Saturday, May 15, 2010

War Books by Jean Norton Cru | Or, Why I Should Open a Book Before Judging It

I have a confession.

Sometimes, I do judge a book by its cover.

That's what happened with Jean Norton Cru's War Books. Don't get me wrong, the cover looks great. But it's a cover with a WWI soldier and the title is War Books. I'm not really a WWI buff, so I assumed it wasn't my cup of tea.

I passed this book on our shelves a thousand times, glanced at it, and then ignored it.

Shame on me.

This book is now one of my favorites from the entire SDSU Press lineup. It's not a list of books about war, or obscure facts and statistics, or a dry historical textbook. For no reason at all, I assumed it was.

It's actually a pretty darn awesome collection of non-fiction combat literature. And let me tell you something. There are some insanely good soldier-authors in this book.

The first section is called "The War Witnesses" and it has some great philosophical writings on man and war from men who've lived through it.

The second, larger section is called "Sketch of the War According to a Few Good Witnesses." For me, that's where things really heated up. I can open to any page in this section and be sucked in. I'll prove it. Here's an excerpt from a random page (132, to be exact):

July 2, 1916.--The newspapers today confirmed the news of yesterday [beginning of the battle of the Somme]. It's started then, this new orgy of death. A new charnel house takes its place in an illustrious line. How many more blond, clean-shaven Tommies and rough peasants from our fields will render up their bodies to the earth and their souls to God! And for what chimera! Do they know why they are fighting, those knotty-legged Scotchmen, those blue-eyed Bretons? For Alsace-Lorraine? What does the far-away highlander care about the valley of the Ill? What does the man from Brest, born to the sea, care about Mertz? And then who still believes that Europe is on fire for that gob of land? Are they fighting for the fatherland? They do not know what the fatherland is.

That was written by French soldier Louis Maret in 1916. He died in 1917. He had spent twenty months at the front before he was killed.

Don't make my mistake. Recognize the value of this book! You can find it here.

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