Men at War: What Fiction Tells Us about Conflict, from The Iliad to Catch-22 by Christopher Coker; My Life as a Foreign Country by Brian Turner - review by A S H Smyth

A S H Smyth

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Men at War: What Fiction Tells Us about Conflict, from The Iliad to Catch-22

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Hurst 325pp £25 order from our bookshop

My Life as a Foreign Country

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Jonathan Cape 240pp £16.99 order from our bookshop
 

In Men at War, Christopher Coker, a professor of international relations at the LSE, picks over the last three thousand years of warfare in literature to see ‘what fiction tells us about war’s hold on the imagination of young men and the way it makes – and breaks – them’. From The Iliad to World War III, via the Napoleonic era, Dresden and Vietnam, Coker investigates five ‘personalities’ – ‘warriors’, ‘heroes’, ‘villains’, ‘survivors’ and ‘victims’ – and incorporates examples as diverse as Henry IV and Dr Strangelove, McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and the Flashman novels.

Men at War does what surveys of this kind should always do: it sends you hurrying to (re)read the many dozens of books he refers to. Coker is extremely widely read and full of acute literary insights, wit and human sympathy. He has an especially frank and generous affinity for

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