The best books about the fragile peace after the Great War

The Books I Picked & Why

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

By John M. Barry

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

Why this book?

A wonderfully researched and written account of both the Influenza of 1918-1919 and of America's entry into the Great War. Barry included the only mention I had come across about the catastrophic illness of President Wilson on the eve of the Versailles treaty negotiations. We can only wonder what might have been, had Wilson caught influenza just a few weeks later.


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Assignment: Churchill

By Walter Henry Thompson

Assignment: Churchill

Why this book?

It will take some digging, but do try to hunt this down. Thompson was assigned as Churchill's bodyguard just a week before the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference began. His account of his boss's attitudes and habits is refreshingly irreverent. (While smoking a cigar, Churchill “looked like an upholstered toad, slowly incinerating himself.”) Thompson also provides an important contemporaneous description of how T. E. Lawrence was regarded by Arabs in 1921, before either he or Churchill became enveloped in mythology.


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Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

By Michael Korda

Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

Why this book?

This wasn't available to me when I was writing Dreamers of the Day, but it deepened my compassion and respect for Lawrence, despite and because of his complexity. IMO, this is the best and most complete biography with much detail not available to prior biographers, particularly about Lawrence's later work as a marine engineer and technical writer.


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Death of a Hero

By Richard Aldington

Death of a Hero

Why this book?

An ironic, sarcastic, ferocious, and funny novel about the Great War by one who fought in the trenches of the Western Front. Aldington became a venomous critic of Lawrence in later years – possibly because Lawrence seemed to have had a much easier war and had become a hero, whereas Aldington never quite got the attention he hoped for as a veteran or a writer.


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Testament of Youth

By Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth

Why this book?

A beautiful autobiography by a young Englishwoman who came of age as a nurse on the Western Front. Taken together with Death of a Hero, the books of these two young adults gives a sense of a generation whose lives were blighted by the war. Their stories are all the more heartbreaking when you realize that the Great War would be followed by the Great Influenza and the Great Depression, and all that it would all lead to the Second World War.


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