Tag Archives: the First World War

Wrapping Up The Great War.

As we draw to the close of the Great War centenary, we also approach reviews of the remaining materials in my First World War library (in no particular order):


As a monthly lineup, this selection of videos takes us through October, although I expect to add a few other items, and there will be a special Armistice Day edition of our Trench Newspaper.


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Review: Eye Deep in Hell (Ellis)

Eye Deep in Hell: Trench Warfare in World War I.

This is a thorough, if concise, summary of life in the trenches. The subject is treated topically, which can be a great help to the Great War researcher.

The text is heavily illustrated with black-and-white period photos on nearly every page (including a sprinkling of the ones that have become iconic), but the quality of reproduction is often poor: for example, a set of photos depicting soldiers’ gear would have been more useful if the exposure had been adjusted to permit better detail. Many of the chapters are headed by excerpts from Great War poetry. There is no bibliography, but the author provided a single-page “Suggestions for further reading,” which lists titles that, in his opinion, constitute “the best history of the war as a whole” (that being Liddell Hart’s History of the First World War), “‘good books on individual years and campaigns,” “the best eyewitness accounts,” and “other illuminating books.” The index is adequate.

The author’s literary voice is clear and pleasant, making for enjoyable reading of what is essentially a well-written book; however, there are a huge number of typographical errors throughout, indicating very sloppy proofreading. This is a Johns Hopkins University Press 1989 reprint of Ellis’s 1976 work. Having lived for a few years in the late ’70s not far from Johns Hopkins University, I’d have thought their output would have been of much better quality: for a product bearing the name of a world famous institution of higher learning, this paperback is downright embarrassing. Perhaps the original hardcover edition, or a later printing (without the numerous jarring typos) would be more presentable.


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Review: Fall of Giants (Follett)

Fall of Giants.

This is the second time I’ve read a book by Follett, and it’s a second dismal disappointment. There will not be a third. Here’s why:

The book is a thinly fictionalized history book about the First World War and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 – and a revisionist history, at that. The characters seem to have been inserted in order to substitute for a historian-narrator, by spouting historical information to one another in unconvincing dialogue.

It wasn’t until page 876 of 985 pages (88.9% of the way through) that I finally encountered two sentences that resonated with me:

The sound of Breton bagpipes was everywhere.  Gus could have done without the bagpipes.

I laughed out loud at that set of statements, because the only kind of bagpipes I can endure are Irish uilleann pipes. And yet, I felt sorry for the author, because this was one of many missed opportunities to more fully develop one of the book’s characters. Here is how I used a reference to bagpipes to help develop a character in my first novel, Irish Firebrands:

The upstairs room was crowded, but when Frank gave his name to the head waiter they were guided directly to a table by a small window crowded with a window box of colourful flowers. After Lana was seated, several musicians entered from another door and took seats on a bench at the side of the room. One bore a guitar, another a flute, the third a fiddle and the last carried a collection of tubes and straps, a stomach-shaped bag and an apparatus that suggested a fireplace bellows.

“What on Earth is that?”

Uilleann pipes,” Frank said. “They’re bagpipes, but instead of blowing, the piper pumps that bellows with his elbow. ‘Uilleann’ means ‘elbow’.”

“Bagpipes! Uh-oh, I don’t know about this.”

“Why, what’s wrong with bagpipes?”

“They have the same effect on me as harpsichord music.”

“That being?” He raised his eyebrows.

Lana leant towards Frank and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “They arouse in me an overwhelming desire….”

He leant towards her in turn, fascination written on his face. “A desire?”

“To commit axe murders!”

He gaped at her, and then he winced. “Ouch!” Struggling to suppress his laughter, he drummed the tabletop with his fingertips to express his merriment.

Irish Firebrands © 2012 Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved.

All of the characters in Fall of Giants badly want development. None of them stand out as main characters with whom a reader can identify or empathize; in fact, there are far too many characters for the reader to even care about what happens to them. It’s as if the author had ideas for several different early 20th Century stories, but he couldn’t be bothered to thoroughly develop any of the plots, so he lumped all of them together, with only superficial connections between them.

Moreover, the author spends far too much verbiage on the graphic details of the characters’ sex lives, to an extent that would have been considered pornographic a couple of generations ago. Sexuality is a natural part of human behavior, but unless one is writing a textbook about it, it’s better to leave much of the process to the imagination of the reader.

This is the first volume of a saga; nevertheless, I have no intention to follow up with Follett.


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