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.
In What It Is Like to Go to War (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25) Karl Marlantes, author of the acclaimed novel Matterhorn, provides fresh and important insights into experiencing the ordeal of combat. Drawing on his own past leading a platoon of Marines in Vietnam, he conveys with often unsettling honesty what a combat veteran thinks and feels. His riveting account traces how, after being taught to kill, he learned to deal with the aftermath. He also examines the larger sociological and moral issues of war and what can be done to better prepare soldiers for the psychological and emotional toll it takes. With war such a part of contemporary American life, this book has particular significance for our times.