Sunday, June 01, 2008

Rites of Spring : The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age Rites of Spring : The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Simply stunning - beautifully structured and written arguments and an immensely informative text on not just World War One but a wide variety of cultural issues from the 1850s to 1945. Ekstein has attempted the most difficult of tasks facing the historian, i.e. to describe the cultural and social nuances of an age and explain how and why they change; and he succeeded brilliantly here. A single poignant event, such as a performance of the Ballet Russe in 1913 or the Unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914, becomes the point of departure for Ekstein's far-reaching discussions, as he attempts to explain how such an event was possible within the context of the time.

Just what kept men in the horrible conditions of the trench system of the Western Front for years? What sustained them on the edge of no-mans-land? What propelled them over the top? And what sustained them after it was all over? These are only a few of the central questions that occupy Ekstein. His answers, executed in brilliantly descriptive and readable prose, embrace a contextual totality rarely achieved in a manageable monograph.

It helps to have at least a basic understanding of World War One before reading Ekstein's text, but it is not absolutely necessary in order to appreciate the arguments he makes.

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