Best Books Exploring World War I in France and beyond - WWI essential reading
In honour of Remembrance Day 2022, I'm hopping on to the blog today to recommend some of the best books* exploring WWI in France through the eyes of historians, academics and amazing writers and soldiers of the era.
Exploring the classics, finding the unusual and discovering different perspectives is the goal today. Have you visited the moving memorials and places across France?
Let's explore some great books and some links you can use to plan visits to the Hauts-de-France region as well as Belgium.
Gabriel Chevalier's classic book is a literary masterpiece bringing real-life experience of the trenches and war into a novel unequalled perhaps in its honesty of the F-word, banned in times of war - Fear.
For the UK, we might call this book the equivalent to Chevalier's extraordinary book and Storm of Steel in Jünger's classic account from the German trenches.
The classic All Quiet on the Western Front in two volumes that bring the classic account of warfare and the road to post-war peace.
Corporal Barthas's remarkable account of being plunged into the first days of World War One make this harrowing and haunting book a classic.
An exploration of war through the experiences of a family in south west France bringing the experiences of villages, women and families into an account of WWI in France. Through the couple's letters we gain an insight into real country lives in the early twentieth century.
Poet Robert Graves's startling autobiography brings richness to our understanding of the horrors of the Great War.
Exploring more of France and its unbounded grief, this novel about an amnesiac soldier retunring from War is a fascinating exploartion of lives shattered by war.
Paul Fussell was such a talented literary critic and scholar that he understood the importance of sharing the experiences of WWI for us all and so we are lucky to have this classic book.
Next, a new one for my reading list, I'm looking forward to readng this exploration of race, history and France's combatants from across the colonies. An important examination of empire and war.
A well-written, carefully argued study that advances in significant ways our understanding of the important place of empire in the Great War . . . It is a sad but important tale that needed to be told, and Richard Fogarty has told it well.
―Martha Hanna, French Politics, Culture & Society
Some of these themes might be further explored in film soon with the 2023 release of Tirailleurs (EN: Father & Solider) starring Omar Sy and depicting the war in French colonial Senegal (filmed in France and Senegal.) One to watch in the New Year perhaps.
Women in World War I is not a rich seam of content, but the experiences, diaries and roles played by women in the roles permitted at a time when they largely had no vote or right to property outside of marriage, is a fascinating one. Here are some books to spark your interest in Women during the early twentieth century.
For more fascinating perspectives of the First World War, here are some classics including literary award-winners that always brng home the futility and horror of war to me.
The Booker-prize winning and frankly, literary masterpiece that is the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker stands the test of time as a classic triptych of pain, futility and war.
Another classic of a different kind. Geoff Dyer's book is a personal and original meditation on war and remembrance bringing a multi-faceted exploration to the Great War.
Travel, Memorials and Visiting WWI battlefields
Inspired to explore the real battlefields and memorials in France? Here are some links to get you started!
The Ring of Remembrance with the History Centre and the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette necropolis (the largest in France.)
The Somme regional tourism - Great War trail
Arras tourism shares great resources for the whole Pays d'Artois, which has remembrance trails and memorials including the Canadian Vimy Ridge memorial, Wellington Quarry and Bullecourt honouring the Australians and New Zealanders. Many nationalities are represented in memorials across the region. The quarry, built 80m per day by 500 Maori and New Zealanders who travelled to France to perform this incredible feat that was to contribute to the Battle of Arras.
Belgium is where we find Flanders fields and Ypres, names of such magnitude since the First World War. To explore more, the Ypres tourism site has some great information for armchair travellers and those planning a visit.
Battlefields tours include this well-reviewed Stephen Ambrose fully planned and guided tour.
Which books have you read on this list? Do you find the era of the First World War fascinating?
I hope you've found this short summary of some the classics, hidden gems and unusual finds an inspiring one.
Lest we forget.
*Affiliate disclosure: some links might be affiliate links which contribute a tiny percentage to the running costs of this ad-free blog at absolutely NO cost to you. I appreciate any and all support - thank you!
Join the Francophile family now by signing up to the newsletter where we explore France every month - direct to your inbox with events, traditions and exclusive news. Sign up here - everyone is welcome!