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Reviews of the Print Edition
“TOWARD THE FLAME is written in admirable and simple prose throughout … an important record.”—Saturday Review
“Filled with drama and humor. … It is unforgettable and beautiful. It has the marks of a classic.”—Bookman
“The main comfort, as seen by Mr. Allen, is that on the one hand a certain disregard for death comes from familiarity with the worst that death can do. . . . On the other hand, life, shortened in prospect, increases in intensity. . . . [One has] a quite special regard for the scholar in arms, the man who does his duty coolly and intrepidly, though his intelligence knows other allegiances.” —The New York Times
More Recent Reviews
From Goodreads 4.04 rating:
Considered by many to be the finest American combat memoir of the First World War, Hervey Allen’s Toward the Flame vividly chronicles the experiences of the Twenty-eighth Division in the summer of 1918. Made up primarily of Pennsylvania National Guardsmen, the Twenty-eighth Division saw extensive action on the Western Front. The story begins with Lieutenant Allen and his men marching inland from the French coast and ends with their participation in the disastrous battle for the village of Fismette. Allen was a talented observer, and the men with whom he served emerge as well-rounded characters against the horrific backdrop of the war.
…Throughout his memoir Allen describes the attrition of war, especially the hideous affronts of war upon soldiers’ bodies and minds. Describing the effects of a shell burst he reports: Then we heard those awful agonized screams and cries for help that so often followed. It is impossible to make people at home understand what listening to them does to your brain. You never get rid of them again.
Allen continues his observations of the war as a semi-detached observer throughout his book and it is only toward the end that he records how his unit, a company down to less than half strength, finally comes in direct contact with the enemy. They are continually whittled down by German artillery at the battle of Fismette village, part of the Second Battle of the Marne, while the withdrawal order of an American officer is overruled by an obsessed French general. The narrative ends as Allen’s troops are overwhelmed by German flamethrowers, thus explaining the title of his memoir.