“Sheer Misery: Soldiers in Battle in WWII,” by Mary Louise Roberts
“Sheer Misery” trains a humane and unsparing eye on the corporeal experiences of the Soldiers who fought in Belgium, France, and Italy during the last two years of World War II. In the horrendously unhygienic and often lethal conditions of the front lines, their bodies broke down, stubbornly declaring their needs for warmth, rest, and good nutrition. Feet became too swollen to march, fingers too frozen to pull triggers; stomachs cramped, and underwear and pants soiled. Turning away from the accounts of high-level military strategy that dominate many WWII chronicles, historian Mary Louise Roberts instead relies on diaries and letters to bring to life visceral sense memories like the moans of the “screaming meemies,” the acrid smell of cordite, and the shockingly mundane sight of rotting corpses. As Dr. Roberts writes, “For soldiers who fought, the war was above all about their bodies.”
Dr. Mary Louise Roberts is the WARF Distinguished Lucie Aubrac Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She was also the Charles Boal Ewing Chair in Military History at the United States Military Academy at West Point for the 2020-21 academic year. Her most recent books are “What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France” and “D-Day through French Eyes: Normandy 1944,” both published by the University of Chicago Press.
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