The First World War was a conflict that lasted from 1914-1918. It had a deep physiological impact on those who lived through it. This gave rise to the term “Lost Generation,” popularized by author Gertrude Stein. The Lost Generation is defined as “ the generation of men and women who came of age during or immediately following World War 1: viewed as a result of their war experiences and the social upheaval of the time as cynical, disillusioned.” Generally, this generation includes people born between 1883 and 1900.
The Lost Generation also refers to a literary movement after the war that included not only Stein, but other famous writers including T.S. Eliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Interested in hearing from the Lost Generation? Here are 10 books written about WWI from the people who lived through it.
The Top 10 WWI Books Written by the Lost Generation
1. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
German Paul Bäumer enlists with his classmates in the German army at the beginning of the war. The men are enthusiastic, but soon their spirit is broken by military life and the reality of war. If Bäumer can survive, he vows to fight a new enemy – hatred.
All Quiet on the Western Front was published in 1929 and was followed by a lesser-known sequel, The Road Back. The novel deals with soldiers trying to readjust to civilian life. Its theme of disillusionment and post traumatic stress was based on Remarque’s own experience.
2. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
An American ambulance driver on the Italian front falls in love with an English nurse. More than a love story, the novel also brings to life the horrors of war and examines the themes of loyalty and desertion.
A Farewell to Arms is based on Hemingway’s experiences working as a Red Cross ambulance driver. He was wounded in the summer of 1918 and spent several months in the hospital. While there, he met and fell in love with a Red Cross nurse. He wanted to marry her, but she was engaged to an Italian officer.
3. The Good Soldier by Jaroslav Hašek
Švejk is called up at the beginning of the war and becomes the Austrian army’s most loyal Czech soldier. While the authorities try to get him to the frontlines, his bad habits of getting drunk and card playing seem to have the opposite affect and prevent him from reaching the battlefield.
The Good Soldier is a collection of short stories with a pacifist theme. It was intended to be a six-volume work but Hašek died before it could be completed. Hašek was captured on the Eastern Front and was a Russian prisoner of war.
4. Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger
A memoir of German soldier Jünger’s battlefield experiences, Storm of Steel highlights the author’s time surviving shellings, defending trenches and leading raiding parties. Jünger also prepared for death which he considered would be his ultimate failure during the war.
Storm of Steel was published in 1920 and was a critical and commercial success. Jünger also served during World War II, and was indirectly implicated in plotting to kill Hitler.
5. Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon
George Sherston is decorated for bravery and sent to the Fourth Army School for officer training. After becoming wounded at the Battle of the Somme, Sherston is sent home to recover. There, he begins to question the war and writes a public anti-war letter. His friend convinces a medical
board not to prosecute but instead to declare that Sherston is suffering from shell-shock and to send him to a hospital for treatment.
Part of The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston trilogy and based partially on Sassoon’s war experiences.
Sassoon was hospitalized for shell shock and had a friend not intervened, he would have been court martialed. His mental scars lasted a lifetime, and he spent much of his post-war life either in seclusion or lecturing on pacifism.
6. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
British soldier Chris Baldry returns home from fighting in France with amnesia and cannot remember the last 15 years, including his marriage to his wife Kitty. Instead, he thinks he is 20 years old and still courting his first love Margaret. Baldry’s cousin Jenny gets Margaret to help him regain his memories, but then the women have a choice: let him be happy or help him remember his trauma.
The Return of the Soldier also examines gender issues and social class.
West was the daughter of a British army officer and a suffragist.
7. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
A memoir of Brittain’s time serving as a volunteer aid detachment nurse, Testament of Youth is the story of a woman who abandons her studies when she feels the call to duty. By the end of the war, Brittain had lost her brother, her fiancé and several friends.
Although, Brittain is best known for Testament to Youth, which was published in 1933, she also wrote poetry and 28 other books. The war took from her every man she had ever loved. Her fiancé Roland Leighton died Dec. 23, 1915 from injuries he sustained the previous day. On June 15, 1917, her brother Edward was killed in action. Her friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow also were killed.
8. Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis
The book is a vivid tale of life in the Royal Flying Corps and is biographical. It explores Lewis’ life from his enlistment to the end of the war and includes the battlefields of the Somme and defending London against deadly nighttime raids.
After the war, Lewis became a flight instructor and later went on to become a writer for the British Broadcasting Co. He served as a reservist during World War II.
9. Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves
Goodbye to All That is Robert Graves’ autobiography. The WWI portion of the book begins with his enlistment shortly after the war begins and his attendance of Officers’ Training School. Graves was eventually sent to the front, and his experiences caused post-traumatic stress disorder. Graves became disillusioned with the war and arranged his discharge.
Graves is best known for his poetry, including “When I’m Killed,” “A Dead Boche” and “To Lucasta on Going to the War – for the Fourth Time.” He was friends with fellow soldier-poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
10. Three Soldiers by John Dos Passos
The story of three soldiers from different parts of the United States who experience trench warfare and gas attacks. F. Scott Fitzgerald praised the novel as the “first war book by an American which is worthy of serious notice.”
Dos Passos was an ambulance driver in Paris and Italy. One of the characters in Three Soldiers is based on the author’s experiences. Dos Passos eventually became a socialist and pacifist.
Which WWI books written by those who lived it would you add to the list? Leave your books in the comments.
Melina Druga is an author, history enthusiast, freelance writer and blogger. Her area of expertise is the time frame 1890-1920. She is the author of numerous books including Angel of Mercy, a WWI novel, and A Tale of Two Nations Canada, U.S. and WW1, a study of how the war was reported in newspapers.
Melina Can be reached on her website, Twitter, Amazon, and GoodReads.
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