Great Britain’s Great War – Review

image: Duncan Hull. www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/
Image: Duncan Hull. www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/

Jeremy Paxman managed to take some time away from scoffing at the stupidity of teams of university students to pen a non-fiction account of WW1 from the perspective of the British people because apparently there has not been quite enough written on the topic.

Nonetheless, Paxman is charming. He seems to have a genuine interest in the period, revealing his great uncle was an early casualty of the war in 1915. Through first-hand source material (which he genuinely appears to have obtained himself, hats off to Paxman) he manages to capture an appropriate sentimentality whilst remaining true to the facts.

Talking to an audience about a chapter on the wounded, Paxman explained how for him, “the worst wounds were facial wounds” speaking against an obviously posed photographs of horribly cheerful amputee veteran he explained “the loss of aface is the loss of identity”. This chapter is particularly interesting, with a wealth of information that was new to many (although that may say more about a lack of attention in history lessons than his research).

It was also refreshing to hear from the news presenter, when faced with some very obscure questions from some very enthusiastic audience members. He told one individual that he believes in a “modern journalistic maxim, if you don’t know the answer, shut up!”

The book is clearly well researched and written. Paxman knows his stuff, but unsurprisingly there’s not a lot here that you probably haven’t heard in an A level history lecture. There’s the typical ‘women’s work effort’, ‘the changing role of government’ etc. and he does expel some “myths” which were probably expelled decades ago (even if some still like to dictate them at the beginning of Blackadder). The book, however, is full of gorgeous anecdotes which you probably have not heard.

This is definitely a solid starting point for anyone interested in WW1 and isn’t going to confound your brain with overly intelligent garble. However, if not interested in the Great War, you should probably look elsewhere.

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