Demobbed: Coming Home After the Second World War

Susan Pedersen writes:

Allport is a social historian with the soul of a novelist (or a tabloid journalist): he is interested in aggregate data and social trends, but what grips him is the picaresque quality of the individual stories. The book is, as a result, episodic, discursive and highly readable, and if the stacks of copies I saw in Heffers and Foyles soon after it was published are any indication, his publisher and the booksellers have realised as much. For historians, however, it is Allport’s perceptive if passing remarks about the way the war subverted the normal ‘economy of suffering’ (a subversion that, in consequence, forced veterans to treat their disorientation and distress as a private matter) that will resonate, offering a framework that can make sense of not only the very different experiences of soldiers in the two world wars, but also the exceptional experiences of those particular fighters – notably undercover agents and flyers – whose feats did arouse overwhelming public sympathy and veneration.

(LRB 25 February 2010)

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