The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
An Intimate History of the First World War

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Synopsis

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 Peter Englund

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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.
 
Published November 8, 2011 by Vintage. 560 pages
Genres: History, War. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Beauty and the Sorrow

Kirkus Reviews

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21st, 2011 Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2011 SUDDENLY WE DIDN'T WANT TO DIE ...

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The New York Times

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It’s not so much a book about what happened, he explains, as “a book about what it was like.” It’s about “feelings, impressions, experiences and moods.” “The Beauty and the Sorrow” threads together the wartime experiences of 20 more or less unremarkable men and women, on both sides of th...

Nov 10 2011 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

The Guardian

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(The Jews in Hitler's cattle trucks were so degraded by their journey to Auschwitz that they were no longer Menschen – human beings – but animals to the slaughter.) The book is thick with other forebodings of the second world war.

Nov 11 2011 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

The Guardian

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Can people who didn't experience the first world war ever know – really know – what it was like?

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Publishers Weekly

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In a brilliant feat of retrospective journalism, leading Swedish historian Englund allows 20 individuals during WWI to convey their experiences through diaries and letters: among them, an English nurse in the Russian army, a British infantryman awarded the Victoria Cross, a German seaman, and a V...

Aug 29 2011 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

New York Journal of Books

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“Fourteen of the twenty people involved in these experiential accounts of WWI were in their twenties when the war broke out.

Nov 08 2011 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

The Telegraph

“His place of burial is unknown.” The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War Peter Englund Profile, £25, 532pp

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The Telegraph

Two new histories of the First World War gather long-hidden details of ordinary lives to provide an intimate picture of the conflict.

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The Bookbag

Summary: An 'alternative' history of the war, based on extracts from letters and diaries of twenty eyewitnesses around the world, some of whom died during the conflict while others survived.

Aug 17 2012 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

Dallas News

Peter Englund’s The Beauty and the Sorrow is a day-by-day, year-by-year account of World War I, but it also stands as a tribute to the lowly footnote.

Nov 04 2011 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

The Boston Globe

Military historians make sense of war, transforming the chaos of battle into an intelligible narrative.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

He collected the personal journals and private letters of 20 individuals who experienced World War I, and has culled these documents for a contemporary eyewitness chronicle of this war.

Nov 11 2011 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

Express

He subsequently volunteers in turn for the French, Montenegran, Serbian and Russian armies, all of which rebuff him so he joins the Turkish army and ends up fighting against the Russians and Armenians on the Caucasus front, against the British in Mesopotamia and the British again in Gaza and Jeru...

Nov 04 2011 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Englund presents the tragic and exceedingly complex events of 1914-18 not through the traditional "battles and generals" formula but by showing us key scenes in the war through the eyes of twenty individuals who took part: military and civilian, male and female, young and middle-aged.

Dec 01 2011 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

Portland Book Review

“There is a story I tried to tell…the story of men who played football…between the enemy’s line of trenches and our own…a friend of mine said, ‘What did they do that for?’ (oh yea gods, have pity on men and women who suffer from fatty degeneration of the soul!).” Englund’s mix of direct quotatio...

Apr 02 2012 | Read Full Review of The Beauty and the Sorrow: An...

New Zealand Listener

Click here for instructions on how to redeem your digital access.Or you can subscribe now to get unlimited access to listener.co.nz.More by Matthew WrightBy Philip Temple By Brian Edwards Premium ContentGet full access for just $5SubscribeMarch 11, 2013 in Money March 11, 2...

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Punchnels

In the same way, Englund’s anti-history ignores all of the rhetorical questions of an objective history – who, what, when, where, how, why – and instead gives us the human experience of the War of Nations.

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