Friday, May 25, 2012

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hochschild has many admirable qualities as a writer. For one he seems generally obsessed with the worst that humanity can do. The Slave trade, the horrors and depredations of the Congo Free State have all been addressed, and in this current book the inferno of the Great War. But rather than wallowing in cheap nihilism and shock he is equally if not even more so, intrigued by those who against the currents of their day recognized an evil, and raised a voice, even if it was a feeble voice. Here that voice accomplished little but is as they say, now seen by many as being on the right side of history. Like his other subjects, the Great War is one of those moments in history so devoid of point and pity as to cause serious conjecture on the nature of humanity. But the nature of humanity in all its incongruities and paradoxes is what Hochschild loves pondering. He writes in the journalist/historian tradition (the journalist tag usually applied as a pejorative.) of Halberstam, Shirer, and Barbara Tuchman (we can add American as an adjective also I guess), but closest I believe to Tuchman who I believes he leans on heavily in this book. Like Tuchman he weaves a web of characters and well digested information that makes such an absorbing narrative of the grimmest of situations. He presents his characters whether a voice for or against the war (which he sees as a colossal mistake.) without judgment (unlike Shirer), and with fascination for their idiosyncrasies, heroism, and convictions. This is a humane history of a destructive and tragic epoch and alongside Peter Englund’s wonderful Beauty and the Sorrow, one the more essential books published recently on it.

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