An excerpt from the essay here:
"A century after the guns of August first boomed, World War I has lost none of its power to boggle the mind. The numbers are simply too big: 65 million men under arms, 37 million casualties, 12,000 miles of trenches on the Western Front, 1.45 billion shells fired. Rather than a human event, it often seems like an immeasurable abstraction, like negative infinity.
Louis Barthas, an enlisted man from southwestern France, managed to reduce the conflict to human scale with a pen and 19 notebooks that he filled with observations and comments from his more than four years of service in the army, most of it spent in combat on the Western Front. With Edward M. Strauss’s translation of “Poilu,” English-language readers now have access to a classic account of the war, a day-to-day chronicle of life in the trenches and a richly detailed answer to the seemingly unanswerable question: What was it like?"