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  • Alex Mayhew, London School of Economics and Political Science
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
April 2024
Print publication year:
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Book description

The First World War was an unprecedented crisis, with communities and societies enduring the unimaginable hardships of a prolonged conflict on an industrial scale. In Belgium and France, the terrible capacity of modern weaponry destroyed the natural world and exposed previously held truths about military morale and tactics as falsehoods. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers suffered some of the worst conditions that combatants have ever faced. How did they survive? What did it mean to them? How did they perceive these events? Whilst the trenches of the Western Front have come to symbolise the futility and hopelessness of the Great War, Alex Mayhew shows that English infantrymen rarely interpreted their experiences in this way. They sought to survive, navigated the crises that confronted them, and crafted meaningful narratives about their service. Making Sense of the Great War reveals the mechanisms that allowed them to do so.


‘An outstanding book from one of the best of a new generation of First World War historians which sheds fresh light on how men survived and endured the horrors of modern war on the Western Front.’

Jonathan Boff - Professor of Military History, University of Birmingham

‘Within the undeniable horrors of life on the Western Front in the First World War lies a crucial question: how did men endure? Alex Mayhew offers a thoroughly researched and compelling insight into the world of combatant sense-making and survival. An impressive interdisciplinary history, it is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand what enabled men to keep going.’

Catriona Pennell - Professor of Modern History and Memory Studies

‘Alex Mayhew meticulously reconstructs the distinctively English experience of the western front, comparing it with other armies and showing its deep foundations. A brilliant contribution to the cultural history of the Great War, his book also casts light on human endurance in general.’

John Horne - emeritus, Trinity College Dublin

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