Saturday, November 3, 2007

The World War in Photographs by Otto Kurth

When I was a child I digested a steady diet of Big Little Books published in the late 1960’s by the Whitman Publishing Company in Wisconsin. Big Little Books are sized approximately 5 by 5 inches and about an inch thick. They are fully illustrated stories whose subjects were based around cartoon characters (Bugs Bunny, Road Runner) TV series (Bonanza, Man from U.N.C.L.E.) radio programs (Dick Tracy, Roy Rogers) and a whole host of other topics. These books represented my earliest reading experiences and I relish remembering how engrossed I could become in the stories while reading them sunk deep into a blue vinyl bean bag chair.

One of the series that I did not have, mostly because it was published in 1934, is a Big Little Book called The World War in Photographs. Arranged and edited by Otto Kurth, it was inspired by Laurence Stallings’ collection of World War 1 photographs titled The First World War: A Photographic History. This book and Stallings’ feature many of the same images.

The World War in Photographs contains 190 images over 160 pages. They show obvious aspects of war with the exception of many images of dead soldiers. This is understandable as this is a book in a series that was aimed at children aged 6-12. It is also fairly interesting to note that of the images of dead soldiers that appear, two are of American dead and one of German dead. This is an American book, but it is far from sharing the same current censorship regarding showing dead American soldiers. Also the fact that the US lost fewer troops (78,000) than any other country that participated in WWI makes the choice of showing those pictures even more intriguing to me. The book’s coverage of the Russian involvement (2 ¾ million dead) seems to be all of one page with two photos captioned The Czar’s Subjects. One shows a line of men on horseback and the other, one artillery gun being towed behind a horse cart..

Much is shown of the destruction of towns and cities, refugees and lots of images of soldiers and the technology that fought the war. Each photo has an accompanying caption that appears just below the image. The captions, usually fewer than 15 words, greatly reduce the intended photo content down to the bare basics. There are no photo credits specified anywhere in the book.

The first page gives a 150 word ‘Brief Story of the World War (1914-1918)' and the last two pages give an account of ‘The Cost in Men and Money.’ The reproductions are rough as could be expected for a mass produced book aimed at children. The charm of the book comes from its size and from the thick paper stock and its surface texture. As these usually wound up in the hands of children, it is hard to find copies that do not suffer greatly from condition problems.

I think the Whitman Publishing Company should have done a Big Little Book on Vietnam for my g-g-generation...or if they were still in business, a Big Little Book of Iraq. Just a little reading material to give the youngsters today a glimpse at what they can look forward to when they grow up.

Book Available Here (The World War in Photographs)