Presenting the desperate conflict of the First World War through the eyes of an ordinary German soldier, Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel is translated by Michael Hofmann in Penguin Modern Classics. ‘As though walking through a deep dream, I saw steel helmets approaching through the craters. They seemed to sprout from the fire-harrowed soil like some iron harvest.’
A memoir of astonishing power, savagery and ashen lyricism, Storm of Steel depicts Ernst Junger’s experience of combat on the front line – leading raiding parties, defending trenches against murderous British incursions, and simply enduring as shells tore his comrades apart.
One of the greatest books to emerge from the catastrophe of the First World War, it illuminates like no other book not only the horrors but also the fascination of a war that made men keep fighting for four long years. Ernst Junger (1895-1998) the son of a wealthy chemist, ran away from home to join the Foreign Legion. His father dragged him back, but he returned to military service when he joined the German army on the outbreak of the First World War.
Storm of Steel (Stahlgewittern) was Junger’s first book, published in 1920. Greatly admired by the Nazis, Junger remained at a distance from the regime, with books such as his allegorical work On the Marble Cliffs (1939) functioning as a covert criticism of Nazi ideology and methods. If you enjoyed Storm of Steel, you might like Edward Blunden’s Undertones of War, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.