Paul Bäumer joins the German army, with a strong push from his high school teacher, shortly after the start of World War I. Many from his high school class also join and they make up a cross section of society. He quickly finds himself on the Western Front and he and many of his friends look to an older soldier, Stanislaus Katczinsky, for some guidance.
The author, Erich Maria Remarque says on the first page "This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped, were destroyed by the war."
The book starts out five miles behind the front where they have had a short relief and their bellies are full. As the battles rage on, Paul faces not just war, but the time between battles where they search for food. The author refers to these young men saying: "We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing from ourselves, from our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces."
Paul has a short leave to go home and, even thought the town hasn’t changed, he finds that “he doesn’t belong here anymore”. He spends some time with his dying mother and feels she is the only one he still feels connected too.
When Paul returns he is glad to be back with his comrades and they go on patrol. Paul for the first time kills a man. It is hand-to-hand combat and he winds up watching the man slowly die, after hours of pain. He feels broken and asks the dead man for forgiveness.
Soon he is assigned to help guard a supply depot. It is considered a good assignment because now, rather than starving in the trenches, he now has easy access to food. The depot is soon destroyed by artillery and he is reassigned back to the front.
In the Autumn of 1918 the war is nearing its end and the German Army is retreating. Paul is one of only 7 left from his class and they are talking about the peace and an armistice. Paul accidently swallows some gas and it leads to 14 days of rest for him. He starts to believe that the end will really come. He returns to the front on a remarkable peaceful day; one that is reported from the frontline with the simple phrase: "All quiet on the Western Front." Paul is shot on this day and his body displays a calm expression on its face, "as though he was almost glad the end had come."
Erich Maria Remarque captures the realism of this book, “with searing attention to every small moment of terror and tyranny, of filth and meanness, of savagery and tenderness, of cowardice and grandeur the experience, of a group of bewildered young German soldiers.”
From Germany: The greatest war book that has yet been written-Redakteur Stour
From England" Surely the greatest of all war books. It stands pre-eminent- Manchester Guardian
From France: It shoud be distributed by the million and read in every school. - Monde
From Sweeden: It is a great document. A powerful work of art. All books about the war become small and insignificant by comparision.- Albert Engstrom
From America: It is to me the greatest book about the war I have ever seen.- Christopher Morley, Saturday Review
From America: Unquestionably the best story of the world war.- H.L. Mencken