For King and Country: Voices from the First World War by Brian MacArthur

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For King and Country: Voices from the First World War by Brian MacArthur

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Category: History
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Karen Inskip-Hayward
Reviewed by Karen Inskip-Hayward
Summary: A worthy, but rather dull, anthology of World War I writings.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 480 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Abacus
ISBN: 978-0349120294

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After recently watching the excellent series The Monocled Mutineer on DVD, I was inspired to read more about the First World War. It is a period I studied in history and also in English Literature, when we learned about the war poets.

For King and Country – Voices from the First World War is an anthology of writings edited by Brian MacArthur. It features around 450 pages of journals, poems, articles and memories of those involved in WWI. These factual accounts cover all kinds of styles, lengths and subject matter, but each one is hopefully able to give the reader a real taste of a time most of us are too young to remember first-hand.

The book is arranged chronolgically, with chapters concentrating on each year from 1914 to 1918, followed by a section on the Aftermath and its effects. There is also an interesting five-page introduction.

For King and Country contains many fascinating extracts from both famous people and unknowns. The former category includes Siegfried Sassoon, Rudyard Kipling, Woodrow Wilson, Harold Macmillan, Winston Churchill, Rupert Brooke, Jerome K. Jerome and Wilfred Owen.

One of the extracts I found especially moving was The Death of Rupert Brooke by W. Denis Browne (1915), but of course, there are many tragic stories told here, not only of the deaths, but also the appalling conditions in the trenches.

My all-time favourite poem is also included here – Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen – and I enjoyed most of the poetry in the anthology.

There are some songs as well, and I found I usually knew most of the words, but it was good to discover the verses I didn't know of. Songs like Keep the Home Fires Burning and It's A Long Way to Tipperary have become part of our heritage and it is fascinating to fit them into this history of our country.

There are many good points to this anthology, but also some negative ones. The main problem For King and Country has is that it is rather dry and can be dull at times. The writings are presented in a very matter of fact way, which means you can judge them for what they are, but it does take away some of the emotion at times.

I found it quite hard-going reading this anthology and found I could often only read a couple of pages at a time. I needed some time to consider what I had read, if it was a particularly moving extract and I didn't want to become desensitised to the horror of it all. It is probably better to dip in and out of this, rather than read it all in one go.

If you are interested in this time and discovering new ideas about the First World War, this is a well-researched anthology with lots of valuable information in. But if you want something a bit more lively, look elsewhere.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Bookbag has enjoyed The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme by Gavin Stamp and if you're interested in collected writings from the Second World War we can recommend Our Longest Days: A People's History of the Second World War by Sandra Koa Wing.

Buy For King and Country: Voices from the First World War by Brian MacArthur at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy For King and Country: Voices from the First World War by Brian MacArthur at Amazon.co.uk


Buy For King and Country: Voices from the First World War by Brian MacArthur at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy For King and Country: Voices from the First World War by Brian MacArthur at Amazon.com.

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