In this engrossing narrative about World War I, Adam Hochschild writes vividly not just about the politicians, generals, and propagandists who pushed for war. He also chronicles the stories of a number of civilians and soldiers who waged a principled if unsuccessful antiwar struggle. To End all Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28) portrays the rush to battle and the inability to stop it as the product largely of entrenched mindsets. He compellingly contrasts the passions and principles of the dissenters with the deeply embedded commitment to war and empire of the war-makers and the majority of the population.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a shopper in possession of gift list must be in want of a good book. OK, I’m a Jane Austen fan. Even so, I had never read Persuasion. But when Persuasion: An Annotated Edition (Harvard Univ., $35) arrived on the shelves, I knew I had to pick it up. Not unlike its relative from last year, Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, this book is for any Austenite (even if you have read the novel before) or for any collector of beautiful books. All you need to do is open it up to see what I mean. The editor, Robert Morrison, uses side-notes instead of endnotes, so readers can easily go from text to note and back again. The notes carefully explain archaic words, provide commentary, and generally help elucidate the text. Similarly, illustrations, engravings, and paintings are carefully chosen to add depth to the story and provide insight into the world in which Austen lived. Oh, and did I mention, there’s a great love story there too? Truly a gorgeous book and a great gift.
Cecil Valance, poet, soldier, and seductive heir to a baronetcy, is scarcely cold in his grave at the Somme when the mythmaking about his life begins. As friends, relatives, and readers of his verse construct their various images, Cecil, like Alan Hollinghurst’s masterful novel, becomes “one set of secrets nested inside another.” The Stranger’s Child (Knopf, $27.95) opens on the eve of World War I and chronicles a century of British social and cultural history through the descendents of Valence’s circle. Hollinghurst draws great emotional power from his wide scope and large cast of characters by giving each period its own protagonist, from the innocent sixteen-year-old smitten with the dashing Cecil to the poet’s first biographer, a bank clerk so determined to reveal the truth that he unwittingly makes it up. Hollinghurst’s ultimate subject is the passing of time, and he finds in its merciless trampling of achievement and reputation fertile ground for their imaginative recreation.