The Great War and Modern Memory

By Paul Fussell,

Book cover of The Great War and Modern Memory

Book description

Winner of both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and named by the Modern Library one of the twentieth century's 100 Best Non-Fiction Books, Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory was universally acclaimed on publication in 1970. Today, Fussell's landmark study remains as…

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4 authors picked The Great War and Modern Memory as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This brilliant and original book is one of my favorites of any genre. It’s the perfect bookend to The Guns of August in that it illustrates the war’s effects on Europe’s people and culture, though the landscape it examines is literary and psychological rather than historical and political.

The war produced great literature because of the way it bridged the “old” complacent Europe with a “new” one that was pitiless and mechanized, Fussell posits. The effect of this sudden evolution constituted a psychological war-within-a-war for those who fought it. 

Writers such as Sassoon and Owen were able to let go…

There’s a good reason this book remains current after so many years- quite simply, it is brilliant. It has all the grit and élan of a great and thoughtful writer who has seen combat. Fussell used the war of 1914 to articulate to American audiences what they needed to hear – that someone else appreciated the grim, visceral realities of warfare and loss, recognized the gap between rhetoric and reality, and understood the flood of irony it generated. As he admitted long after his best-selling book was published, The Great War in Modern Memory was “really about the Vietnam War…

World War One did not invent irony, but the destruction of an entire generation’s innocence in the trenches of the Somme, Verdun, Passchendaele, and all along the Western Front, surely perfected it in an outpouring of war writings. Dedicated to the memory of a comrade at arms “killed beside me in France, March 15, 1945,” Fussell was a superb literary critic and creative scholar who fought and understood war. He also understood the need to depict it in literature. This renowned work of literary criticism about the British experience on the Western Front makes clear why this war, along with…

Paul Fussell looks at the way British soldier writers – poets and memoirists – transmuted their experience of the First World War into literature, and how the picture they drew is the picture we still see when we think of the Great War. The irony and skepticism of authority which is classically modern starts here, Fussell tells us. His book is an extraordinary work of archeology and explanation – when you have read it, you understand yourself and the times we live in much better than you did before.

From Benjamin's list on the legacy of the First World War.

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