I have quite a massive library of books, starting back in the fifth grade with a first person non-fiction World War II series put out by Bantam. Perhaps the most important and lasting impression of that was that this series was not just of Americans. It wasn't just of the British soldiers and sailors, either. It was from different people who had a story to tell, from all sides of the conflict.
As you might imagine, it gave every side a human face, and this proved to be a critical step in my intellectual growth and development into an avid historian.
I have since found books from various sides of military conflict to be especially illuminating. And I do get some flak from people who kid me that all I read about is that of military matters. This is not entirely true, but I would also maintain that what I read isn't just tactics, terminology, and "action." The study of military history is the study of human beings at their finest and worst. To me, it was like peering over the abyss and down into the darkness of the human soul, into the void where religion has no voice or explanation, face to face with a frightening reality that no human being is immune to hell on earth... only fortunate enough to avoid it by being born in those blissful generations and cultures who manage to miss it.
The real shame, perhaps, is that people who don't know war have no idea how good they have it. And what does the old adage say?
"Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."
Well this is one magnificent book, and I am already dreading its ending. Taken from twenty people across various socio-economic backgrounds and nationalities, it is a fascinating, jaw dropping, intensely HUMAN face of the First World War. It's not a First World War primer, either. If you're reading it and want to understand the various actions and operations, this isn't the book.
But you will not find one more, and so aptly titled, beautiful and sorrowful...
It isn't a book about what the war was... rather what it was like. The next time you get down-hearted, pick this up instead of some self-help, self-absorbed drivel. The perspective you'll get out of this will be humbling like you can't even imagine...