Wars are often chronicled with battle dates and time lines, maps and statistics, leaving the individual men who fought them as an afterthought. These two new volumes take a look at the First and Second World Wars — as the titles imply — through images of the soldiers and the lives they led while in the thick of combat.
The books are beautifully produced, with a wide-ranging selection of photos — many from the Imperial War Museum in England, many never before published — that vividly show both the horrors of war, the death and maiming and destruction, as well as the everyday existence of fighting men when they weren't fighting. For example, one photo shows two soldiers shaving with water collected from a puddle. Another shows "foot inspection" in a trench. Another shows a group of U.S. black troops eating a meal, separately.
Others show the unimaginable sights seen by Allied soldiers liberating concentration camps, and the slain and wounded of both wars.
Originally published in England, the books have a British-centered perspective on the wars but include photos of soldiers on all sides.
These aren't comprehensive histories: Each year of war is introduced with just a few pages of synopsis, and some well-chosen quotes from people who were there are interspersed with the photographs. War may be declared by governments, but it's waged by people, and the haunting, moving photographs of people are what give these books their power.