The Book of the Poppy

- non-fiction, history, war, poppy

The Book of the Poppy

Chris McNab

The Remembrance Poppy is a haunting reminder of the ultimate cost of war. Worn by millions around the world every year, the Poppy compels us to remember war’s dead, wounded and bereaved, regardless of nationality or conflict. As we reflect on the centenary of the First World War, this book charts the history of the Remembrance Poppy, from its origins in the battle-tortured landscape of Flanders in 1915 to its enduring relevance in the present day. It sets the Poppy in its context of tragedy and sacrifice, always acknowledging that our war dead are gone, but not forgotten.

My Thoughts

I know there are people who don’t like the poppy as a symbol, considering it to glorify war rather than to commemorate the fallen in wars around the world, but having been brought up in a British household where both my parents were strong supporters of the British Legion (both having been in the forces during World War II) and my father an active member of his local branch, I have always been a staunch supporter of the movement. War is such a terrible thing, I think it is important never to forget the needless waste of life, whether it was from a war a hundred years ago, or one being fought now. Without the annual Poppy Appeal to remind us in a concentrated timeframe of the savageness of war, how easy it would be to become immune to horrific images on the television.

This little book by historian and author Chris McNab gives many easy-to-read but hard-to-stomach statistics of casualties of war from around the world, in simple but striking graphics. The numbers are staggering and chilling.

The book is written from a British perspective, giving, in the first section, a potted history of the British at war, not confined to but concentrating on the two World Wars. The second section is about how the poppy came to be a symbol for remembrance, which is quite fascinating. Section three looks at how we honour the dead and wounded service men and women and civilians caught up in wars. Section 4 shows how we can research history and remember those who fought in wars. Section five explains how veterans are cared for, and how the money raised from the Poppy Appeal helps them.

Throughout the book there are stark graphics, extracts from newspapers and letters, and poems, including of course the whole text of In Flanders Fields, the poem that inspired the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. The background to the poems and the poets are interesting and moving.

Whether you are a pacifist, as I consider myself to be, or have different views on war, I recommend reading this book as a very brief introduction to the history of British conflicts, but more to remind yourself of how truly terrible war is. I didn’t think I’d ever need reminding, even though I have been fortunate enough not to have been caught up in war, but reading this little book really made me sit back and absorb the figures and recognise the great work of the British Legion and the Star and Garter organisation (which supports injured and elderly ex-service personnel), and how their help is still sorely needed. It is also a reminder that behind those brief images on television of wars around the world today, there is still a huge sacrifice being made by service personnel and civilians.

Editorial Input & Design

I found just one proofreading error and the book has been well edited, apart from a slight contradiction of figures between the foreword and the text.

Cover: Simple and effective.

Internal design: The graphics are stark (although some of the scaling on graphs was a bit iffy (but understandably so, as you'll see when you look at them)) and the poems and extracts are well presented. It is printed in two colours: red and black, which works well.

Book Clubs & Reviews

It is a short book, but there is plenty to discuss, not least people’s opinion of the poppy as a symbol.

What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it 4.9 stars (7 reviewers); Amazon US readers give it 5 stars (1 reviewer); Goodreads readers give it 4.25 stars (4 ratings).


I couldn’t find any. Let me know if you are aware of one and I’ll link it here.

Buy & Author

Available from:

Published by The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire

ISBN 978-0750960496

£1 from the sale of each book is paid to the Royal British Legion.

The History Press (hardback £9.98) (hardback £7.89; ePub £8.98)

Kenny’s, Ireland (hardback €11.87, free postage)

Amazon (Kindle £9.49/$14.79; hardback £9.99)

Follow the author:

Chris McNab is not very visible on social media.

Links of interest

The UK Independent newspaper An extract from the book.

Over to You – Comment and Share!

  • Lorna says:

    When I lived in the UK, I became very conscious that most of my friends had grandparents who fought in the war whereas although Irish fought, my ancestors didn’t as stayed farming yet there are a few churches nearby with plaques to remember those who died in various families.
    This sounds quite a tough and emotional read. I have to admit that as we commemmorate 1916 and WW1 that we are very lucky now. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to see family members go off to war and waiting for those letters to arrive, wondering if they have died since they sent it.
    I remember when my parents used to purchase poppies here for Remembrance Day and it was considered very daring to wear them in public!

    21 Aug 2015 12:04:55

  • Clare says:

    I’ve rarely (if ever) seen poppies for sale in Ireland. I can understand how some people would be very sensitive to the display of them here.

    When each of my parents died we asked for donations to be sent to their local British Legion branch – they do such good work.

    My next book for review is a diary from WW1 – it really brings home the human side of the war – quite different from the rather sanitised (or maybe we just become to immune to it) version we learn about at school.

    21 Aug 2015 19:34:52

  • Lorna says:

    A true diary or a fictional one? Sounds interesting.

    We’re C of I and they always have them on sale in church, well, there isn’t a price as such, it’s to raise donations. You’re right, they probably aren’t sold elsewhere.

    22 Aug 2015 17:26:10

  • Clare says:

    A real diary – transcribed from tiny notebooks the man carried with him.

    Some people wear a white peace poppy instead of the red (or as well as, I suppose).

    22 Aug 2015 18:43:56

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