordinary of people We see the war through the eyes of the soldiers, the sailors, the nurses, people drawn from all over the world to fight for their colonial rulers, or people who simply felt they needed to be part of this big adventure We see the tedium of life in the trenches, of the horror of seeing men obliterated next to you, of dealing with the stench of rotting bodies when you re trying to eat a meal to keep your strength up We see the hardships of the people left behind, the refusal of the governments to allow the media to publish the reality of losses, the lack of food and milk and diapers and coffee for the average person We also see the class system that still existed in some of the armies, in which the common soldiers have barely enough to eat but the officers are still eating four course dinners.While it is fascinating to see how the long years of war affecting the common man, this book can be frustrating and long at times It s difficult to keep all twenty characters straight, and when Englund does devolve into strategy and tactics of the war, it was difficult for those details to sink into my brain I do appreciate that Englund composed it almost like a communal diary, going chronologically, but at the same time, I have to wonder if it would have beeneffective to concentrate on one person at a time.Highly recommend this book to people who enjoy history, and especially the history of the ordinary person But just keep in mind it is really long and can be dry at times

  9. Alexandra says:

    It was great, if you love history or wars which I do It had a lot of detail I mean, right down to the way things sounded when they exploded or whizzed past your head Or the way decaying bodies smelled The details were sometimes hard to read I mean, it s war Things are horrible But It followed the lives of several people throughout the war It used their diaries and letters to loved ones to follow their lives during the war Some were part of the army for various nations, some were nur It was great, if you love history or wars which I do It had a lot of detail I mean, right down to the way things sounded when they exploded or whizzed past your head Or the way decaying bodies smelled The details were sometimes hard to read I mean, it s war Things are horrible But It followed the lives of several people throughout the war It used their diaries and letters to loved ones to follow their lives during the war Some were part of the army for various nations, some were nurses, doctors, pilots Some were average people Some died or went crazy Others fell in love and got engaged I loved it I wish it had been assigned in school Reading what each person was thinking gives different perspectives on the war The youngest person was 12, and the oldest was 49, so it really covered a lot of emotions and thoughts If anyone enjoys history, I would highly suggest this book.My biggest complaint is that it lists every person on one page in the beginning of the book their age, what they do and where they do it Now, it gets confusing when reading the book because the book is arranged in chronological order, so it shows every diary or letter from that day for every person in the book if they wrote that day It gets confusing because it only gives their name, and remembering each person can be quite challenging I had to bookmark the page in the beginning of the book so I could go back each time someone wrote so I could remember where they are from and what they do Too many footnotes too

  10. Lindsey says:

    After Birdsong I wanted to readabout World War I, but whereas that novel had been solely about the western front, this history described every aspect of the war I especially enjoyed the sections on East Africa and Mesopotamia, as I had very little prior knowledge about the fighting there The book also uses an unusual and highly effective format basically, the author follows twenty individuals using their diaries, letters, and other sources, and as the years march from 1914 18, we read After Birdsong I wanted to readabout World War I, but whereas that novel had been solely about the western front, this history described every aspect of the war I especially enjoyed the sections on East Africa and Mesopotamia, as I had very little prior knowledge about the fighting there The book also uses an unusual and highly effective format basically, the author follows twenty individuals using their diaries, letters, and other sources, and as the years march from 1914 18, we read small vignettes of what each of them is experiencing in their daily life What makes this book so unique is that the cast of characters includes both men and women ranging in age from about 12 55, who come from all over Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Russia, Venezuela, Australia, the U.S., Italy, andSome of these people are civilians, some are soldiers, and some are medics, but they are all changed irrevocably by the war I ll admit I expected it to be a bit of a slog, but it moved surprisingly quickly, due in part to Englund s decision to write most of the text himself and only use direct quotes where they made a momentvivid This editing kept the structure flowing smoothly, rather than getting hung up on minor details in the primary documents, like some other historical works I ve read A fascinating book overall and highly recommended