My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I thought I’d read a lot more about World War I in this centennial year of the war’s start. I began the year with Barbara Tuchman’s “Guns of August”, which gives more of a general’s-eye view of the war’s beginnings, so this more personal kenburnsian approach which follows twenty “normal” people through the years 1914-1918 had a lot of appeal. The structure of the book sometimes makes it hard to keep the characters straight, but I had a great tip from someone who read the book before me and I made a bookmark with the cast of characters that I referred to often. I wish there were a few fewer characters being followed and that the writing in their present-tense journal-like entries had more stylistic differentiation; it was sometimes hard to make emotional connections to the horrors they were experiencing when a name would appear for half a page and then be absent long enough that I would need my bookmark to refresh my memory about whether they were Russian or Hungarian or English or Australian. I’m not sure now how many more WWI books I’ll read in this centennial year. This book does do a good job of shedding light once more on the war’s utter pointlessness and sorrow (I did not see the “Beauty” referred to in the title) and how it sowed the seeds for its sequel just twenty years later.