Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Day: Books about WWI

On the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month, in 1918, the first World War ended. In the US, today is marked as Veteran's Day, a day to honor all those who have served. Most other places, especially in Europe and the British Commonwealth, it's Remembrance Day, and honors those who have given their lives in service to their countries.


The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman. Freedman's history of WWI focuses mostly on the Western front and covers US involvement. Like most of Freedman's works, this one is impeccably designed and lavishly illustrated. A very good introduction to the war.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, translated from the German by Arthur Wesley Wheen. This classic was one of my favorites in high school. The novel follows Paul and his classmates-- recent German graduates who know the truth behind the daily cable from the front to headquarters. "All Quiet on the Western Front" means nothing new to report-- but nothing new is Paul and his friends caught in the brutality of daily life and warfare in the trenches of WWI, just trying to survive.

Leviathan y Scott Westerfield, illustrated by Keith Thompson. In this alternate take on WWI, The Allies are Darwinists, with their warships and weapons made by combining DNA strands from different animals. The Central Powers distrust the Darwinists reliance on animals, instead trusting technology and machines. All Derwyn wants to do is fly-- and she'll disguise herself as a boy to do it. Little does she know she'll end up in a war on a British warship (mostly whale) with the son of the murdered Archduke... The first in a trilogy, follow it with Behemoth


The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick. Sasha has always been able to see when and how a person is going to die. As WWI starts, she can see the battles and horror that will take many of the people she knows. When she gets a vision of her brother dying at The Somme, she pretends to be a nurse in order to go to France to find and save him.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs is a private detective who uses her knowledge of human emotion and body language to help her solve her cases. Her first case seems simple, but as she delves in deeper, she finds something sinister at a retreat meant for WWI vets who need to get away, and must confront her own lingering issues from her experiences as a battlefield nurse. The first in a series, follow it with Birds of a Feather.

Age 14 by Geert Spillebeen, translated by Terese Edelstein. Patrick Condon always was big for his age. When he was 10, he dropped out of school and told the boss he was 14, so he could work on the docks in Ballybricken with his father and older brothers. Not content with dock life, he steals his brother's name and says he's 16, so he can join the Irish guard. When WWI starts, he ups his age to 18 so he can go fight. When he is killed in Flanders field, his real age is only 14. Based on a true story.


The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry edited by George Walter. Some of the best poetry of the 20th Century was written by men in the trenches of WWI. This anthology collects these poems, as well as songs by soldiers, and poems written by those on the homefront.

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. Tommo idolizes his older brother Charlie. When Charlie joins the army in WWI, Tommo lies about his age and joins to. But the horrors of the trenches isn't the escape from tenant farming he thought it would be. It's a story of war and brotherhood, and one final act of brotherly love.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. In this sweeping epic of the poet doctor, Yuri Zhivago, the reader sees the Russo-Japanese War, WWI, and the Russian Revolution. While WWI isn't the entire focus of the this book, it's an important section and good look at the Eastern Front. I'm also including it so I can mention the movie-- the scene where the German army, armed with calvary and guns, meets the Russian army, armed with pitchforks, has always stayed with me--even more so than the sweeping snow-covered vistas.

We'll do more WWI books tomorrow.

If you want more Veteran's Day reading, look at our lists for Army Day, the Civil War, the Vietnam War, Armed Forces Day,  Memorial Day, D-Day, and World War II in Asia.

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