The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century

David Reynolds, Author
David Reynolds. Norton, $32.50 (560p) ISBN 978-0-393-08863-2
Reviewed on: 03/10/2014
Release date: 05/01/2014
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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 [victory] 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. Agent: Peter Robinson; Rogers, Coleridge & White (U.K.). (May)
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