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In the Spotlight

The WW1 Books of Lyn Macdonald

Lyn Macdonald has spent many years interviewing the dwindling number of people who lived and fought through the First World War (1914-1918). In addition, she has been given access to many personal diaries and letters, giving her a treasure trove of material to work with. Her books are beautifully written accounts of the war and the human experiences that are an important part of its legacy.

She blends people's personal accounts of their memories and experiences with archival data from many sources, creating an account of the war that is matter of fact, poignant, sometimes tragic and sometimes funny, and eminently readable.

I have read three of Lyn Macdonald's books, and each was as good as the previous one. I drop hints all over the place for my family to buy the others for me for birthdays and Christmas!

For anyone interested in oral and social history, and in the human side of the Great War, these books are "must have"s.

-- Donna Smillie

List of titles

Book cover1914 : The Days of Hope
Lyn Macdonald / Paperback / 1989

Synopsis: An account of the first few months of the Great War, from the build-up of the fighting to the first Battle of Ypres.

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Book cover1915 : The Death of Innocence
Lyn Macdonald / Paperback / 1997

Synopsis: A blend of military history and memories, this text represents the fruits of 20 years of research. It is a chronicle of World War I, told from the viewpoint of the soldiers themselves through diaries, letters and interviews with survivors. The story of 1915 is stark, brutal, frank, sometimes painfully funny, and always human.

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Book cover1914-1918 Voices and Images of the Great War
Lyn Macdonald / Paperback / 1991

Synopsis: This book uses personal accounts and illustrations, mainly from the author's own archives, to cover all aspects of World War I - from departure of the Old Contemptibles to fight the Kaiser in 1914, young men eagerly enlisting, high hopes of 1915 that fizzled out at Gallipoli, to the bloody fields of Flanders. It runs through the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele to the coming of the Americans, fighting in the closing months of the war, joyous celebrations of Armistice Day and burial of the unknown warrior in the aftermath. The authors have drawn on the experiences of the men who fought, touching on subjects as diverse as propaganda, fear, morale, bravery, bawdiness, filth and frivolity and the stark contrast between attitudes of civilians at home and the men at the front. Newspapers, magazines, letters, diaries, songs, poems, as well as a wealth of first-hand anecdotes and personal accounts by the soldiers themselves are included in this book.

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Book coverThe Roses of No Man's Land
Lyn Macdonald / Paperback / 1993

Synopsis: Drawing on the experiences of survivors of World War I, the author wrote a story of courage and endurance: the story of men who suffered physical and mental wounds; of volunteer nurses transported from their drawing rooms into carnage; and of doctors struggling to cope with the devastation.

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Book coverThe Somme
Lyn Macdonald / Paperback / 1993

Synopsis: This book looks at the Battle of the Somme, which was planned as "The Big Push" that would at last break the long stalemate on the Western Front in World War I. However the 18 divisions that went over the top between Arras and St-Quentin on the morning of 1 July 1916, walked into a battle that has gone down in the annals of human conflict as the slaughterhouse of a generation.

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Book coverThey Called It Passchendaele
Lyn Macdonald / Paperback / 1993

Synopsis: The full horror of World War I is summed up in the word Passchendaele. The struggle to capture this obscure Flemish village cost a quarter of a million casualties in one of the worst campaigns in the annals of warfare. This is the story of Passchendaele, told through the words of the men who fought there. It sets out to capture their bravery and terror in the face of battle, the details of their daily lives and the spirit of humour and comradeship that kept them going. Their individual stories are blended into a portrait of the human face of war by Lyn Macdonald.

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Book coverTo The Last Man: Spring 1918
Lyn Macdonald / Paperback / 1999

Synopsis: An account of the first months of 1918 when the stalemate of the trenches was brought to an end by a German assault on the Western Front. This account of the battle concentrates on the story of the men - the Commanders and their dilemnas, the exultant Germans, and the resolute Tommies.

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© 1999-2001 Donna Smillie <dms@zetnet.co.uk>