Upgrade to the Flash 9 viewer for enhanced content, including the ability to browse & search through your favorite titles.
Click here to learn more!
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.
“An exquisite book . . . There are adventures and battles, of course, but also many moments of quiet contemplation with closely observed details of street scenes, restaurants, railway stations, and deserted battlefields . . . By turns pithy, lyrical, colorful, poignant, and endlessly absorbing.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“A brilliant feat of retrospective journalism . . . Englund’s deft collation provides insights into more than the carnage. . . . This book fleshes out the grim statistics of the Great War. . . . The eloquence of everyday participants will link the reader to the era when the origins of the ensuing century’s conflicts became apparent.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
“A magnificent book: you can feel their breathing on your skin. So near, so overwhelming.” —Geert Mak, author of In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century
“A wonderfully wide and rich mosaic of personal experience from the First World War.” —Antony Beevor
“A haunting mosaic of the experiences of war . . . Lingers in the memory long after the final page.” —Juliet Gardiner, author of The Blitz
“Peter Englund is one of the finest writers of our time on the tactics, the killing and the psychology of war. In The Beauty and the Sorrow he superbly and humanely brings to life all the tragedy, chaos, death and gunsmoke of battle.” —Simon Sebag Montefiore
“[There are] hundreds of eerie, moving, upsetting, and surprising incidents from the First World War within this extraordinary book. . . . Like a great novel, The Beauty and the Sorrow manages to be both more universal and more particular [than other books on WWI]. Peter Englund frees individual experience from the collective cloak of history and geography. . . . The details build like a symphony . . . Englund writes with a calm clarity, beautifully conveyed by his translator.” —Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday (5 stars)
“Anthologies of war reminiscences are often lazy stuff, mere compilations of extracted passages from diaries and letters. . . . [But] Englund’s choice of witnesses and his use of their material are admirably judged. This is an anthology well above the common run. . . . This is a book about men and women living at the outer edge of human experience.” —Max Hastings, Sunday Times
“A treatment that deepens readers’ appreciation for the human dimension, Englund’s effort emotively supplements conventional histories of WWI.” —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
“In four decades of studying war, I’ve never read such a remarkable book. . . . Twenty lives, told in parallel, convey the war’s complexity better than any of the grand histories so far written. . . . What makes these characters so extraordinary is their eloquence. Englund knits their achingly evocative accounts into a riveting diary of war. He fills in the gaps with background research but grafts this onto his characters’ testimony so seamlessly that it seems as if the narrative is theirs, not his.” —Gerard DeGroot, Washington Post
“The Beauty and the Sorrow is history in the raw, an unconventional look at the war that did so much to shape the last century. . . . Englund succeeds admirably in conveying these [individual] takes. . . . He gives us a profoundly evenhanded sense of how global the conflict was. . . . He has uncovered the stories of a myriad of fascinating characters. . . . There are many quietly powerful moments.” —Matthew Price, The Boston Globe
“The book deserves its success because it is perceptive, humane and elegantly written. It never fails to keep the reader’s interest.” —Tony Barber, Financial Times
“Intense and bighearted. . . . The best books about World War I have often been oblique, like Paul Fussell’s Great War and Modern Memory, or novels, like Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, rather than comprehensive histories. Englund’s volume joins an unconventional pantheon. . . . It is a corrective too to the notion that World War I was only about the dire trench warfare on the Western Front. The Beauty and the Sorrow expertly pans across other theaters of war: the Alps, the Balkans, the Eastern Front, Mesopotamia, East Africa. . . . The accounts of [these] lives can be terrifying or stirring, but are most fully alive in Englund’s accumulation of small moments, stray details. . . . Englund’s prose is supple but unshowy, perfectly suited to his humane task. . . . His book has the most devastating ending I can remember in a piece of nonfiction. . . . This is a moving book.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“They call them the lost generation, but you’ll find their story here.” —Billy Heller, New York Post
“Englund covers a lot of ground in The Beauty and the Sorrow, geographically, topically, and in point of view, or rather points of view because the book is based on the firsthand accounts of 20 people. Their letters and diaries become dispatches in the hands of Englund, who welds their disparate reports into a cohesive narrative, revealing a little more about his subjects each time. . . . Englund succeeds in his goal to humanize the war.” —Michelle Jones, Dallas Morning News
“Riveting. . . . Englund adds a rich representation of voice and an opportunity for empathy not found in most studies of World War I. . . . A rewarding read.”—Ben Malczewski, Library Journal
“Powerful and compelling. . . . Of the many books about the First World War this is among the most strikingly original. . . . Almost every page of Englund’s book is fresh and revelatory. . . . His choice of witnesses is quirky and intriguing.” —Christopher Silvester, Daily Express
“A fascinating book. . . . The Beauty and the Sorrow resembles 20 mini-autobiographies or nonfiction novels. . . . Poignant.” —Jonathan Sale, Sunday Telegraph
“An unforgettable and unprecedented view of the war as seen by 20 people who took part in it but, were it not for Englund’s remarkable job of unearthing and arranging their journals, letters, and memoirs, would probably have remained forever faceless, forgotten by time . . . Many of these people’s experiences, rich in improbable turns of events that span the globe, would not be out of place in an epic novel . . . Lets us in on astonishing details of the war one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. . . . Shatters the mold. . . . A beautiful tribute.” —John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle
“If war is a dehumanizing institution, Englund’s work has proven a profoundly rehumanizing project, giving voice to twenty of its forgotten, but exceedingly eloquent, participants. . . . Each of them possessed an uncommon gift for expressive writing. Whether their letters and journals are quoted verbatim or reshaped by Englund for his own narrative purposes, their words are so powerful and immediate that the reader feels instantly transported to the scenes they portray.” —Brooke Allen, Barnes & Noble Review
“‘Whether considered as history or as literature—it is, of course, both—The Beauty and the Sorrow is radically original in form and epic in scope” —Geoff Dyer