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Through the Wheat: A Novel: A Library of America eBook Classic

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A neglected classic offers an unflinching depiction of the physical and psychological cost of modern warfare. For his 1923 novel Through the Wheat Thomas Boyd drew on his own experiences with the Marines at Belleau Wood, Soissons, and St. Mihiel to tell the story of William Hicks, an infantryman fighting in France in 1918. Hicks endures hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and fatig A neglected classic offers an unflinching depiction of the physical and psychological cost of modern warfare. For his 1923 novel Through the Wheat Thomas Boyd drew on his own experiences with the Marines at Belleau Wood, Soissons, and St. Mihiel to tell the story of William Hicks, an infantryman fighting in France in 1918. Hicks endures hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and fatigue as his platoon advances through dense woods and open fields in the face of hidden machine guns and sudden artillery bombardments, experiencing alternating states of fear, nausea, fury, and apathy until he becomes “impervious to the demands of the dead and the living.” When it was first published, Through the Wheat was hailed by F. Scott Fitzgerald as “the best war book since The Red Badge of Courage,” and by Edmund Wilson as “probably the most authentic novel yet written by an American about war”; fifty years later, James Dickey praised it as “a war book of the most striking and moving kind.”


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A neglected classic offers an unflinching depiction of the physical and psychological cost of modern warfare. For his 1923 novel Through the Wheat Thomas Boyd drew on his own experiences with the Marines at Belleau Wood, Soissons, and St. Mihiel to tell the story of William Hicks, an infantryman fighting in France in 1918. Hicks endures hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and fatig A neglected classic offers an unflinching depiction of the physical and psychological cost of modern warfare. For his 1923 novel Through the Wheat Thomas Boyd drew on his own experiences with the Marines at Belleau Wood, Soissons, and St. Mihiel to tell the story of William Hicks, an infantryman fighting in France in 1918. Hicks endures hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and fatigue as his platoon advances through dense woods and open fields in the face of hidden machine guns and sudden artillery bombardments, experiencing alternating states of fear, nausea, fury, and apathy until he becomes “impervious to the demands of the dead and the living.” When it was first published, Through the Wheat was hailed by F. Scott Fitzgerald as “the best war book since The Red Badge of Courage,” and by Edmund Wilson as “probably the most authentic novel yet written by an American about war”; fifty years later, James Dickey praised it as “a war book of the most striking and moving kind.”

30 review for Through the Wheat: A Novel: A Library of America eBook Classic

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Mr. Boyd presents the story of William Hicks, an ordinary American soldier on the front line in the Great War. Hicks experiences the customary spectrum of senseless battlefield brutalities, which gradually erase his soul. The question that comes to mind is why anyone continues to believe war is a good idea or that dying in modern battle is a noble act. The countervailing perspectives are archived in works such as this for anyone who cares to understand.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Huston

    Having read thousands of pages on Revolutionary and Civil War history, in this Centennial year of World War I, I decided it was time to read some more history. After reading several books on the Great War, I came to Through the Wheat. This book has a history in my family and there on page 25, I found it. Old Hepburn was my grandfather. Old? He was only 20 years old! Or maybe,"Old Hepburn" refers to the fact that Thomas Boyd and my grandfather, Robert W. Hepburn, knew each other in Elgin, IL, enl Having read thousands of pages on Revolutionary and Civil War history, in this Centennial year of World War I, I decided it was time to read some more history. After reading several books on the Great War, I came to Through the Wheat. This book has a history in my family and there on page 25, I found it. Old Hepburn was my grandfather. Old? He was only 20 years old! Or maybe,"Old Hepburn" refers to the fact that Thomas Boyd and my grandfather, Robert W. Hepburn, knew each other in Elgin, IL, enlisted together in May 1917 in Chicago, continued to Parris Island and Quantico before embarking from New York to France. My grandfather fought in and was wounded in the battle of Chateau Thierry/St. Mihiel sector in June 1918. The shrapnel remained in his knee for the rest of his life. There was also talk that he experienced a gas attack. While I did not find the book to be exceptional, it was enlightening to find out what life was like in the trenches. I now look at my grandfather with different eyes. He viewed the war as the great adventure of his life. Indeed, the photos of him in uniform show a smiling young man ready to make his way in the world. He was a member of the VFW and the American Legion until the end of his long life. The most moving moment at his funeral,some 35 years ago, was the line of WWI vets who recited Flanders Field. Robert W. Hepburn, USMC, Corporal, 2nd Division, 4th Brigade, marksman,sharpshooter. Enlisted May 1917, discharged June 1919. My grandfather.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nadir

    Through the Wheat joins several other highly regarded war-novels on my bookshelf. A common denominator among many of these, including Through the Wheat, is an author who survived the war about which they write (WW1 here). Such experience gives their writing an authenticity that lay authors struggle to achieve. Quite unlike techno-thrillers, veteran-written novels like Through the Wheat (and “Barbara” for WW2) make it abundantly clear that War is indeed hell, that men crack, that cowardice and de Through the Wheat joins several other highly regarded war-novels on my bookshelf. A common denominator among many of these, including Through the Wheat, is an author who survived the war about which they write (WW1 here). Such experience gives their writing an authenticity that lay authors struggle to achieve. Quite unlike techno-thrillers, veteran-written novels like Through the Wheat (and “Barbara” for WW2) make it abundantly clear that War is indeed hell, that men crack, that cowardice and desertion are not uncommon, and that rank does not bestow intelligence. I haven’t read the Red Badge of Courage in decades, but another reviewer compared these two titles, so I’ll add it to the list and see if it’s an appropriate comparison.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Brown

    Pretty good read, I found it a bit hard to follow at times and a bit slow in the beginning however, it does a great job describing the horrors of WWI and the the things combat can do to a man mentally and physically. I would encourage anyone who is interested in the Marine Corps or WWI to give it a read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    RANGER

    Thomas Alexander Boyd was a 1920's Lost Generation writer and contemporary of Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. While he shared their literary interests, amoral materialist worldview and leftist politics, Boyd was a bit of a literary one-hit wonder best known for this novel, "Through the Wheat," published in 1923 and based on his own experience as a Marine in WWI. He would write other books but nothing that quite measured up to the brutal depictions of life on the front i Thomas Alexander Boyd was a 1920's Lost Generation writer and contemporary of Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. While he shared their literary interests, amoral materialist worldview and leftist politics, Boyd was a bit of a literary one-hit wonder best known for this novel, "Through the Wheat," published in 1923 and based on his own experience as a Marine in WWI. He would write other books but nothing that quite measured up to the brutal depictions of life on the front in this one. Through the Wheat is a slow starting novel. It takes a bit of patience to work through the cumbersome, nineteenth century style of prose that characterizes the first third of the book. But as the story draws the reader into the increasingly bleak and brutal world of WWI trench warfare, it picks up pace, Boyd becoming more judicious in his prose and creating a sinister portrait of war's bleakness as the story progresses. The main character, Hicks, is drawn woodenly. There is little character development. We only know Hicks represents "the average American" serving on the frontlines. His personality can even be called bland. But the strength of the novel lies in the slow acceleration in the brutality of combat paralleling with the personal development of Hicks from normal, under-motivated, authority hating American Marine into cold, demented, forward-moving automaton whose soul has been crushed by the madness all around him. In one interesting scene, his dazed, war-weary behavior is mistaken for courage as he suddenly stands up and advances under enemy fire leading to a tactical victory for his platoon. But it's madness, not courage, that gives Hicks his fearlessness. The wheat in the title refers to a wheat field through which Hicks' platoon advances in their first battle. There are some odd things about this novel. It takes a while to distinguish that this is a novel about Marines and not generic soldiers. Later Marines would have derided the lack of esprit de corps portrayed here. These Marines, in fact, are not particularly good ones. It is possible given the large contingent of Army Officers that led Marines in battle during the Great War that distinctions between soldier and Marine were not so glaring as they became during WWII. Especially among short-timers like Boyd who, as a budding socialist, possessed a rebellious streak aimed at all military authority. It's a weird flaw in what would otherwise be an interesting perspective of the First World War. So, if you like classic, semi-autobiographical novels about war in all its sheer naked brutality, Through the Wheat is worth reading.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Elaine A. Bozek

    Not up to present day standards of a good war novel The author didn't develop his characters and I determined very late that his main character was a Marine. He didn't employ Marine jargon, talk about their company gunny, bitch at the Army, etc. The author was a former Marine, but his characters never discussed the Corps which is very strange. Just not well written. Not up to present day standards of a good war novel The author didn't develop his characters and I determined very late that his main character was a Marine. He didn't employ Marine jargon, talk about their company gunny, bitch at the Army, etc. The author was a former Marine, but his characters never discussed the Corps which is very strange. Just not well written.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Excellent first-hand account of life at the front lines of WW I ca. 1917. Based on author Thomas Boyd’s own experiences, the story follows the life of Private Hicks as he takes part in several major battles and many bloody minor skirmishes in France without ever revealing the big picture of the war but instead focusing on the personal travails of the soldier: the hunger, thirst, filth, exhaustion, pain and disease testing the endurance & survival instincts of the fighting men to their own indivi Excellent first-hand account of life at the front lines of WW I ca. 1917. Based on author Thomas Boyd’s own experiences, the story follows the life of Private Hicks as he takes part in several major battles and many bloody minor skirmishes in France without ever revealing the big picture of the war but instead focusing on the personal travails of the soldier: the hunger, thirst, filth, exhaustion, pain and disease testing the endurance & survival instincts of the fighting men to their own individual breaking points. What is particularly shocking in this account is the chaos on all levels. Contradictory, senseless orders are given—sometimes ignored—platoons wander aimlessly, supplies are lost, food is poor or nonexistent and gear is inadequate or inappropriate. And although this is primarily a personal story of one man it is also a resounding awakening call to the world that warfare has forever evolved from orderly lines of man-to-man encounters on foot or horseback into sprawling, logistical nightmares and long-range mechanized, and in this conflict, chemical mass slaughter. Private Hicks witnesses all of the horror of what is now known as modern warfare.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gregory

    Written in 1923 by one who was there, Through the Wheat is a gritty account of a World War I Marine and those around him. The reader seem William Hicks, our protagonist, dehumanized and ground down through the experiences of war.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Curt Peterson

    A good historical account of what life was like for the infantryman in WWI.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Freeman

    Like the Lost Generation he is associated with, Thomas Boyd has been lost to literary history--both his name and this powerful work. Tagged once as "The finest American novel of World War I," it is largely forgotten today while Hemingway's Farewell to Arms is touted as a classic. I think Through the Wheat is a better war novel than Farewell to Arms. Boyd gives the reader an intimate look at the war: both the seemingly endless waiting and boredom that all soldiers endure and the mind numbing terro Like the Lost Generation he is associated with, Thomas Boyd has been lost to literary history--both his name and this powerful work. Tagged once as "The finest American novel of World War I," it is largely forgotten today while Hemingway's Farewell to Arms is touted as a classic. I think Through the Wheat is a better war novel than Farewell to Arms. Boyd gives the reader an intimate look at the war: both the seemingly endless waiting and boredom that all soldiers endure and the mind numbing terror of combat.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mark Phinney

    A Somber Tale of the Marines in World War I Focusing on a platoon of U.S. Marines during the summer months of 1918, the novel follows one Marine and a few of his comrades as their division moves in and out of action. The novel highlights the emotions and perceptions of the protagonist.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Deb Christenson

    Boyd's character goes through several stages as he reacts to the brutality and (seeming) futility of war until the ending where "his soul is numb." Boyd's character goes through several stages as he reacts to the brutality and (seeming) futility of war until the ending where "his soul is numb."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    A good historical fiction book about the Marines in WWI.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Donna

  15. 4 out of 5

    blueemerald

  16. 5 out of 5

    David

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tom Butler

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark Mortensen

  21. 5 out of 5

    AbZeroNow

  22. 4 out of 5

    Roma Dyrhauge

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tim Reppe

  24. 5 out of 5

    Howard Garb

  25. 4 out of 5

    David Paller

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jason Aglietti

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tomislav

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ronald Wahab

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stevefk

  30. 4 out of 5

    Josh

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