Big, Beautiful Books

Adorn your coffeetables with these hardbound masterpieces

Big, Beautiful Books

The Great War: A Photographic Narrative

by Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts
Knopf, 504 pp., $100

My generous Texan public education, like so many others', took painstaking time and effort to help me understand the settlement of the 13 colonies, to hear the battle cries at the Alamo, and to grasp the remarkable schism between the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. When we reached the 20th century, however, all steam from that powerful education engine went kaput. The students were fried, the teachers exhausted, and the most recent history was, on each occasion, presented with all the grace and detail of last Tuesday's lunch.

You remember that, don't you?

But London's Imperial War Museums are here to pick up the slack. In time for the centennial anniversary of the First World War – the eponymous Great War – Knopf has released this astonishing collection of some 380 photographs (from among the museums' 11 million-strong archives) of battlefields around the world. From German submarines to London streets, from the Middle East on down through East Africa, the sights and scenes from the first global war are presented in breathtaking and heartrending detail. The events of those years were ancient history long before my birth, but in one book, I can see the textures of the trenches, the blood-spattered uniforms, the flash of humanity in soldiers' eyes. I wasn't there, but I am. That's a world-class education.

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