All Quiet on the Western Front - A Book Review
Professor’s Comments: This is a good example of a book review typically required in history classes. It is unbiased and thoughtful. The Student explains the book and the time in which it was written in great detail, without retelling the entire story… a pitfall that many first time reviewers may experience.
All Quiet on the Western Front is the story of Paul Baumer’s service as a soldier in the German army during World War I. Paul and his classmates enlist together, share experiences together, grow together, share disillusionment over the loss of their youth, and the friends even experience the horrors of death-- together. Though the book is a novel, it gives the reader insights into the realities of war. In this genre, the author is free to develop the characters in a way that brings the reader into the life of Paul Baumer and his comrades. The novel frees the author from recounting only cold, sterile facts. This approach allows the reader to experience what might have been only irrelevant facts if presented in a textbook.
This book is written from a perspective foreign to most Americans. Historically, American students are taught from a single perspective, that being the American perspective. This approach to history (the single perspective) dehumanizes the enemy and glorifies the Americans. We tend to forget that those on the opposing side are also human.
The author's main theme centers not only on the loss of innocence experienced by Paul and his comrades, but the loss of an entire generation to the war. Paul may be a German, but he may just as easily be French, English, or American. The soldiers of all nations watched their comrades die, experienced hunger, and even visited prostitutes. Paul is German, but his story is universal. The story is as relevant today as it was when published in 1929 because it is the story of more than war; it is the story of humanity.
The book begins with the death of Paul's friend. The men have, by this time, become almost desensitized to death. Kemmerich (the dying friend) owns a fine pair of English airman's boots. It is a forgone conclusion that Kemmerich will no longer require them. It is not petty greed, but pragmatism, which drives Muller's desire to have the boots. The troops’ own equipment is ragged and worn, making anything in serviceable condition an improvement on what they have. As we find out in the story, not only are the soldiers’ boots worn out, but the artillery of the German army is also worn out. This may symbolize that not only are the soldiers and equipment at the front worn out, but so is Germany as a whole. Germany was worn out and had no idea what was going to happen, just as the soldiers had no idea where the artillery shells would land.
Paul reminisces about his days in school and how he and his friends believed the indoctrination they had received from their schoolmaster....