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The First Hundred Thousand

January 25, 2012

The First Hundred Thousand, by Ian Hay, is another of those slightly fictionalized, early-days-of-the-war books. And obviously it’s a bit depressing some of the time, but mostly it’s pretty funny.

This is an account of the training — and, later, the deployment — of a regiment of Scottish soldiers, and basically it does everything right. The humor works without Hay having to sacrifice detail, and I ended up with a much clearer idea than I’d had before about how the British Army was trained, and especially about how things worked once the troops got to the trenches.

My favorite bit, though, is “Olympus,” the chapter on the military bureaucracy, which I’m struggling to figure out how to describe without just pasting in a bunch of text. For one thing, it includes the concept of “losing a life” in a game long before video games were thought of. Mostly, though, it’s just funny — a complicated kind of funny that can’t be condensed into one-liners.

Basically, The First Hundred Thousand is humorous without being flippant, sad but not intrusively so, and very frequently clever. Several thumbs up.

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