The Forgotten American Who Went: Arthur Guy Empey

Arthur Guy Empey selling war bonds

Many are familiar with war-themed novels like The Red Badge of Courage (1895) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), but few have ever heard of Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey.  Arthur Guy Empey and his first book Over the Top (1917) redefined war literature. Over the Top hit shelves in 1917 only weeks after the United States declared war on Germany and the Central Powers and quickly became a best-seller. Selling over 50,000 copies in its first six-and-a-half weeks, fame and notoriety quickly greeted the previously unknown author.

An overnight sensation, Empey’s candid and readable style made this book a “must read” of its time. “The American Who Went” was the slogan everywhere in reference to Empey. Arthur Guy Empey was frustrated with the devastation and violence growing in Europe, so he left the U.S. to fight in the British Army. The novel offered American readers a glimpse of what their own American Expeditionary Force members might face in this new Modern War. While most books that appeared before the Armistice focused on military strategy and politics, Over the Top provided a rare glimpse into the life of the common soldier in World War I.

Publisher’s Weekly 1917

Arthur Guy Empey’s fame and prestige grew so much that the new 1917 addition of The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane received the addition of a foreword from Empey. And the now classic WWI novel All Quiet on the Western Front borrowed its title from one of Over the Top’s chapter titles.

Here, almost 100 years later, we hope to revive this monumental work for modern readers to enjoy as much as did Over the Top’s original audience. Over the Top is the first in the series of World War I Centennial Doughboy novels published by UNG Press, each edited by David Scott Stieghan, who contextualizes their historical settings and environment for today’s readers.

We hope that you’ll be on the lookout on 6 April 2017 for your own copy of Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey with added editor notes from historian David Scott Stieghan.