The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century
Winner of the 2014 PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for the Best Work of History. "If you only read one book about the First World War in this anniversary year, read The Long Shadow. David Reynolds writes superbly and his analysis is compelling and original." —Anne Chisolm, Chair of the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize Committee, and Chair of the Royal Society of Literature.
One of the most violent conflicts in the history of civilization, World War I has been strangely forgotten in American culture. It has become a ghostly war fought in a haze of memory, often seen merely as a distant preamble to World War II. In The Long Shadow critically acclaimed historian David Reynolds seeks to broaden our vision by assessing the impact of the Great War across the twentieth century. He shows how events in that turbulent century—particularly World War II, the Cold War, and the collapse of Communism—shaped and reshaped attitudes to 1914–18.
By exploring big themes such as democracy and empire, nationalism and capitalism, as well as art and poetry, The Long Shadow is stunningly broad in its historical perspective. Reynolds throws light on the vast expanse of the last century and explains why 1914–18 is a conflict that America is still struggling to comprehend. Forging connections between people, places, and ideas, The Long Shadow ventures across the traditional subcultures of historical scholarship to offer a rich and layered examination not only of politics, diplomacy, and security but also of economics, art, and literature. The result is a magisterial reinterpretation of the place of the Great War in modern history.
Reynolds, Cambridge University historian and Wolfson Prize winner for In Command of History, proposes "to shift our view of the Great War out of the trenches" and establish the 1920s and '30s as postwar years, rather than an interwar preliminary to a greater conflict. The war "undermined civilization itself"; nevertheless Europe "was not frozen in perpetual mourning." In the postwar years liberal democracy appeared politically triumphant, but the question remained whether still-endemic violence could be sufficiently contained to avert another great war. Reynolds also presents the process of "refracting" the Great War in the context of WWII, which "finished the job apparently botched in 1918." WWII manifested evil in ways that "sanctified by morality": a sharp contrast to the Great War's "equivocal ending and moral ambiguity." Two strong chapters present the Great War's post-1945 transition from "communicative to cultural memory," and the focusing of remembrance on the experiences of individual soldiers. Reynolds's analysis provocatively contextualizes the interwar British experience, presenting a Britain "more stable than its continental neighbors," which facilitated a "constricted... view of the Great War" as a "unique... project of remembrance" and nurtured a continuing sense of exceptionalism even as its material bases eroded. Color illus.