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The Beauty and the Sorrow

There are many books on the First World War, but award-winning and bestselling historian Peter Englund takes a daring and stunning new approach. Describing the experiences of twenty ordinary people from around the world, all now unknown, he explores the everyday aspects of war: not only the tragedy and horror, but also the absurdity, monotony and even beauty. Two of these twenty will perish, two will become prisoners of war, two will become celebrated heroes and two others end up as physical wrecks. One of them go mad, another will never hear a shot fired. Soldiers and sailors, nurses and government workers from Britain, Russia and Germany, and from Australia and South America - and in theatres of war often neglected by major histories on the period - Englund reconstructs their feelings, impressions, experiences and moods. This is a piece of anti-history: it brings this epoch-making event back to its smallest component, the individual.'Peter Englund is one of the finest writers of our time on the tactics, the killing and the psychology of war. In The Beauty and the Sorrow he superbly and humanely brings to life all the tragedy, chaos, death and gunsmoke of battle.' - Simon Sebag Montefiore
Product Details

"'Reviews for his books on Battle of Poltava: 'The most outstanding brilliant military history I've ever read' (Telegraph) 'The best depiction of war I've ever read' (Simon Sebag Montefiore)"

Promotional Information

The Great War: four devastating years told by twenty eyewitnesses

About the Author

Peter Englund is an award-winning, bestselling Swedish historian. Having been a professor at Uppsala University, in 2008 he was appointed the new Permanent Secretary of Swedish Academy, the body that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature. His breakthrough book on the Battle of Poltava was published to universal critical acclaim and sold over 250,000 copies in Sweden alone.


Peter Englund is one of the finest writers of our time on the tactics, the killing and the psychology of war. In 'The Beauty and the Sorrow' he superbly and humanely brings to life all the tragedy, chaos, death and gunsmoke of battle -- Simon Sebag Montefiore A haunting mosaic of the experiences of war. The layers of voices build to create a richly complex and rarely heard account of the First World War that lingers in the memory long after the final page. Immensely powerful. -- Juliet Gardiner, author of The Blitz Praise for his book on the Battle of Poltava: The best depiction of war I've ever read' -- Simon Sebag Montefiore A wonderfully wide and rich mosaic of personal experience from the First World War -- Antony Beevor He conjures up the atmosphere over and over again with just a few stark words. I loved all the detail... inspiring. * Margaret Forster * By turns pithy, lyrical, colourful, poignant and endlessly absorbing. An exquisite book. * Kirkus Reviews (starred) * A brilliant feat of retrospective journalism * Publishers Weekly (starred) * One of the most praised new books...unusual and surprising * Andrew Marr, BBC R4 Start the Week * Fascinating * Boris Johnson * Twenty lives, told in parallel, convey the war's complexity better than any of the grand histories so far written...In four decades of studying war, I've never read such a remarkable book. * Washington Post * Fascinating -- Jonathan Sale * Sunday Telegraph * Whether considered as history or as literature -- it is, of course, both -- The Beauty and the Sorrow is radically original in form and epic in scope -- Geoff Dyer It tells the stories of various people in World War I from both sides ... it's an inside view, on a personal level. It's pretty compelling stuff. What a dumb war that was... -- William H. Macy * Esquire * To find a book this well-written and detailed about the First World War is both rare and refreshing ... thought-provoking and superb * Newcastle upon Tyne Evening Chronicle * Englund has created a work of unconventional brilliance -- Ian Thomson * Observer * Of the many books about the First World War this is among the most strikingly original ... Almost every page of Englund's book is fresh and revelatory ... quirky and intriguing ... powerful and compelling * Daily Express * Impossible to put down ... Englund creates a vivid narrative that kept me turning the pages -- Baz Bamigboye * Daily Mail * Richly atmospheric * Country Life *

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