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A year before the end of his long life (1895–1998), the German author Ernst Jünger converted to Catholicism, a late change on a tumultuous path of searching and adventures that were far from exclusively spiritual. Born into a Protestant family, he attended conventional boarding schools, but at the age of eighteen ran away to France to join the Foreign Legion. Stationed in Algeria, he soon deserted, only to be captured after making his way to Morocco. Fortunately for him, the German Foreign Office was able to arrange for his release.

When the First World War broke out, a patriotic enthusiasm swept over Germany, and Jünger enlisted quickly, as did many of his generation. Repeatedly wounded, he received several awards, including the prestigious Pour le Mérite. His memoir of his experiences on the front, Storm of Steel, has become a classic of the literature of the Great War, remarkably devoid of parochial German nationalism but nonetheless often criticized for its aestheticization of the battlefield experience: War becomes a visual spectacle, seemingly beyond the good and evil of standard moral judgment. Yet no one can read Jünger’s accounts of violence and death and judge the text a glorification of the carnage. Instead, the narrative grapples with the challenge of maintaining composure in the face of destruction: how to live in a ­shattered world.

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