Book Review: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Rating: 5 out of 5.

While my reading list is eclectic and deliberately as wide-ranging as possible, I do try to make room for ‘classic’ books – novels I should have read decades ago but somehow didn’t – to ‘catch up’ on all of those before it is too late.

Regular readers of my reviews will probably note that I don’t always look favourably on the classics. The world has changed considerably in my half a century plus lived so far. What was great when I was a young man is now often tacky, dreary or borderline unacceptable. There are only a handful of the great classic books I would recommend others to read these days.

I didn’t have high hopes then for Remarque’s one great novel. Written long before the second world war, by a German whose side had just lost what, at the time, would have been seen as the ‘Great European War’ rather than ‘World War One’ as it was destined to become, and read only in translated form – even the title is wrong, though it has become so much a part of the English language that it is unlikely ever to change. It looked set up for a fall. Here was a one-star review on its way.


I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the very first page to the last, I was enthralled, horrified and deeply moved. I had to check I hadn’t accidentally picked up some modernised version. The writing is so good, so compelling, it feels entirely new, modern, written yesterday. This was surely a brilliantly written novel imagined by someone who had never lived through the war – a ‘Saving Private Ryan’ kind of story. Moving, but ultimately, rather false.

But again I was wrong.

There’s no wonder that Remarque’s novel was banned by the Nazis when they came to power not too long after the publication of the book. And there’s little wonder that the book has remained on the list of classic ‘must-reads’ ever since.

By strange coincidence, shortly after finishing the book (and telling everyone who would listen just how bloody good it was) Netflix announced a new movie version was coming out. I told my GCSE History students that they needed to see it, if it was any good, to really get a feel for what life was like on the Western Front. I knew it was unlikely I’d get any of them to read the story; I hoped the movie would do it justice and not make a hash of it.

It would turn out that the movie did exceptionally well – and won well-deserved accolades as a result. While it can’t capture all of the storylines nor completely recreate the atmosphere and intensity of the book, it comes a very fine second. If you enjoyed the film, I do recommend you read the book anyway. There’s still more to experience within the printed words.

I can’t imagine what it took for Remarque to write such a beautiful, tragic anti-war story. No matter how many books you read, films you watch, or war poetry you read, unless you’ve gone through it, you can’t possibly entirely ‘get it’. What I do know is that I was appalled, gasped and, at the right moments, wept for the characters as the story progressed. When the final page was turned the author gave me no opportunity to long to know what happened to the characters next. I already knew what was their fate. I still feel that loss, months after finishing the novel.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to read the All Quiet on the Western Front again. Some books are just too painful. I do know that I will always treasure those pages and will, for the rest of my life, strongly recommend – to anyone who might ask – that they read this brilliant, bloody and brilliant, novel. We all become a little more human through these lives. That’s no bad thing and is exactly the point of the book.

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. His third book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, was published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways and Lancashire Life magazine. Currently reviews for Northern Arts Review. His reviews have been read more than 5.5 million times.


4 thoughts on “Book Review: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

  1. So glad you enjoyed ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ ! I am nearly finished with it now and was really suprised by how good it was. I know what you mean when you said you felt the writing feels modern… it does… seriously a good book!

    Liked by 1 person

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