Review: The Beauty and the Sorrow (Englund)


The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War.

A sprawling account that ambitiously attempts to encompass the whole of the Great War experience, both on and off the battlefield. Its Dramatis Personae include the Canadian wife of a Polish aristocrat, a German schoolgirl, a Scotswoman aid worker, a German sailor, a Hungarian cavalryman, a Russian army engineer, a Dane in the German army, a French civil servant, an Australian army engineer, a French army infantryman, a Venezuelan cavalryman in the Turkish army, an American army field surgeon, a Belgian air force fighter pilot, an Australian driver serving with the Serbs, an American infantryman in the Italian army, a New Zealand artilleryman, a trooper in an Alpine regiment of the Italian army, and two British army infantrymen: all “more or less forgotten,” according to the author.

One of the subjects is of the “less forgotten” variety: Sarah Macnaughtan, whose story I first encountered in Wounded, which covers only her service in the soup kitchen she set up at Furnes Railway Station. Englund recounts more of her adventures on both fronts of the European theatre of war. Not all of them were successful, ultimately because of the worsening illness that eventually took her life (it was not until the 1920s that it was discovered that Macnaughtan’s anemia can only be successfully treated – although not cured – with vitamin B-12 injections).

This was a difficult read, because of how the stories are organized: broken up into vignettes that are presented subordinate to the chronology of the war. It would have been a more enjoyable account if each person’s story had been presented intact, the way that the biographies in Wounded are written. I had to resort to flipping through the book to find and read all of the parts of each story, to maintain continuity.

Each section of the book begins with a timeline for the year that’s covered therein. There are two large, glossy sections of unique photographs, featuring portraits of the subjects and views of the areas in which they lived or served. The book ends with brief wrapping-up summaries for each person, and an extended quote from Mein Kampf. Documentation includes a respectably-sized bibliography, a list of illustrations, and an index.

The Great War researcher who can cope with the piecemeal presentation of the biographies will find a great deal of helpful detail about the everyday lives of combatants and noncombatants. Recommended, but with reservations.


Filed under biography, Book Reviews, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Review: The Beauty and the Sorrow (Englund)

  1. HI Christine thank you for this reivew – im considering writing a book about my mums life in England and then here in Australia – some of the books you’ve reviewed will help me with a lot of the history. Ill see if I can get my hands onto some of them. Best wishes and happy easter 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mjbain

    Good review. I’ve never sat down and actually read the work cover to cover exactly because of what you say with it often being frustrating how fragmented it all is. But it is a useful work for gaining insights into different angles of the wartime culture of different nations, classes and roles during the conflict.

    Liked by 1 person

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