The Long Shadow by David Reynolds

Blog #1

The Long Shadow is the best modern history book I have read in years. Intelligent, challenging and very insightful, I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in 20th century history.

The Long Shadow is not, directly at least, a history of the First World War. Its aim is to examine the affect the war had on subsequent generations across the century. Reynolds recognises that that affect varies in time; so, for instance, the war is remembered very differently in 1930 compared to 1960 or 1990. He also looks at those effects across a range of countries, including Britain, Ireland, Germany, France, Russia and the US. So the 1930s saw an increase in nationalism and militarism in many countries, but a more pacifist response in others. He examines not only the harder political questions, such as readiness for war, economics and wealth, but also cultural and artistic influences.

These revaluations are highly insightful. For instance, he points out at an early stage that the ‘interwar years’ were not inter-war at the time; the First World War was indeed the Great War until the second came along, a war in which there was no ‘Western Front’. The whole way in which we remember the war is inevitably coloured by the Second World War, our attitude to leaders and indeed other countries. Conservative reluctance to get close to Europe through greater integration through the EU is an understandable reaction to those of Thatcher’s generation who automatically distrusted the Germans. By setting the Irish Free State against the backdrop of other European nations struggling with the new nationalism, a particularly difficult ‘British’ problem becomes much more understandable. In many ways Ireland was more in line with post-Great War Europe than the rest of the UK.

Reynolds is clearly irritated by the First World War poets. He devotes an entire chapter to showing that most of the poets were pro-war, and that in the decades after the war no-one was interested in them. Their role as identifiers of the horrors of the First War did not emerge until the late 60s, a product of passionate editing and good marketing combined with the blockbuster success of Oh What a Lovely War. His analysis of the other arts, in particular painting is more balanced and intriguing, showing how the war artists were set apart from the artistic norms of the period.

But his main thrust is about US Wilsonianism. President Wilson’s sincere belief in the efficacy of enhancing democratic movements across the world, his support for fledgling democracies and contempt for the empires of Europe is a massive theme across the 500 pages. The initial failure of his ideas, the constant resurges through the century to the dominance that this view has in US politics and democracy is very much a lasting product of the war.

The Long Shadow is not an easy read, and his hard-hitting narrative and fundamental right wing views made it at times discomforting; but like any seriously good book, it certainly calls for a re-evaluation of what you thought you knew and thought you believed.

A seriously good book.

Blog #2

Blog #3

Blog #4

Blog #5

Blog #6

Blog #7

Blog #8

Blog #9

Blog #10

Blog #11

Blog #12

Blog #13

Blog #14

Blog #15

Blog #16

Blog #17

Blog #18

Blog #19

Blog #20

Blog #21

Blog #22

Blog #23

Blog #24

Blog #25

Blog #26

Blog #27

Blog #28

Blog #29

Blog #30





If you would like to comment on any of these Blog pieces please email me on:



Return to home page