Wartime

cover picture of the book wartime by Paul Fussell

Understanding and behavior in the second world war

Wartime is a history book unlike any other history book I’ve read. It’s about World War II, but it’s not about battles, or strategies, or famous generals, or heroic or tragic narratives. Instead it’s about how things were: how people acted, what their opinions were, what they read and what they sang. It’s a “social history” — an overview of the lives that soldiers and civilians lived. In this way I found it a much more personally meaningful book than many of these other types of books.

Fussell covers every topic imaginable. Things like condom usage and sex, drinking, popular magazines, rationing, listening to the radio, the horrors of combat. Yes, at times he does get a bit tedious: he seemed to go on and on at length about the WWII-era magazine “Horizons”, and he (to me at least) also seems to be a bit of a snob.

My opinion of the overall tone at times was this: old cranky academic surveying the social landscape of the war.

But for those flaws, it still was a very good book. It was filled with great anecdotes and pieces of trivia. Many times I got to read how people lived through it in their own words. For the first time I started to feel that I knew what it was like to have lived through the war, instead of just being able to recount various stories about the conflict.

More importantly, it allowed me a better view of some of the things people complain about today, like the allied fire-bombing of Dresden or the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. It’s been more than 70 years, and all of the people who participated in these events are now gone. If we are to understand the reasons for the things they did, we need to read more books like Wartime.

So if you have a bit of patience, this is a book that will make you think about important things. The Second World War was an incredible event that left lasting scars on humanity. Wartime is highly recommended.

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