02 May 2018

"World War I and America"

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It was a slow go but I finished reading one of my Christmas gifts, "World War I and America: Told by the Americans Who Lived It" edited by A. Scott Berg (Library of America 2017). As its title suggests, Berg has compiled a wide range of over 100 original speeches, newspaper articles, essays, diplomatic dispatches, poems, judicial opinions, short stories, and letters by Americans who lived through the beginning of the Great War in Europe through post-war reminiscences by the men who returned.

Fairly balanced with pieces from politicos on top to the doughboys in the trenches and many in between (with a good representation of female voices), Berg's selections portray the gradual descent from a jingoism that couldn't wait for Americans to get "over there" and their idealistic opponents to the anger of some and regretful sadness of others after the war came to an end.

Pieces by W.E.B. Du Bois, Edith Wharton(!), Woodrow Wilson, Eugene Debs, and John Dos Passos stayed with me, albeit for rather different reasons. The hypocrisy of Justice O.W. Holmes, Jr., the silliness of Henry Ford, and the academic pretentiousness of Randolph Bourne should also be noted.

"World War I and America" is not the sort of book one can review. At least, I know I can't do it justice. And it's certainly not the sort of book that folks couldn't put down after picking it up. It takes something out of a thoughtful reader but I thoroughly recommend it to those who want to understand from the inside the world-historical event that did more than anything else to make the 20th and now 21st centuries what they are.

(You can see a short video presentation by Scott Berg about the book here.)

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