The nonfiction Behind the Lines covers the time from August 1914 through December 1914 and takes place in England, Holland, and Belgium. Using lively personal details, the book follows a Belgian woman, a priest, and a businessman in German-occupied Belgium as well as a group of Americans in the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). As the war raged around it, the CRB initiated, organized, and supervised the largest food and relief drive the world had ever known. Working in concert with its counterpart in Belgium, the Comité National, the CRB fed and clothed for four years more than 9 million Belgians and northern French trapped behind German lines. Because the United States had declared its neutrality at the start of the war, young idealistic Americans who volunteered to be CRB delegates were allowed to go into German-occupied Belgium. Their job was to guarantee that the imported food was not taken by the Germans while maintaining their strict neutrality. It is a story that few have heard.
KIRKUS STAR REVIEWThe first book of a planned trilogy chronicling American-led relief efforts in Belgium during World War I.Just in time for the Great War’s centennial, this valuable narrative reprises a dramatic chapter of world history that rarely takes center stage in history books, as it’s often overshadowed by subsequent wars. Specifically, Miller (Facing Your Fifties, 2002, etc.) focuses on the Commission for Relief in Belgium, a multinational humanitarian organization that saved 9 million Belgian and French civilians from starvation under German occupation. Led by future U.S. president Herbert Hoover, then 40 years old and living in London, the CRB was the first mission of its kind, establishing precedents that shaped current policies regarding universal human rights and international humanitarian intervention. Miller shows how Hoover navigated German and Allied opposition, co-opted competing humanitarian groups, and improvised a distribution network that deployed young Americans as neutral “delegates” across Belgium’s provinces. Miller’s grandfather, Milton M. Brown, was one of these delegates, and he married Erica Bunge, a wealthy Belgian native whose family is integral to the overall story. Their diaries, letters and photos, bequeathed to the author in the 1980s, sparked Miller’s interest in the period, and it’s obvious that this book was a labor of love. The narrative covers only August through December 1914, and readers contemplating 397 pages of text (plus sources, notes and an index) about a mere six months of wartime may fear a tedious journey. But instead, the pages fly by, thanks to Miller’s consistently smooth prose and careful scene-setting. He effectively captures the human drama, with exquisite descriptions of how characters looked (“With his rimless pince-nez, he had the appearance of a scholar or professor and, just like one, he longed for the solitude of the writer’s garret”) and why they behaved as they did. He quickens the pace with short chapters that bounce between Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam, London and New York. Readers who only associate World War I and Herbert Hoover with trench warfare and the Great Depression (or the Hoover Dam) will discover meaningful contexts for both in a tale that personalizes extraordinary times. Miller writes that his goal was to write for people “who never read history books”; he accomplishes that splendidly, while also creating a work that scholars will admire.An excellent history that should catapult Miller to the top tier of popular historians.
Kirkus Reviews has chosen Behind the Lines: WWI's little-known story of German occupation, Belgian resistance, and the band of Yanks who helped save millions from starvation as "Indie" Book of the Month for November. It will be featured, along with four other books, in the Nov. 15, 2014 print issue, an enewsletter, and on its website.
Kirkus Reviews included Behind the Lines in its Best Books of 2014 (Indie) on the strength of the Kirkus Starred Review the book received in September. The review can be seen at: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jeffrey-b-miller/behind-the-lines-oNevKGnT/
On March 12, 2015 it was announced that Behind the Lines was a finalist in the history catetgory of Foreword Reviews INDIE FAB Best Books of the Year contest. Eight of the fifteen history finalists come from university presses (Notre Dame, Indiana, Washington State, etc.) Contest winners will be anounced on June 26 at the American Library Association's annual convention in San Francisco. The list of history finalists can be seen at https://indiefab.forewordreviews.com/finalists/2014/history/