‘Storm of Steel’ by Ernst Junger

Initial Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)

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Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir, WW1, Military History

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Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

  • None

Here’s the TL;DR for my review (SPOILERS!):

  • Pros
    • Character study of a German soldier during WW1 who earnestly loved his nation. He wasn’t evil- he just likes fighting. (As a matter of fact 1 year before WW1 he was a member of the French Foreign Legion so you can’t say he hated the French)
    • Excellent Descriptions of combat. Probably the best described combat in any work of nonfiction (or fiction for that matter) I’ve ever read.
  • Mixed
    • Slow-ish start. Took about 100 pages to get going… but honestly the book needed that slow start to build up a good head of steam. It was worth it, for me at least.
  • Cons
    • Doesn’t talk enough about the history of WW1, in the context of this novel. I get it that this is a memoir, but I would have liked if the author took some time to mention what was going on in broader history during the events of this memoir.
    • I wanted more talk about the other people around him. People were mentioned and then killed off in a matter of pages. I wish we got to know more of them so their deaths meant more to us.

 

What a difficult book for me to review. A book of singular quality, ‘Storm of Steel’ is the most pro-Kaiser era German book I’ve read. Written in the direct aftermath of WW1 by a soldier who fought long and hard in defense of his nation, this is a sad tale of death and destruction… but it is also a tale of laughter, fellowship and striving to succeed despite impossible odds.

‘Storm of Steel’ has been called a pro-war novel. This book is about Ernst Junger’s knightly adventures in World War 1. This is his tale of striking back at the British and French, striving to be an honorable combatant and surviving despite the odds. I can see why people call it a pro-war novel, because Junger paints a picture that is admirably badass.

Junger is a swaggering soldier who accomplishes the impossible, and rarely ever breaks down or takes wounds. He doesn’t fight because he hates the Allies; he fights because he likes fighting. 1 year before WW1 he was a member of the French Foreign Legion so you can’t say he hated the French. He was a soldier, and simply did his job as best as he was able… a job he was deadly efficient at.

However, I don’t think this is a pro-war novel. While Junger does play up us adventures and to some extent braggadocio in combat, he equally talks about the lives of his friends and compatriots who are lost. If you thought the Red Wedding was bloody, it ain’t got nothing on this book. Nearly every single named character (or in this case named person as this is based on real events and not ficticious characters) mentioned in this book is killed. Nearly every single one of Junger’s friends and squadmates are killed in the line of combat, and if they aren’t killed they’re horribly wounded. Junger himself was shot or hit by shrapnel 10 times.

And finally, the bodycount. Not a chapter goes by later on in the book when the author doesn’t mention the sheer MASS of corpses which litter the battlefield. In his first battle, Junger mentions how he woke up on a battlefield covered in frozen mummfied corpses. And it only gets worse from there. Any book which doesn’t shy away from talking about death in such horrifying detail can’t be called pro-war. In this book, death is messy and cheap, because that’s WW1. People die in horrible ways, like being flayed and incinerated by artillery or being literally melted by phosphorus grenades.

The author doesn’t shy away from talking about the loss of life in warfare. My biggest criticism is that he doesn’t talk about his own personal suffering after his friends die. He does occasionally mention that he feels real ripped up inside after a particularly close friend is killed, but this only lasts for a sentence or two at most before he goes back to being the cheerful warrior on the frontlines of hell.

This is a well written, well translated book. I would highly recommend it. It is my second favorite WW1 memoir I’ve thus far read, after ‘All Quiet on the Western Front.’ It provides a more grounded, hands on “This is what this war was like” experience, whereas ‘All Quiet’ was more about the joys and depressions of WW1.

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