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Paris-based journalist O'Shea walked the length of the Western Front of World War I during the summers from 1986 to 1995. The journey was a personal one: both his grandfathers had fought on the front lines. O'Shea began his journey in Nieuport, Belgium, and followed the remains of the trenches some 450 miles to the border of France and Switzerland. Because the tactics of war usually consisted of massed infantry assaults against machine guns and artillery, O'Shea doesn't provide much historical context. What does emerge from his narrative is a shocking description of what happened on the battlefields. Generals often began offensives that lost some 100,000 men in one month?only to begin the same process the following month. Despite the talk of glory, the war came down to crushing personal losses. The author briskly moves the narrative along, though photographs comparing the battlefields a la William Frassanito (Early Photography at Gettysburg, Thomas, 1995) would have been helpful. An engaging and thought-provoking work; recommended for history buffs.?Mark E. Ellis, Albany State Univ., Ga.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In places the Western Front still slashes across Belgium and France, visible among the cemeteries, ossuaries, and monuments as grassy, cratered terrain, zig-zagging trenches, crumbling pillboxes and forts. O'Shea, while working in publishing trenches in Paris, grew curious about the war's physical aftermath, and in several trips gathered his observations for this sensitively nuanced tour. For preparation, he steeped himself in the war's history and got reacquainted with the trench experience of his two Irish grandfathers. Both motifs contribute to the book's structure, which unfolds geographically as O'Shea hoofs it from the sea to Switzerland, encountering formerly muddy slaughterhouses euphemized as Ypres, the Somme, or Verdun. At each battle area O'Shea summarizes what generals hoped would happen and how they seemingly never learned from what did happen, a mulish obstinacy that palpably angers him. His contemporary vignettes vividly animate the trip, as do his reflections about the meaning of monument making. With this ambulant meditation and protest against militarism, O'Shea has created a high-stature addition to the classic works about the Great War. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.See all Product Description