Over the course of the year, I read a lot of history. Some books I mine for facts. Some grab me with the story. And now and then a work of history simply blows me away. The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War by Swedish historian and war correspondent Peter Englund is a blow-me-away book.
Englund writes his narrative in the present tense, giving it an unusual immediacy, and relies heavily on the letters and journals of his characters. (They are all remarkably articulate and thoughtful, even the twelve-year-old.) Much of what he presents lies outside the scope of other works on the war. Even familiar facts are presented with new twists.
Halfway between memoir and history, The Beauty and the Sorrow is both fast-paced and thought-provoking. It deserves a place beside such classics as Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, and Robert Grave’s Good-bye to All That.
Give The Beauty and the Sorrow a try, and let me know what you think.
A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers.