World War 1 novels

All quiet on the Western Front

World War 1 started a hundred years ago today 4th August 1914

The must-see exhibition “Aspects And Images Of Leeds During  The Great War” is on in the Central Library from 28th Jul – 28th September 2014, well worth a visit. Here’s our list of novels featuring World War 1.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

This is the story of Stephen who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experience of the war itself with its descriptions of mud and homesickness.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Remarque, who had experienced war, traces the experiences of Paul Baumer, who is encouraged to sign up by a teacher. A gruelling indictment of the pointlessness of war, it depicts how little any soldier’s death meant among so many.

Regeneration by Pat Barker

The first of this acclaimed trilogy, it explores the effect of war on soldiers. Set in Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, where doctors experimented with new ways of helping the shellshocked,  real characters, notably poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, are featured. Sequels  are The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road, all moving and informative. To quote a critic –  ‘a blend of the poetic and the practical’.

The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

Opening with news of the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo, Hasek’s unfinished novel – it was completed after his death – is a satire of war, which takes no prisoners. The soldier Schweik acts throughout like a fool, showing up the hypocrisies and idiocies and futilities of war. Hasek, who fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army, knew of what he wrote.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway helped as an ambulance driver in Italy for the Red Cross, which is exactly what his American hero Frederic Henry does in this maudlin novel of conflict, love, drink, and death which does not get very good ratings from Leeds readers.

Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford

Among the best wartime novels, set between England and the western front. This four-part work features one of the most inscrutable but attractive fictional characters, the buttoned-up gentleman and officer, Christopher Tiejens, a man so unhappily married, he almost does not care if he dies.

Johnny Got his Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Joe, a young American soldier in the Great War, lies helpless in hospital, so horrifically injured he cannot communicate with the outside world. Trapped in the hell of his body, he wanders through his memories, struggling to retain his sanity

Mr Standfast by John Buchan

A Richard Hannay novel, this is a gung-ho adventure, in which Hannay, a brigadier-general, must leave the western front in order to uncover a German agent at work in England. To do so, he must impersonate a pacifist. Not as easy as it sounds.

The Enormous Room by e e cummings

ee cummings was a prisoner of war in France, where he had been serving as an ambulance driver. This is a “wry account of an intellectual coping with an absurd situation, in which he and 30 other prisoners share a room”.

War horse by Michael Morpurgo

In 1914, Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France.

How did the First World War begin?

The war that ended peace: how Europe abandoned peace for the First World War“Archduke Franz Ferdinand is dead!” That was the shocking news that Europeans woke to on the morning of June the 29th, one hundred years ago; a grim portent of the war that would change their world forever. This war – known to contemporaries as The Great War and to those since as the First World War – had long and complex roots. Each successive generation remains obliged to rediscover this horrific conflict anew – and that obligation has never been greater than for those who will bear witness on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy’s dark beginnings. Fortunately, Leeds Library and Information Service has a number of books to help you understand the causes of the crisis that gripped Europe in the summer of 1914.

Several books have been published to mark that 100th anniversary, among them Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War (rated 5* by Leeds readers) and Max Hastings’ Catastrophe: Europe Goes To War, 1914. As usual, however, readers wanting to delve deeper would be advised to investigate the holdings of our Information and Research department, where many informative texts can be found – most of which are available to borrow Catastrophe: Europe goes to war 1914and take home. A selection of these is highlighted below.

The tangled causes of the war stretched back to the early 19th century and the rivalries or alliances between the five Great Powers of Europe (Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and France).

The Great Powers and the European States System: 1815-1914 (F.R. Bridge & Roger Bullen) is a key text in this regard, while books such as Barricades and Borders: Europe, 1800-1914 (Robert Gildea) and The Struggle For Mastery in Europe: 1848-1918 (AJP Taylor) trace the development of these relationships in the wider historical context.  G.P. Gooch’s Before The War: Studies in Diplomacy and The Origins of The War of 1914 (Luigi Albertini) concentrate on the torturous diplomatic manoeuvres leading to the outbreak of conflict in August of 1914. The essays in The War Plans of the Great Powers: 1880-1914 (edited by Paul Kennedy) explain the deep influence of each nation’s military on questions of foreign policy.

The immediate cause of the war was the aforementioned death of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. His assassination in the imperial province of Sarajevo, Bosnia, by advocates of a Greater Serbia is contextualised through volumes such as Bosnia: A Short History (Noel Malcolm) and A History of Modern Serbia: 1804-1918 (Michael Boro Petrovich); The Road to Sarajevo (Vladimir Dedijer) synthesises these regional approaches into a satisfying whole.

Control of the Austrian empire had been held by the Hapsburg family since time out of mind; the modern history of that royal dynasty is fully described in The Hapsburg Monarchy: 1867-1914 (Arthur J.May). Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria (Joseph Redlich) is a biography of the penultimate holder of the famous crown, while The Hapsburg Twilight: Tales From Vienna (Sarah Gainham) and The World of Yesterday (Stefan Zweig) are melancholic explications of nostalgia for the dying days of a now-vanished kingdom.

Finally, Origins of the First World War (L.C.F. Turner) is a useful survey of the different approaches to the question of cause, while the relevant essay in AJP Taylor’s How Wars Begin is a concise analysis of the events immediately before and after the demise of the Archduke.

Remember – you can arrange to have these, or any other, books in our library service reserved for collection at your local library.

Antony Ramm Information and Research