Simon Heffer

Staring at God
  • Staring at God

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    'A brilliant history: The first serious and really wide-ranging history of the Home Front during the Great War for decades. Scholarly, objective and extremely well-written. Filled with surprising revelations and empathy. Heffer’s eye for the telling detail is evident on almost every page. A remarkable intellectual and literary achievement.' – ANDREW ROBERTS, TELEGRAPH
    A major new work of history on the profound changes in British society during the First World War

    The Great War evokes images of barbed wire and mud-filled trenches, and of the carnage of the Somme and Passchendaele, but it also involved change on the home front on an almost revolutionary scale. In his hugely ambitious and deeply researched new book, Simon Heffer explores how Britain was drawn into this slaughter, and was then transformed to fight a war in which, at times, its very future seemed in question.

    After a vivid account of the fraught conversations between Whitehall and Britain’s embassies across Europe as disaster loomed in July 1914, Heffer explains why a government so desperate to avoid conflict found itself championing it. He describes the high politics and low skulduggery that saw the principled but passive Asquith replaced as prime minister by the unscrupulous but energetic Lloyd George; and he unpicks the arguments between politicians and generals about how to prosecute the war, which raged until the final offensive. He looks at the impact of four years of struggle on everyday life as people sought to cope with dwindling stocks of food and essential supplies, with conscription into the Army or wartime industries, with air-raids and with the ever-present threat of bereavement; and, in Ireland, with the political upheaval that followed the Easter Rising. And he shows how, in the spring of 1918, political obstinacy and incompetence saw all this sacrifice almost thrown away.

    Throughout, he complements his analysis with vivid portraits of the men and women who shaped British life during the war – soldiers such as Lord Kitchener, politicians such as Churchill, pacifists such as Lady Ottoline Morrell, and overmighty subjects such as the press magnate Lord Northcliffe. The result is a richly nuanced picture of an era that endured suffering and loss on an appalling scale but that also advanced the emancipation of women, notions of better health care and education, and pointed the way to a less deferential, more egalitarian future.
    'Staring at God is a vast compendium of atrocious political conduct. Refreshing. A trenchant history.' – GERARD DE GROOT, THE TIMES

    'A magisterial history' – MELANIE MCDONAGH, DAILY MAIL

    Gloriously rich and spirited […] it zips along, leavened by so many wonderful cultural and social details.’ – DOMINIC SOUTHBROOK, SUNDAY TIMES

    ‘Ambitious in its scope, content and approach. Masterly.’ – CHARLES VYVYAN, STANDPOINT

    ‘Fascinating stuff.’ – SPECTATOR

    Possibly the finest, most comprehensive analysis of the home front in the Great War ever produced.’ – LITERARY REVIEW

    ‘Every bit as good as its two predecessors. Illuminating.’ – EXPRESS

    ‘Absorbing’ – NEW STATESMAN

In a career of more than 25 years in Fleet Street Simon Heffer has written columns for and held senior positions on the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator. It was while associate editor of The Daily Telegraph that his emails to staff lamenting their lapses in English became an internet cult, and led to the writing of this book. He read English at Cambridge and holds a PhD from that university in history. His previous books include: Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle, Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell, Nor Shall My Sword: The Reinvention of England and Vaughan Williams.