cover image Unknown Soldiers: The Story of the Missing of the First World War

Unknown Soldiers: The Story of the Missing of the First World War

Neil Hanson, . . Knopf, $28.95 (474pp) ISBN 978-0-307-26370-4

In this powerful, painful, unforgettable story of the madness and futility of war, British author Hanson (The Confident Hope of a Miracle ) follows three ordinary warriors—British, German and American—through the logic-defying charnel house that was WWI. All died at the second Battle of the Somme in 1916 and end up among the war's nearly three million whose bodies remained unidentified. Making brilliant use of poignant, literary letters of these men and others, Hanson conjures a world that's hard for the modern reader to fathom. The casualty rate during the Great War was appalling: "Dead bodies were used to build the support walls for the fortified ditches; yellowing skulls, arms, legs could be seen packed tight into the dank, black soil...," writes Alec Reader, the British soldier. Hanson takes the reader directly into the horror of trench warfare. "Dead and wounded soldiers, dead and dying animals, horse cadavers, burnt-out houses, shell-cratered fields, devastated vehicles, weapons, fragments of uniforms—all this is scattered around me, in total confusion," writes German Paul Hub. "I didn't think war would be like this." Vivid, sobering and without macho swagger or sentimentality, Hanson lets the voices of the unknowns speak across a bloody century with lessons for the new one. 16 pages of b&w photos, map. (May 19)