on April 13, 1998
I was supposed to read this novel around 25 years ago, for a high school English class, and decided to skip it and just read the back cover and take notes in class. Turns out the joke was on me. I finally got around to reading this classic book, and let's just say that it's all the good things you've heard about and will read about below. The story is told simply but powerfully. One memorable scene follows another, and the battle scenes are particularly strong and at times even overpowering. But somehow the strongest scenes describe our protagonist--Paul's--thoughts when he realizes, during quieter moments, such as when on leave, that the war has changed him and made him no longer able to fit into society. And the scene where Paul shares a shellhole with a dying French soldier, and contemplates on the brotherhood of man, and on our universal commonality, and of the utter uselessness of war, is so memorable that...well, if you don't get a lump in your throat while reading this scene, you're better than me! Me recommending this book to you is like someone saying "Citizen Kane" is a good movie or that the Beatles were a swell group. Let's just say that if you deprive yourself of this emotionally moving reading experience, as I did for so many years, you'll really be missing out. 'Nuff said.
Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970) served in World War I, where he received wounds five times in battle. The searing images of trench warfare left indelible scars on Remarque, who then attempted to exorcize his demons through the writing of literature. "All Quiet on the Western Front" is Remarque's most memorable book, although he wrote nine others dealing with the miseries of war.
"All Quiet on the Western Front" is the story of Paul Baumer, a young German soldier serving in the trenches in France. Baumer's story is not a pleasant one; he volunteered for the war when his instructor in school, Kantorek, urged the class to join up for the glory of Germany. After a rigorous period of military training (where Paul and his buddies meet the hated drill instructor Himmelstoss, a recurring character throughout the book), Baumer and his friends go to the front as infantrymen. Filled with glorious ideas about war by authority figures back home, Baumer quickly discovers that the blood-drenched trenches of the Western Front are a quagmire of misery and violent death. As soon as the first shells explode in the mud Paul and his friends realize everyone back home is a liar, that war is not the glorious transformation of boys into men but rather the systematic destruction of all that is decent and healthy. As Paul's friends slip away one by one through death, desertion, and injury, Paul begins to wonder about his own life and whether he will survive not only the war but also a world without war.
Remarque's book exposes all of the insanities of war. The incongruities of violent battle versus long periods of boredom repeatedly appear throughout the book. On one day, Paul and his friends sit around discussing mundane topics; the next day they are bashing French skulls during an offensive. It is these extremes that caused so many problems with the psychological disposition of the men. In one chapter of the book, Paul and several new recruits, hunkered down in a dugout, withstand hour upon hour of continuous shellfire until one of the green recruits snaps and tries to make a run for freedom. Where else but in a war could one walk through a sea of corpses while enjoying the sunshine and the gentle cadences of the birds in the trees? That such an unnatural activity as mass murder takes place surrounded by the natural beauty of the world is a theme found in many World War I authors and poets. Remarque's book is noteworthy because he does a better job of showing this strange duality than other writers.
Also of interest is that this book views the war from the German side. From what I read recently, the Germans had a tough time throughout the war with rations, troop rotations away from the front, and supplies. This is apparent in Remarque's treatment of the German war effort, especially toward the end of the book when Germany begins to retreat in the face of overwhelming American military power. Paul's remarks about the evil presence of tanks are an interesting insight into the effect those iron behemoths had on the ill-equipped and exhausted Germans.
The cover of this edition trumpets this as "the greatest war novel of all time." And so it is, but not in the way some people might think. This is the greatest war novel ever because Remarque's book is anti-war. Those that read "All Quiet on the Western Front" will see warfare stripped of its flag waving, parades, and John Wayne glory. War is death, with the glory going to the few who survive. Remarque makes a brilliant contribution to world literature with this riveting novel.
on July 14, 2000
I never suspected that when I began reading All Quiet for my 10th grade History class, it would completely revolutionize my perspective on war. This novel flawlessly captures the confusion, bitterness, futility, and hopeless loss of human life on the battlefield. At the same time Remarque eliminates the false perception that war is glorious and honorable. The way in which the author accomplishes this is, in my opinion, without a single flaw. Written through the narrative of a young German soldier, Paul Baumer, this book succeeds in revealing an entirely new perspective to the reader. To an American reader, Baumer is "the enemy" since he is a German soldier in WWI. But through the expression of Baumer's thoughts and emotions, one quickly realizes the harsh commonality between soldiers of both sides, and the inevitable futility of war, with scores of men dying for a few inches of dirt. The images are intense and painful- choking in poison gas, trembling with fear of being shelled, and the eternal loss of faith in life itself once one has been forced to kill and be killed namelessly, facelessly, and heartlessly. The impact it has on the reader is beyond words- one has to read this book to understand the reasons why war is not all what we have been led to believe. I have never been a fan of war novels, but this book goes beyond being just another war novel. Besides offering a revolutionary new perspective on the grim truth about war, it taught me much about the sanctity of saftey, peace, freedom, and life. Although I could never truly feel what soldiers undergo physically and emotionally in war, this book is as close as one can get. All Quiet on the Western Front is a truly phenomenal novel, and I feel that everyone should read this book. It will change the way you think.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is not the story of military strategy, or a tale concerned with the mass movement of armies and people. It is not a novel about the higher view of war, the way it is seen by governments and generals. It is, in fact, the story of one man caught up in a war that he doesn't even seem to fully comprehend. He and his friends are battered and wounded, and simply trying to survive each day as it comes. The book is powerful and memorable. Erich Maria Remarque shows us what war is like, and shows us a tale of people trying to stay alive, but becoming more and more alienated from the regular world they left behind.
The story is gritty, dirty and depressing. It probably isn't exactly explaining what life was like for the German soldiers during WWI, but my guess is that it comes extremely close. The men have trouble finding food, they are ordered around by sadistic officers, they are cold, and hungry - and there's a war going on, the nature of which means that literally at any second they could be killed or horribly maimed. The book focuses on the death associated with the war, but it also spends a lot of time going over the suffering and the pain. Remarque tells us of the soldiers wounded, of those slowly dying in no-man's land with no hope of being rescued or of dying a clean death. The lucky ones are the ones who die quickly; the unlucky are in agony for days or weeks.
There really isn't much of a plot, which would certainly seem to be in keeping with the way an average solider would view the war. The narrative bounces us around from the front lines, to the rear camps, to civilian villages in a sequence as random as it would have appeared to anyone involved in the war. We can't see the reasoning behind any individual movement, and neither can our protagonist. They are concerned only with the moment, the simple things that will keep them alive and as comfortable as possible. Their occasional contacts with home and with civilian life highlight how different they have become and the difficulties the survivors will face when they attempt to reintegrate themselves with their old lives.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is a book that everyone should read, just so that the story of the average soldier is always carried on. Even as television brings cursory and unrepresentative images of the battlefield to regular citizens, it is vital that everyone fully understands the horror that war is. I can't say that this was a pleasant read, but it was a book that I found difficult to put down.
I am often disappointed when I return to a novel that I read and admired in my youth--but when I recently finished re-reading ALL QUITE ON THE WESTERN FRONT I found myself as moved and impressed I was some twenty years ago when I first encountered it. If ever there was "the great war novel of the 20th century," this is it, and I do not use that description lightly.
The novel is flawless. Told from the point of view of a young solider named Paul, ALL QUIET presents the story of German youths who enlist during World War I under the influence of a professor, who assures them that their service will make a vital difference to the cause and bring them honor and glory. Once inside the military machine, however, they endure training that consists largely of attention to petty detail and abuse of authority before being fed into the hell of the war's infamous trench warfare--in which thousands die pointlessly as they take, lose, and re-take the same few yards of land over and over again.
Remarque's style here is remarkable, for he keeps his prose simple and direct and easy to read without allowing it to become commonplace. Great horrors are presented casually, for they are the stuff of every day life; at the same time, the occasional moment of beauty--be it the blue sky on a clear day, the solace of friendship, or the satisfaction of enough to eat--stand out in high relief against the hell of battle. And as the novel progresses and the characters change, harden, and sometimes warp and break under the stress of battle, we find ourselves repeatedly confronted with both the nobility and tragedy of the ordinary man at war.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT still speaks in ringing tones, and it will not doubt continue to do so as long as war itself continues. Not just strongly recommended; it is required reading for all those who call themselves human.
on November 29, 2000
Remarque gives us his view of the war, astonishingly enough (or not) from a German perspective. His view is not pleasant, it does not glorify war in the least, from the farm battle sequence to the gutsy final chapters, the protaganist Paul Baumer takes the reader on a journey he (she) won't soon forget.
It's no wonder this book was banned shortly after its release in Germany. Hitler simply detested the novel, and most likely many members of the Nazi party did likewise. The novel certainly would not stir patriotism to fight for one's country, nor would it stir up a desire to join the fighting front like so many German youths were doing in the late 30s as World War II silently crept upon them. It is an anti-war novel at its finest. Most anti-war novels do it in one of two ways, it does so with humour (Catch-22) or it does so with detestable, grosse violence. Although, All Quiet on the Western Front contains a little bit of both, where it really hits home is with the dialogue. It's so brilliantly, (and almost effortlesssly it seems at times), written, that it personifies the feelings of the average German soldier: tired, hungry, wounded, and completely demoralized.
All Quiet on the Western Front is one of those rare novels, that explains a horrifying period in the world's history with an unbiased, almost simplified approach. For an understanding of the War from the perspective of the "Enemy" and an understanding of the feelings of soldiers during war in general read Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Westen Front.
on September 1, 2009
This a very important work, perhaps a little dated in it's language but a classic nonetheless. BUT this particular edition is practically unreadable due to the formatting, typos and errors. It looks like a cheap knock-off and is very difficult to read. I ended up buying a different version to finish the story.
Do yourself a favor and avoid this edition.
Update September 7, 2013:
Didn't realize that my review comments are not always linked to the version of the book I bought, so here are the details of the specific edition I was commenting on. It was published by Classic House Books, dated 2009, first printing 2009. The cover has a soldier in silhouette in front of barbed wire on an orange and red background. ISBN 978-1441482655. Hope that helps.
on September 21, 1999
Even in translation, Remarque's story of a young soldier's view of World War I is gripping. I read this book for a college class, "War in German Literature," but I am glad it was assigned.
I couldn't put it down, and am thorougly convinced that the translator was either very true to Remarque's good writing, or is astounding in himself. The central themes of comraderie and isolation play off each other throughout the novel, while Paul (the central character) gets drawn deeper and deeper into the animalistic instinctive actions of war. His tenderness towards his friends, and his compassion for the enemy up close helps to show noncombatants like myself that even though we can never know the horrors of war without being there, it's nothing worth seeing, and is something worth avoiding at all costs.
For those of you who get "into" books, who go down and then come up with it on your hands, this book will have a profound effect on you, I believe. Read this book if you haven't - there are many important lessons to learn about war, if we plan on never fighting another.
on May 3, 2001
I first read this book when I was 15 years old and had the opportunity again to read it recently (the illustrated edition). Although fictional, it is a classic account of the devastation and tragedy of World War I. It changed my whole outlook about war, and it succeeds again after all these years.
Arguably the best anti-war novel of all time, it is told from the perspective of a young German soldier (Paul Baumer) who tells of his adventures with his classmates, their enlistment and experiences in the war. He describes how only in such terrible hardship and mind boggling terror can one attain real genuine comradeship. The book no doubt was excerpted from some of the war experiences of Remarque, who was drafted in 1916, wounded in 1917 and then saw no further action. Obviously appalled by the enormous loss of life and devastation, "Im Westen nichts Neues" was published in Germany in 1929--and became an instant best seller. Devoid of all romanticism, he describes in graphic and burning prose the tragedy of war where the individual could not surmount but be battered and eventually destroyed by blind and illogical hatred not of his own making. No wonder that Remarque became a 'persona non grata' in the Third Reich, for the Nazis, true sons of the war were angered by Remarque's pacifism and anti-militarism, eventually stripping him of German citizenship.
A book destined to be a classic, for sheer fascination it rivals the most thrilling modern novel, for it is readable, interesting, and easy to understand. And these are the very qualities which characterize classical books: simplicity, interest and readability.
on March 25, 2001
All Quiet on the Western Front, by German writer Eriq Maria Remarque, explores the horrors of World War I through the eyes of a German solider named Paul. Remarque transforms this tale of a young recruit who is thrown head first into a raging war into a lesson about life. Remarque attempts to teach the reader to understand the horror of war, the value of friendship and the absurdity of traditional values.
Remarque includes discussions among Paul's group, and Paul's own thoughts while he observes Russian prisoners of war to show that no ordinary people benefit from a war. No matter what side a man is on, he is killing other men just like himself, people with whom he might even be friends at another time. But Remarque doesn't just tell us war is horrible: he vividly supports his point by assaulting all of the reader's senses. Remarque uses the sight of newly dead soldiers, unearthly screaming of the wounded horses, the smell of three layers of bodies to hammer home the atrocity of war. The crying of the horses is especially terrible. Horses are innocent bystanders, their bodies shining beautifully before being cut down by shellfire. To Paul, their dying cries represent all of nature accusing Man, the great destroyer.
Another message that Remarque attempts to convey to the reader is the value of enduring friendship. The theme of comradeship occurs often and gives the novel both lighthearted and sad moments. Away from battle, the soldiers formed deep bonds, showing not only the importance, but also the strength of the camaraderie between the men. Friendship emerges as an even more important theme at the front. Throughout the book, the reader sees men helping wounded comrades at great personal risk, often with tragic results. The reader can understand how hearing the voices of friends when one is lost or even just hearing their breathing during the night can keep a soldier going. The reader grieves with Paul and almost puts down the book when his dearest friend dies. Friendship was often the last thing keeping a soldier from giving up, and, when it was lost, life seemed to lose its meaning.
Remarque also preaches a rejection of traditional values. In his introductory note, Remarque said that his novel was "not an accusation". Rather, it is a rejection of traditional militaristic values of Western civilization. This denunciation is impressed on the reader through the young soldiers. Represented by Paul and his friends, these soldiers see military attitudes as stupid and accuse their elders of betraying them. Often the spit and polish mind-sets of their superiors put the front-liners in danger. The betrayal by elders can be seen in many instances, including during the Kaiser's visit to the front. This scene hints at some of Remarque's personal grievances with his country's government.
Like All Quiet On The Western Front, most of Remarque's other books were written with the intent of censuring war. This book does an especially good job of this, relying on the wonderful prose of the author to brand its ideas into the reader's mind. It also impresses upon the reader the author's belief in the merit of friendship and the triviality of traditional values. In the end, this book serves its purpose well: it makes the reader wonder why we still tolerate and advocate the atrocity that is war.