The Guns of August (CBR7 #36)

Following my reading of Above the Dreamless Dead I decided that I wanted to read more about World War I. I studied the war relatively well in my undergraduate career, but my focus had always been about the long and short term causes and effects, the more social history view. I knew very little about the battles of the war outside the concept of trench warfare, generally speaking. A good place to start seemed Barbara Tuchman’s 1963 Pulitzer prize winning The Guns of August which focused specifically on the causes of the war, and its first 40 or so days of fighting before the trench warfare that lasted the next four years began.

I had been impressed with Barbara Tuchman’s writing when I read The Proud Tower a few years ago. In this work Tuchman wrote this incredibly detailed account of the first month of WWI – and the detail is staggering, so much so that at times it could be somewhat overwhelming. Tuchman highlights the politics, personalities, military strategy, and philosophical motivations, of all parties involved. In some ways reading the work is like taking a college course on the topic. That much information is covered, and in that level of detail.

Generally I enjoyed the book, and I feel as though I have a better grasp of the beginnings of the war and the initial war effort and find myself remembering things I already knew (Plan 17 and the Schlieffen Plan, for example). However, in some regards the age of the work shows. In some ways there is a lot of national stereotyping, which we are still guilty of 50 years later. There is also an interesting effect of listening to someone come to terms with the long term effects of the war while still being in the cold war era which carried the stamp of the previous conflicts so evidently.

I’m only ranking this book three stars, and that’s more about the audio version I listened to. While I enjoyed the narrator, I cannot suggest that most people listen to this work. If you have meant to read it then I suggest you absolutely do, but maybe take the hardcopy version and take your time. Listening to this one did not have quite the same effect as listening to one of my college professors’ lecture, and that was definitely a letdown for me and the reason I chose to go audiobook format.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.


Above the Dreamless Dead (CBR7 #28)

Every so often I come across a book and think, god I wish I was still in the classroom so I could get this book into the hands of kids. I think I’m going to email my friend who teaches reading and be all crazy about using this book, or parts of it, in her poetry unit.  Where was this when I was trying to learn/understand/make meaning of poetry? Not even to get started about WWI Trench Poets and the passing of the 100th Anniversary of this war with very little fanfare.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads, because it does a better job than I can at encapsulating the book:

As the Great War dragged on and its catastrophic death toll mounted, a new artistic movement found its feet in the United Kingdom. The Trench Poets, as they came to be called, were soldier-poets dispatching their verse from the front lines. Known for its rejection of war as a romantic or noble enterprise, and its plainspoken condemnation of the senseless bloodshed of war, Trench Poetry soon became one of the most significant literary moments of its decade.

The marriage of poetry and comics is a deeply fruitful combination, as evidenced by this collection. In stark black and white, the words of the Trench Poets find dramatic expression and reinterpretation through the minds and pens of some of the greatest cartoonists working today.

With New York Times bestselling editor Chris Duffy (Nursery Rhyme ComicsFairy Tale Comics) at the helm, Above the Dreamless Dead is a moving and illuminating tribute to those who fought and died in World War I. Twenty poems are interpreted in comics form by twenty of today’s leading cartoonists, including Eddie Campbell, Kevin Huizenga, George Pratt, and many others.

I am a graphic novel, graphic memoir, comics collection newbie. For those of you who read this format more frequently you will most certainly not have the entry issues I did in following the formatting. I also don’t read much poetry, but first person narrative works and songs have always been easier for me, since the meaning is more readily at the surface. However, there was still more to unpack, more to understand and the various artists who contributed to this work very evidently took the time to study their chosen poems and make interesting artistic choices as well as servicing the meaning and allusions in the various texts.

And thanks to Shmookariah for putting this on my radar.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.