Book Review: The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War by Tim Cook

Tim Cook’s book The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War is simply exceptional. Being an established Historian of the First World War, Tim Cook is a decorated author, with many of his 10 works claiming prizes. The latest book, The Secret History of Soldiers is no exception to Tim Cook’s informative and lyrical writing.

Usually, books on the topic of wars look at the play by play, the commanders, the battles, the tactics and strategy. However, Cook’s newest work pertains to the soldier’s history in what is often seen as a hidden society. Within the madness, the violence and ominous presence of war, there is humour and life, an aspect often missed by the history books.

The book itself covers the topic of Canadian war history and the society and culture that appeared in the Canadian experience of trench warfare throughout the Great War. The book is broken down into “subcultures”, each regarding certain aspect of life, including survival, death, music and material possessions. Each section is masterfully curated with first hand sources, letters and diaries interwoven in a carefully thought out narrative. The sections give a great insight into the society that formed within the mud and wood walls of the trenches, the social interactions and the general human history.

As a British graduate of Military History, I strive to find books and resources that comment on the social history of war, or from countries that may not be the most debated. For me, the canadian involvement in the World Wars has been vastly overlooked, and this book really helps give an insight to the social history of the war, albeit the Canadian perspective. It’s stories like these that show there is always light in dark times.

Overall the book is highly readable and well researched with an excellent narrative. The amount of sources and end notes used also make it a great book for finding and understanding the first hand sources. Something I know may be helpful to those who struggle to find decent varied sources and references.

The book can purchased at most outlets across Canada and the U.S., but if you want to read it elsewhere, amazon is your best bet! Happy reading!

Paperback | Published by Penguin Canada
Oct 22, 2019 | 480 Pages | ISBN 978073523528

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