From historian Hochschild (Bury the Chains: The First International Human Rights Movement, 2005, etc.), a selective history of the slaughter of innocents in World War I.
WWI effected the rupture of civilization on many levels—the efficacy of war machinery for mass murder, the collapse of colonial empires, the destabilization of the status quo by modern ideas such as socialism, women’s suffrage and national self-determination—and the author skillfully harnesses these numerous and often contradictory currents. Hochschild focuses on Britain and many of the significant, prominent or otherwise typical protagonists whose lives and work underscored the cataclysmic changes in this era, from loyal aristocrats to pacifists and conscientious objectors. Among dozens of others, the characters include military leaders Douglas Haig and Alfred Milner, who led the war effort against the later aggressions of Germany and Austria-Hungary; Charlotte Despard, whose work with the Battersea poor prompted her to become a committed socialist and pacifist; and Rudyard Kipling, whose writing cast a nostalgic enchantment around the British empire. Hochschild plunges into the war year by year, 1914–18, when Britain swung from a country eager to fight the Germans, despite labor unrest, Irish agitation for home rule and antiwar demonstrations, to utterly stricken and bereft, with unbelievable numbers of young men cut down in the trenches. Britain had “declared that the very fundamentals of civilization were at stake,” yet the war wrought unfathomable carnage and profound questions about its purpose. The lives of the author’s many characters dovetail elegantly in this moving, accessible book.
An ambitious narrative that presents a teeming worldview through intimate, human portraits.