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The Crimson Bookshelf

PATHS OF GLORY by Humphrey Cobb. New York: The Viking Press, 1935. $2.50.

By L. H. B.

No more appropriate reading for Memorial Day in Cambridge could be found, surely, than this war novel which so undeniably approximates the claims of an extensive prepublication critical fanfare. Even for him who does not go in for horrors as such there is something very gratifying in reading this grim, well-told, and certainly convincing piece of military muckraking while, after the usual marches and counter-marches, stray buglers of the Junior American Legion Band gather under windows and drive all peaceable citizens into an anti-militarist frenzy. This was the reviewer's experience, and it no doubt gave "Paths of Glory" its maximum effect.

Yet the claim of the book is a great deal more than its claim as expert muck-raking. It is a rattling good story, yielding precedence to no other war novel in its swift vividness of narrative and its sureness of character analysis. The action occupies less than three days in the collective life of a french regiment of the line and in the individual lives, presented in a counterpoint pattern, of a number of the members of the regiment, from privates to the division commander. The division commander lusts for a star of a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, so he orders the exhausted regiment, after only a few hors of its promised ten day leave, back to the Front for an atack which the colonel knows is suicidal and which is stopped almost before it is started by a nearly complete slaughter of the few men who manage to get out of the trench. The commander orders a court martial to try one man from each company in the attacking battalion for "cowardice in the face of the enemy." The meticulous account of the methods of choosing these victims of military discipline, of the trial, and of the carrying out of the inevitable sentence, is nerve-rackingly exciting. Not the least skilful touch is the placing on the last page of the book, where they confront a reader at once exhausted and wrought up by the shocking climax, of the sources of the story. One of these is "a special dispatch to "The New York Times of July 2, 1924, which appeared under this headline: FRENCH ACQUIT & SHOT FOR MUTINY IN 1915; WIDOWS OF TWO WIN REWARDS OF? CENTS EACH."

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