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Never has the extraordinarily rich literature on mass atrocity seemed more relevant as ongoing reports from around the world remind us that we live in an age of genocide. This vast repertoire of scholarly work can appear at maximum capacity with countless overarching theoretical frameworks of mass violence.
When I was a fourth grade student in suburban Birmingham, Alabama in the 1970s, the history curriculum was devoted to a study of our state. Our teacher, Mrs. Lawson, supplemented our textbook with personal recollections of the Civil War gleaned from her own grandmother, who had been a girl in the 1860s. Mrs.
Embracing Defeat is a richly researched, beautifully illustrated and elegantly written account of the period of the US-led occupation of Japan from 1945–52, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the US National Book Award, among others. Throughout the book John Dower’s writing is elegant, informative and easy to follow.
Tim Snyder’s ambitious Bloodlands set out to place the murderous regimes of the Third Reich and Stalin’s Soviet Union in their overlapping European contexts.
Sonya Rose’s initial interest in national identity was sparked by the patriotic fervor that burst forth following the declaration of the first Iraq War (1990–1). ‘I wondered at how easily patriotic sentiment and the sense of belonging to a nation under threat – even if that threat was so far away – could be aroused’ (p. 285).
Hardly had the fighting petered out on the Somme in November 1916 than one American reviewer, W. S. Rusk, was warning scholars that much writing about the Great War would be lost to the ‘winnowing flail of time’.(1)
Today, a half-century after his death, Winston Churchill stands like a colossus over the political, diplomatic and military history of the 20th century, and of its most terrible armed conflict, the Second World War. The already voluminous number of historical studies devoted to him and his career continues to grow, and amounts to a full-blown industry – never mind the ‘cottage’ part.
It was hardly to be expected that the sesquicentennial might come and go without the Civil War’s most preeminent historian offering his thoughts on the subject, and James McPherson has not let us down. Not that The War that Forged a Nation is in any direct sense a comment on or reaction to the sesquicentennial; it is neither.
For all historians of this last, most violent, century some concern with matters of war and peace has been unavoidable.
This book achieves two aims: to locate the Great War in the history of the 20th century, and to show how, as the 20th century unfolded, our understanding of the meaning and significance of the Great War changed as well.