I must admit I have rarely planned my summer reading in advance. However, inspired by recent posts by my colleagues from Defence Studies, I thought it would be useful to do so this year. As I sat down to think through what I would really like to read over summer, a theme emerged unbidden (or is that sub-consciously?) in my choices – the aftermath of war.
As Jeff Michaels has noted, summer reading is a good opportunity to read something less directly related to research or teaching. To this end, my first choice is a book already mentioned by Ken Payne – Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer’s classic The Odyssey. Every so often, I enjoy re-reading classics, but have tended to focus on those covering war itself — Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War or Homer’s Iliad. Emily Wilson’s new translation has gotten rave reviews, most of which focus on its readability. Having rediscovered the travails of Odysseus through my daughter’s love of Greek myths, I am intrigued to see how these are rendered in this new translation.
My second choice is a book that has been on my shelf for some time, Robert Gerwarth’s The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923. With the end of the centenary commemorations rapidly approaching, I am increasingly thinking about the aftermath of the fighting of the First World War. Gerwarth’s work takes us beyond the Western Front with its clean break on 11 November 1918 to the messy end to the war in eastern and southern Europe. Gerwarth highlights how the war failed to resolve the problems of the east and indeed engendered a new wave of political violence across central and eastern Europe. It also touches on areas and topics that are of continuing relevance today, such as the susceptibility of societies to nationalism and extreme political views.
The final book I have chosen is Lilith Saintcrow’s Afterwar. Afterwar is a dystopian novel (what’s summer without a bit of dystopia!) set in a future United States after a second civil war, which explores continued divisions and violence within society in the aftermath of bloody conflict. Saintcrow’s novel follows a group of onetime partisans who are now working for the new Federal government chasing down ‘war criminals’ of the losing side. Though this has had some mixed reviews, it seemed an appropriate novel to read at the moment.
Odysseus struggling to return home after the Trojan War and finding so much changed upon his return. The indecisive conclusion to the First World War (the ‘war to end all wars’) and the longer term social and political consequences of this. The continued divisions and violence of a fictional nation riven by social and political conflict. Each of the books I will be reading this summer touches on and explores the consequences of war, rather than war itself. While this theme is not central to my own research and writing on war, it provides crucial context for this and indeed for teaching about conflict and war.
Image: Odysseus chasing Circe, via Wikimedia Commons.