The story is full of drama that Miller sketches well, particularly tensions between the CRB and Comité National, and between Hoover and everyone else. In the initial rush of donations to Belgium, Hoover fought to ensure CRB was in control of relief. Miller’s dedication to facts rather than speculation means he leaves it to readers to wonder about how much of Hoover’s motivation in these disputes was humanitarian and how much was arrogance. (Miller quotes an expert who touts Hoover’s “ingenuity in persuading or bullying the various Powers” to get international actors to compromise.) The self-giving spirit of the CRB delegates, mostly young volunteers spread throughout Belgium, shines through Miller’s narrative, however, especially in the anecdote of a delegate arrested by German authorities under false pretenses.
Particularly helpful are period photographs and Miller’s statistical charts, helping readers stay oriented and personalizing the humanitarians who founded the first international nongovernmental organization. History buffs will be eager to learn the struggles of the Belgian and northern French during the war as well as the courage and fortitude of those who sacrificed to feed the desperate.
Takeaway: This compelling chronicle will grip history buffs while opening their eyes to a little known but vitally important humanitarian mission.
Great for fans of: John Keegan’s The First World War, Tom Scott-Smith’s On an Empty Stomach: Two Hundred Years of Hunger Relief.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
"A huge impact of war that is rarely talked about is the near starvation suffered by millions. Jeffrey B. Miller tells this riveting tale about American volunteers who attempted to save millions from dying of hunger during World War One. This is one of the largest humanitarian aid efforts ever made and the account of how it happened is well overdue. The Commission for Relief in Belgium was founded by . . . Herbert Hoover—and this story alone is extraordinary. Miller uses testimony, including an unpublished account of the commission’s work. What lifts this book above many is the personal testimony; his own grandparents helped to provide food for Belgian citizens. A heart-warming read.”
Jeffrey Miller’s Yanks behind the Lines brings to life a little-known but hugely important and absolutely inspiring story: how nearly ten million civilians in German-occupied Belgium during World War I were saved from starvation, thanks to a group of idealistic Americans, led by a young organizational genius named Herbert Hoover. This was the shining moment when the United States first stepped upon the world stage as a generous force for all humanity. A moment worth the retelling––and remembering.
"An important and unique contribution to World War I histories, Jeff Miller’s meticulously researched book fills the void of an often-forgotten aspect of the war: US humanitarian efforts. This is a beautifully written story about one of America’s finest hours."
“Miller emphasizes not the dubious glories of war, but war’s impact on ordinary people, and the amazing feats that people can achieve when they are determined enough. World War I brought unprecedented chaos and carnage, he shows, but it also sparked an outpouring of charity greater than anyone thought possible. This book is a worthy testament to everyone who participated in this admirable endeavor.”
"InYanks behind the Lines, Jeffrey B. Miller sheds welcome light on one of the noblest episodes in modern American history: the pioneering humanitarian relief mission, led by Herbert Hoover, that saved millions of Belgian and French civilians from starvation during World War I. Americans should learn this remarkable story, which Miller—a gifted chronicler—tells with acuity and verve."
“Miller brings a complex story to vivid life, astutely explaining the political and cultural landscape of Belgium but also the unfolding of the conflict. . . This is a powerful work of history, as informative as it is dramatically gripping. An impressive blend of painstaking historical scholarship and riveting storytelling.”
"It will be a revelation for many Americans to discover Jeff Miller's excellent account of the ‘piratical state organized for benevolence,’ which helped position the United States as a moral force for good in the world at the outbreak of the 20th century's first world war. Herbert Hoover's leadership in the enterprise may come as an even greater surprise, and Miller's knowledgeable account unveils this forgotten history for us all."
Yanks behind the Lines is a fascinating portrait of America’s First World War. Exploring a vital but little-known chapter of humanitarian intervention, Miller establishes the centrality of saving Belgium and France from famine to the American war experience.
“A valuable and formidable addition to World War I scholarship . . . [Miller] is as fascinated by the account as he wants his readers to be absorbed and moved by it. Through tireless research and sheer literary skill, he accomplishes his task. Supported by notes, sources, and reader aids, this studious effort is worth the time of anyone interested in gripping real-life stories behind weighty historical truths.”
Jeffrey B. Miller was interviewed on KEXL morning radio in Iowa. You can hear the interview at the link below.
Jeffrey B. Miller conducted an hour Zoom presentation for the Herbert Hoover Presidential Foundation in Iowa. More than 100 participants signed up for the presentation. You can see it at the link below.