A friend of mine used to make documentaries for television. Part of the process included research with academic histories: books full of footnotes, quotes from those involved, facts and figures galore. He didn’t mind; he rather liked it. It would have sent me looking for the nearest high window to throw myself through.
Jeremy Paxman’s book is the kind of history I like. More narrative than detailed explanation, it reads – almost – like a novel. In fact, this is my second reading; it’s so well-written that the pages slip by. But note the title. This is a book about Great Britain’s war: how it became involved, how its men fought, why they fought, how its society was affected during and after the conflict. It is NOT an all-encompassing history told from all sides.
And it doesn’t go into exhaustive detail. What it offers is a picture of, and a feeling for – a sense – of a way of life about to be changed forever. I particularly liked his examination of the concept of ‘duty’ and his refusal to view the war with hindsight, with today’s focus on individualism. He brings the past to life. And makes it so very, very readable.