Summer Reading for WWI Buffs

While we take a slight intermission in our faculty summer reading series, today we’ll suggest a different kind of reading list…

As we’ve blogged about this past spring, next January our own Prof. Chris Gehrz will be taking his class HIS230L World War I on the road, leading a group of 10-12 students on a three-week trip with stops in England, Belgium, France, and Germany. (There are still a couple of spots open, in case you’re a current student reading this and haven’t applied yet!) Here’s the video preview he created to help advertise the course:

For students going on that trip — and anyone else interested in learning more about the Great War as its 100th anniversary approaches — Prof. Gehrz suggests the following additions to your summer reading list: (links to Bethel/CLIC library entry, if possible)

John Keegan, The First World War / Hew Strachan, The First World War / Martin Gilbert, The First World War

Three straightforward, identically-titled military histories by well-respected British historians.

Peter Englund, The Beauty and the Sorrow / G.J. Meyer, A World Undone

Stories of the war as compiled by professional writers.

Keene, World War IAlister Horne, The Price of Glory

The book that convinced Prof. Gehrz he wanted to be a historian… Horne’s is a great study of a single, very long battle — the one that raged outside the French city of Verdun for almost all of 1916. Alas, those sites are closed in January, so we won’t be going to Verdun, but this book (fifty years old, but still gripping) would certainly help fill that gap (and prepare students for much of what we’ll see when we do visit battlefield sites at Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and the Somme).

David M. Kennedy, Over Here / Robert H. Zieger, America’s Great War / Jennifer D. Keene, World War I

Of these three books focused on the American experience of the war… Kennedy’s is the most scholarly and detailed; Zieger’s is the best introduction; and Keene’s is the one we’re likely to assign for the course itself, since it draws heavily on first-person narratives from American troops.

Chad Williams, Torchbearers of Democracy / David Laskin, The Long Way Home

Then two more focused studies of two different groups that played important roles in the American war effort: Williams’ is an award-winning book about the experience of African-American soldiers; Laskin weaves together the stories of European immigrants who returned to the Old World to fight the Great War as part of the American military.

Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris

During our stay in Paris, we’ll visit the local Armenian community and learn about the genocide that happened in present-day Turkey during the war, a catastrophe that killed a million Armenians. Balakian’s book tells that story, and that of America’s non-response to genocide (a term that didn’t exist until after World War II).

Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919

The book on the peace conference at Versailles that followed the end of the war on the Western Front. Thick, but hard to put down.

Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel / Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

Two of the greatest works of literature written by veterans of the war: excerpts from both will show up repeatedly in the course reading packet. If your idea of a WWI novel written by a German soldier is All Quiet on the Western Front, read Jünger’s harrowing but patriotic autobiographical novel and have your eyes opened. (Prof. Gehrz blogged about the contrast between the two authors in the “Over There” series he wrote last summer at his personal blog.) Then Brittain’s memoir — certainly the most famous by a woman who participated in the war — is great for insight into Britain before 1914, what it was like to be a nurse and to lose loved ones during the war, and then the rise of pacifism after it.

Samuel Hynes, The Soldiers’ Tale

WWII veteran and writer Hynes looks at literature produced by soldiers and veterans from several 20th century wars, not just WWI. But this would be a great start for students thinking about doing their project on comparisons between WWI and WWII (or other wars).

J.M. Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning

Commemoration will be a major theme of the course, as we’ll visit cemeteries, monuments, and memorials both on the Western Front itself, and in the cities of London, Oxford, Paris, and Munich. Jay Winter’s book is easily the best on the subject of WWI commemoration.

Ghosts of 1914

Kept by a graduate student working on the British experience of the war, this blog features interesting posts on all sorts of things related to WWI — especially its cultural history. Recent posts touched on the role of the war in creating the literary character Dr. Dolittle, how the British used camels for cavalry, and the poet Siegfried Sassoon.


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