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Staring at God Reviews

Staring at God by Simon Heffer

Staring at God: Britain in the Great War

Simon Heffer

4.40 out of 5

4 reviews

Category: History, Non-fiction
Imprint: Random House Books
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publication date: 19 Sep 2019
ISBN: 9781847948311

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 Daily TelegraphBook of the Year
5 stars out of 5
14 Sep 2019

"[Heffer] shows what a complicated knot of interconnected events led to the outbreak of war, in a masterclass chapter that ought to be taught in schools. It is filled with surprising revelations."

Staring at God is the first serious and really wide-ranging history of the Home Front during the Great War for decades. Scholarly, objective and extremely well-written, it describes how, in Heffer’s words, “the government and people of a great naval and mercantile power, shaped by the tenets of laissez-faire, broke with traditions of their culture, liberties, doctrines and customs, and adapted to total war”... Heffer’s eye for the telling detail is evident on almost every page... The description of the effect of the war on ordinary Britons is filled with empathy, in particular for the women, on whom fell the burden of war work, single parenthood, and often widowhood.


4 stars out of 5
Dominic Sandbrook
17 Nov 2019

"a spirited, old-fashioned history book"

At more than 900 pages, Heffer’s book might seem a daunting read. But it zips along, not least because his political narrative is leavened by so many wonderful cultural and social details: the origins of Hubert Parry’s hymn Jerusalem, the banning of DH Lawrence’s book The Rainbow, even the huge appeal of spiritualists and mediums, thanks to the support of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

4 stars out of 5
1 Nov 2019

"possibly the finest, most comprehensive analysis of the home front in the Great War ever produced"

Heffer’s grasp of political motivation and character ensures that his passages about the government crises are compelling reading. Particularly strong is the chapter about the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. Britain’s harsh reaction to the rebellion, epitomised by the execution of the ringleaders, created an ‘industry of martyrdom’ that ultimately fuelled Irish republicanism and brought British rule in southern Ireland to a violent end. Heffer is just as good on the political storm – generated by shell shortages, the failure of the Gallipoli campaign and press agitation –that led to the formation of an all-party coalition under Asquith in 1915. But when it comes to political intrigue, the finest chapter is that covering the coup of late 1916, when Lloyd George ruthlessly overthrew Asquith, splitting the Liberals and ensuring their long-term demise. Exuding serenity to the last, Asquith talked of going to Honolulu after he had been ejected from Downing Street.

4 stars out of 5
Gerard DeGroot
14 Sep 2019

"This trenchant history argues that Lloyd George was a liar and a cheat and that Churchill was deluded,"

Staring at God is the third book in what will be a four-part series covering Britain from 1838 to 1939. This volume is more concerned with high politics than its predecessors, High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain and The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880 to 1914. As a result it is less entertaining. The author does, nevertheless, still indulge his delightful addiction to quirky facts. There’s interesting detail about dogs, horse chestnuts and pigeons, to name a few. The last had a bad war, being shot as spies or cooked in pies.