“Back Over There” is a fun-to-read travelogue; and it marks Richard Rubin’s second grand effort to educate an American public that is largely ignorant of or apathetic to the United States’ role in World War I. In this book the author explores the American battlefields of Northeastern France; meeting a wide variety of Frenchmen, and other Europeans living in France, who show him the physical remains of the American WW1 battlefields in their backyard. He intertwines these encounters and cultural vignettes with snippets of the history that was “made” at these sites; producing a well-written narrative that should encourage more Americans to get in touch with their WW1 history and to visit the battlefields of France and Belgium.
Another very important message from this book is that the French have not forgotten American involvement in that war or in the next war.
This book has been written to appeal to and to educate (softly) the general population. However, it is perhaps most useful for Americans who have contemplated visiting the battlefields overseas—especially those who had a relative who fought in WW1—but who are still a little uncomfortable with the idea of travelling to a foreign country. Throughout the book, the author tells of the cultural challenges of expecting things in rural France to operate as they would in suburban Manhattan. Nevertheless, Mr. Rubin perseveres and he is rewarded by meeting many wonderful people and by seeing many sights that are off the beaten path.
The Webmaster only wishes that Mr. Rubin would have added a chapter or two about overcoming cultural differences and about planning a trip overseas. The https://Meuse-Argonne.com website has numerous travel tips; and many of the cultural challenges faced by Mr. Rubin—such as the limited availability of public restrooms, the difficulty in finding gas stations open late, etc.—are discussed in the “La Vie en France” blogpost category on the Website.
The book was published in early 2017, in time for the 100th Anniversary of America’s entry into the war. Thus, the Webmaster is quite delinquent in publishing this review. This is not a slight on the author: The Webmaster has not been very timely in reviewing the plethora of WW1 books that have been published recently.
Mr. Rubin and the Webmaster are in agreement: The battlefields of WW1 are still very much alive and waiting to be explored. For those who choose to do this, the rewards are great. For readers seeking an informal introduction to the battlefields, this book is recommended.
“Back Over There: One American Time-Traveler, 100 Years Since the Great War, 500 Miles of Battle-Scarred French Countryside, and Too Many Trenches, Shells, Legends, and Ghosts to Count” was published in 2017 by St. Martin’s Press, New York. ISBN 9781250084323 (harcover); 9781250084330 (e-book).