Empires of the Dead: How One Man's Vision Led to the Creation of WWI's War Graves

Author(s): David Crane


Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction; the extraordinary and forgotten story behind the building of the First World War cemeteries. In the wake of the First World War, Britain and her Empire faced the enormous question of how to bury the dead. Critically-acclaimed author David Crane describes how the horror of the slaughter motivated an ambulance commander named Fabian Ware to establish the Commonwealth war cemeteries. Behind these famous monuments - the Cenotaph, Tyne Cot, Menin Gate, Etaples amongst them - lies a deeply moving story; 'Empires of the Dead' chronicles a generation coming to terms with grief on a colossal scale.


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‘Of the avalanche of books to commemorate the centennial of the opening of the Great War, ‘Empires of the Dead’ is the most original, best written and most challenging so far. Mercifully, it is also one of the shortest. It strikes at the heart of the current debate about what we are commemorating, celebrating or deploring in the flood of ceremony, debate and literary rows about the meaning of the First World War today. Crane succeeds in doing so by looking at the achievement of Fabian Ware, who to this day is almost an unknown in the pantheon of heroes or villains associated with the conflict’ Evening Standard

‘Outstanding … Crane shows how extraordinary a physical, logistical and administrative feat it was to bury or commemorate more than half a million dead in individual graves. And he reveals that this Herculean task was accomplished largely due to the efforts of one man: Fabian Ware’ --Independent on Sunday

‘Vivid and compelling … David Crane writes exuberant, joyful prose. He is acutely aware of the ambiguities and nuances surrounding the issues of war and death; and that makes this a fine and troubling book, as well as a riveting read’ --Literary Review

‘A superb study. The story of the foundation and achievements of the War Graves Commission has been told before, but never so well or so perceptively. Crane brings out the complexities of Ware’s character … his brilliance as a diplomat … and the paradoxes in his achievement’ -- Spectator

‘The most original, shortest and best written of the year’s tsunami of books on the impact of the Great War’ --Evening Standard, Books of the Year

‘Excellent’ --Sunday Times

‘Intensely moving’ Boyd Tonkin, --Independent

’A beautifully researched and written book, an intellectually honest work of history’ --Guardian

David Crane read History and English at Oxford University, then went on to become a lecturer at universities in Holland, Japan and Africa. Now a full-time writer, David Crane's first book, 'Lord Byron's Jackal' was published to great acclaim in 1998. His second, 'The Kindness of Sisters', published in 2002, is a groundbreaking work of romantic biography. His last book for Harper Collins was the highly acclaimed 'Scott of the Antarctic' (2005). He lives in north-west Scotland.

General Fields

  • : 9780007456680
  • : HarperCollins Publishers Limited
  • : William Collins
  • : July 2014
  • : United Kingdom
  • : July 2014
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : David Crane
  • : Paperback
  • : English
  • : 940.465
  • : 304
  • : Illustrations (black and white, and colour), maps (black and white)