Mentioned in Dispatches; BOOKS & MUSIC; from the Bloody Reality Behind Crimson Field to Epic Romance in Birdsong, Michael Hodges Selects the Finest Fiction and Histories in the War of Words

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 4, 2014 | Go to article overview

Mentioned in Dispatches; BOOKS & MUSIC; from the Bloody Reality Behind Crimson Field to Epic Romance in Birdsong, Michael Hodges Selects the Finest Fiction and Histories in the War of Words


THE CLASSIC ADVENTURE

Greenmantle, John Buchan (1916)

Buchan came to Greenmantle fresh from writing the book he will be most remembered for, The 39 Steps, the ripping yarn in which his hero thwarts a German naval plot. Such was that book's success, the public was willing to read anything he wrote. Buchan, who covered the Second Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Loos as a journalist, responded with a dark, conflicted thriller, which expressed sympathy for Germans.

THE SHOT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD

The Trigger, Tim Butcher (2014)

Arguably the most important story of the war has had the least attention. Why did a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb, Gabriel Princip, shoot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and begin the chain of events that would lead the entire planet into war? Tim Butcher follows Princip's footsteps, trekking across the Balkan highlands to Sarajevo - and in the process discovers the surviving members of the Princip clan.

THE LITERARY CLASSIC

A Farewell To Arms, Ernest Hemingway (1929)

Based on his own experiences as a volunteer ambulance driver on the Italian front, this is top-notch Hemingway, one of the most important novels to come out of the war. All his themes are present and correct: love, death and what it takes to be a man. The book and its bleak ending established the idea of a 'lost generation' - those that had perished or had come through the war but would never be the same again.

THE BIG PICTURE

World War I: The Definitive Visual Guide (2014)

As you'd expect from a Dorling Kindersley book, each page is beautifully laid out, with quotes and easy-tofollow fact boxes, and if ever a subject benefited from this treatment it is World War I. A sprawling subject that can be overwhelming is here brought to life in the telling details, like the faded yellow lifebelt from the Lusitania, the sinking of which led irrevocably to the US decision to declare war on Germany and seal the Kaiser's fate.

THE GREAT WWI LOVE STORY

Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks (1993)

Can love survive the nihilistic power of total war? That's one question that faces Stephen Wrayford, hero of this intensely moving novel, but in the carnage of the Somme the bigger question becomes: Can anything survive? Death is everywhere and Wrayford must find sense in what truly is a senseless slaughter. An astonishing book.

LETTERS AND DIARIES

Tommy At War, John Sadler and Rosie Serdiville (2013)

The genuine voice of the trenches and at times a surprisingly upbeat one: one soldier reports on the advantages of a mustard gas attack - it kills the rats. What shines through is the attempts of these men to hang on to their humanity. Even in victory, they feel for those on the other side. 'Our artillery simply blew the Germans to smithereens,' says one. …

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