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In this masterly, highly original narrative history, Peter Englund takes a revelatory new approach to the history of World War I, magnifying its least examined, most stirring component the experiences of the average man and woman—not only the tragedy and horror but also the absurdity and even, at times, the beauty.   The twenty people from whose journals and letters Englund draws are from Belgium, Denmark, and France Great Britain, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire Italy, Australia, and New Zealand Russia, Venezuela, and the United States. There is a young man in the British army infantry who had been considering emigrating until the war offered him its grand promise of change and a middle-aged French civil servant, a socialist and writer whose faith simply crumbled at the outbreak of war.

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