Staring at God: Britain in the Great War
Penguin Random House, $59.99 hb, 926 pp
It seems hard to imagine that we need more books on World War I after the tsunami of publications released during the recent centenary. Yet, here we have a blockbuster, a 926-page tome, Staring at God, by Simon Heffer, a British journalist turned historian in the tradition of Alistair Horne and Max Hastings.
Heffer opens by stating that Staring at God is neither a military history of the war nor an international history of the war. It is a social, cultural, and political history that tells the story of ‘how the government and people of a great naval and mercantile power, shaped by the tenets of laissez-faire, broke with the traditions of their culture, liberties, doctrines and customs, and adapted to total war’. It considers how Britain managed to adapt its economy and society to the demands of industrialised war, and how the British state ballooned and gained unprecedented control over the lives of its people. Heffer also focuses on a ‘second conflict’: that between the British state and Ireland. Denied Home Rule by the outbreak of war in 1914, Ireland would erupt in violence in 1916 and progressively descend into partition and civil war.