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Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 Hardcover – January 24, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Thirty million men and women served in the Red Army during WWII. Over eight million of them died. Living or dead, they have remained anonymous. This is partly due to the Soviet Union's policy of stressing the collective nature of its sacrifice and victory. It also reflects the continuing reluctance of most Soviet veterans to discuss their experiences—in sharp contrast to German survivors of the Eastern Front. Merridale, professor of history at the University of London, combines interviews, letters and diaries with research in previously closed official archives to present the first comprehensive portrait of the Red Army's fighters. She carefully details the soldiers' age and ethnic diversity, and she puts a human face on a fact demonstrated repeatedly by retired U.S. officer and Soviet military expert David Glantz: the Red Army learned from the experience of its near-collapse in 1941, and by 1945 its soldiers were more than a match for their Wehrmacht opponents. Most poignantly, Merridale reveals that frontline soldiers increasingly hoped their sacrifices would bring about postwar reform—"Communism with a human face." What they got instead was a Stalinist crackdown—and a long silence, broken now by this outstanding book. (Feb.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Doing research in the Soviet archives seems like a trying task, but critics revere the work Catherine Merridale did to prepare Ivan's War. The professor from Queen Mary, University of London, conducted over 200 interviews with Soviet veterans and visited major battle sites, but the most enlightening information came from tireless vetting of diaries, transcripts, and officers' reports. That Merridale can plait all this information into "an attempt to fathom war's meaning, effect and legacy" (Foreign Affairs) proves her acuity as a social historian, a skill she displayed previously with the admirable Night of Stone (2002). Only a curious absence of maps mars an otherwise compelling testament to these tragic, unsung warriors.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st edition (January 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805074554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805074550
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #856,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 60 people found the following review helpful By R. A Forczyk VINE VOICE on March 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Catherine Merridale, a professor of contemporary history at the University of London, has written a nuanced social history of the Soviet soldier in the Second World in Ivan's War. This volume is not a military history and readers expecting such will be disappointed, but Merridale does offer an insightful glance into the soul of "Ivan" - the "G.I. Joe" of the Red Army. Overall, Ivan's War does provide context that is often lacking in other works about the East Front and this is a worthy effort, although the results that Merridale does achieve are open to debate. The main idea that Merridale's work conveys is that the sacrifices made by both the Soviet soldiers and citizens were betrayed by a Stalinist regime that saw them as only "little cogs in a machine." In the end, thanks to Ivan's tenacity, Merridale writes, "the motherland was never conquered" by the fascists but it had been enslaved by its own communist leaders.

The driving concept between this type of approach to history is to use oral accounts from veterans to add texture to broad themes that the author can then develop. To be honest, Merridale does not seem to have much flair for oral history and too many of her accounts are rather tepid. I get the impression that the Soviet vets either didn't want to talk to her since she was a foreigner - she hints at this - and those men she did interview were not the most desirable subjects. Given the availability of better Soviet accounts that have appeared since the fall of Communism, I find it hard to believe that Merridale could not have gotten some better material. Readers should note that Merridale's examination of "Ivan" is far from comprehensive - not only are there no accounts from the Red Air Force or Navy, but important branches such as artillery and cavalry are all but ignored.
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58 of 67 people found the following review helpful By 1. on February 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Merridale has written an excellent social history of the Red Army and why Russian soldiers continued to fight throughout the war. Merridale believes that songs about missing loved ones,a personal faith in God, and a belief that Stalin's Russia would change after the war contributed to the fighting spirit of the Red Army soldier. Merridale also describes vividly the hell of the battle of Kerch in which thousands of Russian soldiers suffocated to death and Kursk in which tank crewmen suffered serious burns to their bodies. Merridale also writes about how these soldiers missed and distrusted their wives and this sense of sexual frustration ultimately contributed to the raping of Berlin in 1945. The only weakness of Merridale's book is that she leaves out the works by Dale Herspring which detail how commissars kept alive the morale of Russian soldiers and skims over the works by Robert Thurston who states how the Red Army soldier fought the war for ideological purposes. Despite these flaws this an important contribution to the study of the wartime Red Army.
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47 of 55 people found the following review helpful By A Reader on February 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great book; it's been well-reviewed both in the press and here on Amazon.

However, the reviews have failed to mention what I found to be one of the most important features of the book: The significant lacunae in the historical record of the Red Army. Merridale shows how completely the historical reality of the Red Army experience has been replaced by the state-sanctioned mythology. Merridale describes sorting through the archives, sealed for sixty years, and finding that even the confidential reports by the internal Party spies are filled with bland pious generalities. Even as they were fighting and dying, the Army was selectively editing its official memory, removing any evidence of venality, cowardice, war crimes, insubordination and so on.

More disturbingly, the veterans Merridale interviews have edited their own memories, often describing scenes from propaganda movies as if they actually experienced them first-hand. Merridale's sympathetic treatment of the veterans' accounts makes this crime against memory all the more disturbing. In fact, Merridale's most vivid primary sources are the letters and diaries of front-line soldiers (most of whom were killed in action), preserved by grieving families.

In an odd way, Merridale's book is the perfect complement to a political-theoretical book like Hannah Arendt's "Totalitarianism". Arendt describes how the totalitarian state can control every aspect of human existence. Merridale shows that this control extended even to the chaos and relative freedom of the front line.
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53 of 63 people found the following review helpful By T. Kunikov VINE VOICE on February 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was very excited to see that this book was coming out and pre-ordered it months ago. Upon receiving it and diving into it I was a bit disappointed, it wasn't what I expected yet at the same time it was something that I definitely needed to know about. This book is a social and somewhat of a cultural history of the Red Army. I personally expected accounts of battles and the such, but instead we are presented with the situations Red Army men had to deal with on a daily basis. Party speeches, Political officers and their jobs, what kind of food was served, what kind clothes were scare, and at the same time what frontline soldiers were missing in their lives. When they had to live off the land, when they were starving days on end, when their boots were falling apart and no new ones were forcoming so they had to take off clothing from the dead and dying, etc. The rapes and 'atrocities' in the latter year of the war are covered but too much so in my opinion, few lines are given to the 'justice' dealt out by the Red Army and numerous orders from the higher ups that said raping, etc, would be punished by executions. The storyline is a journalistic one with frontline accounts mixed in, some are stories told to the author, at other times dead Red Army men come alive through their wartime correspondences with their family members and wives. I would have liked to see more of the former and more interviews and stories in general, but what was presented was definitely interesting and worth reading about. A good investment for anyone who wants to understand what life on the Eastern Front was like on a day to day basis.Read more ›
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