On War and Writing

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University of Chicago Press
Publish Date
5.5 X 0.9 X 8.6 inches | 0.85 pounds
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About the Author

Samuel Hynes is the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature emeritus at Princeton University. He is the author of several books, including A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture, The Soldiers' Tale: Bearing Witness to a Modern War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, The Growing Seasons: An American Boyhood Before the War, and, most recently, The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War. He was also a contributor to Ken Burns's documentary The War.


"Perhaps no American scholar is better equipped to bridge the divide between martial life and literary culture than Samuel Hynes. . . . Mr. Hynes's prose is crisp and edifying without crossing into the didactic or academic. His ability to explicate how war culture can absorb antiwar pronouncements is particularly striking. . . . Every year, Memorial Day tempts us into believing that the best way to honor the fallen is to exalt their triumphs while whitewashing everything that led to their sacrifice. A superb writer and thinker like Mr. Hynes reminds us why we must resist that hollow pursuit, now more than ever."-- "Wall Street Journal"
"Hynes is fascinated with how the artist, in turn, shapes the ways we feel about and interpret war. . . .From renowned figures of literature to the less celebrated, the author offers powerful perspectives on the drama of destruction, exploring the character of wars 'good' and 'bad.' But the analysis is his own. He acknowledges, gloomily, that even the greatest art bears little power as a preventative instrument. Hynes studies what our literature and art tell us, or fail to tell us, about war, and there is much wisdom in his critique. He believes we have come to the end of 'the Big Words and brave gestures and the tall stone monuments.' A penetrating collection of pieces on war and how art responds to it."-- "Kirkus Reviews"
"The excellent Samuel Hynes has gathered some entertaining and provocative reflections, rooted in his long life and wide experience of both literature and war."-- "New York Review of Books"
"Hynes is a brilliant critic, both of the literature of war and its myths. In this, the writer he most resembles is Paul Fussell. . . .Beneath Hynes's many local insights there is a constant story, of the peculiar and shifting shape of modern wars, for war has become increasingly metaphorical: we speak of the 'war on terror' and 'culture wars'. So when Hynes is discussing poetry, he's also--and most interestingly--describing the quality of modern war. . . .Perhaps all modern warfare is a style of psychological warfare--war conducted in the head, in the stories and the fears of civilians--and this is also, perhaps, precisely why the guides we need are professors as well as pilots, or those who know both war and its many myths."-- "The Spectator"
"The author persuasively observes that the portrayal of glorious war, propelled by jingoistic propaganda, lured men into battle and was finally repudiated by the meaningless slaughter on the Western front. . . . Hynes, still going strong at the age of 93, has a clear, engaging style--and a mind that is intelligent, perceptive and humane."-- "Times Higher Education"
"Though the essays are all discrete, certain themes emerge: the disconnect between rhetoric and reality, the difference between immediate and retrospective accounts (or, as he says 'the need to report and the need to remember'). Famous writers get their due--among them, Vera Brittain, Thomas Hardy, Rebecca West, William Butler Yeats--as well as lesser-known names, such as posthumously published WWI memoirist Graeme West. Most of all, Hynes is interested in how language shapes people's ideas about combat, and he is an instructive interpreter of 'words about war, and the narrative they compose.' He also brings himself to the table: he marvelously recounts his participation as a commentator and adviser for Ken Burns's The War documentary, and elegiacally chronicles a flight he made in later life over the battlefields of WWI, concluding the book by demonstrating how images can say as much as words. His work is suffused with both academic credibility and personal commitment. . . a thoughtful and thought-provoking collection."-- "Publishers Weekly"
"Hynes is a rare veteran of both war and writing, and his rich and thought-provoking new collection of essays contains a wealth of ideas about the relationship between the two. . . .This book sounds a bugle call encouraging us to step back and reflect on war and words. It makes an eloquent case for re-reading the classics of war literature, recalling the power of language produced out of past conflicts, including the distortions of propaganda, and reminding that, while war is the darkest expression of our humanity, there are other expressions as well."-- "Times Literary Supplement"
"Samuel Hynes makes no claim to being a military historian, yet his grasp of the complexities and horrors of war offers values seldom available in conventional accounts of tactics, strategies and pivotal battles. . . . Hynes' subject is what our literature tells us, and fails to tell us, about war, and there is considerable wisdom in his critique."-- "Charleston Post and Courier"
"A fine reconsideration of war and its literary remembrance."-- "Australian Book Review"