Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

And the World Went Dark: An Illustrated Interpretation of the Great War
reviewed by David F. Beer

And the World Went Dark: 
An Illustrated Interpretation of the Great War
by Steven N. Patricia

Casemate Publishers, 2016

As its title indicates, this is a visual presentation of the First World War. It's also an excellent introductory book in that it is short (88 pages), briefly touches on numerous aspects of the war, and is heavily illustrated with drawings by the author — the majority of them in sepia, thus giving an impression of old photographs of the early twentieth century. The artwork is impressive, as would be expected of author Steven Patricia, an artist and historian with some 30 years' experience as an illustrator for such clients as The Art Institute of Chicago, the National Park Service, and The National Geographic Society. The size of the book, about 11.5 x 8.25 inches, moreover, allows ample space on each page for both drawings and text and thus prevents the impression that this is only a graphic treatment of the war.

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With its combination of drawings, text, maps, and passages from poems, diaries, and other documents of participants, the book provides a general but effective account of the war. A few of the statements made by the author may be open to debate, but this is the risk of creating a short account of a complex and tumultuous event.

Starting by introducing the causes of the war, the author takes us through to the end of hostilities and the Armistice. Early in the book we find useful lists of each participant's date of entry into the conflict plus numbers mobilized by each nation and overall casualties suffered, including Montenegro, Romania, and Bulgaria. Drawings of a soldier from each country appear within the text. A section on the war in the air deals with the lives of airmen, fighters, heavy bombers, and balloons. Another on the war at sea covers ships, underwater warfare, mines, troop transports and hospital ships, plus cats and other naval mascots. Several pages evocatively show in text, drawings and quotes, the sinking of a British ship and the harrowing experience of both crew and a cargo of horses.

The war on land is equally well treated, with Eastern, Italian, African and Western fronts touched on in that order. A diagram of a trench reveals some detail, as do brief sections on barbed wire, a trench raid, artillery, grenades, snipers, veterinarians, gas, dogs, horses, and, of course, the dead and wounded. All are embellished with impressive sketches. The book ends with the complete text of Wilfred Owen's poem "The Parable of the Old Men and the Young."

Typical Page

Almost three pages of bibliography (together with a drawing) conclude this interesting book. What caught my attention here is that more than half the sources consulted consist of web references, e.g. Lynch, George. War Wire, Web and blog pages – unlike our presentations at – can be quite ephemeral, and in fact the three online references I looked up were not there. But then this book poses not as a scholarly text but as a general and artistic introduction to the Great War, and in this it most certainly succeeds.

David F. Beer


  1. This sounds very good, David. Thank you for the sketch.

    NB: HathiTrust is actually a pretty amazing service. It's designed to be anti-ephemeral, and came from a group of libraries working with Google Books. Good story.

  2. Enjoyed the review. You always get the good ones. Cheers