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Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine
Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine
by Wendy Lower
Edition: Paperback
Price: $21.69
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptionally Well Written Study of a Under Researched Topic!, March 30, 2014
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It seems that as we move further from the brief but tumultuous time period in which the Nazis ruled first Germany and then a seeming avalanche of countries, there are fewer and fewer areas of the historiography in which significant gaps exist. That isn't to imply that there are no longer significant areas of research yet waiting, but rather that there are fewer almost daily it would appear. At the very least, there are basic frameworks of research in place for much of the Nazi era historiography even if these frameworks are made up of disputing theories. Despite this, there are occasionally works published that significantly change the way by which we view the events that occurred or possibly even add significant meaning beyond that which previously existed. Wendy Lower's narrative 'Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine' has done precisely that. Her work focuses on how Nazi expansion into the Ukraine was based on a utopian colonialism and connected inseparably from the Holocaust itself. Although the concept of empire has frequently been addressed, this is particular concept has never sufficiently been explored. This is in spite of the FACT of how plain spoken the frequent musings by senior Nazi's regarding desires for an India-like colony to the east were and the acceptance of the vast degree of racial reordering that would be necessary to achieve the goal. Indeed Ms. Lower asserts that "this study sheds light on how the Nazis conceptualized, conquered , and governed Ukraine in a manner that was historically familiar, as well as distinctive and even unprecedented"(2).

'Nazi Empire Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine' is a phenomenal success as a regional study of Nazi social engineering (Zhytomir region of Ukraine). Primarily this work it is laid out in a loose chronological fashion based around chapters covering Nazi colonialist theory, a pair of chapters on Conquest and the military administration, three chapters on the planning and onset of the Holocaust, one chapter regarding the actual efforts to set up a racial colony, the disintegration of Nazi rule in 1943-44 and concluding thoughts. There is some chronological overlap because of the variety of topics between chapters but this is never confusing or unwieldy. She in fact takes a story that actually is somewhat confusing because of the variety of player involved and simplifies it greatly. In particular the authors chapters covering the military administration and its transition to Party/Commissariat administration is of great value to anyone trying to make sense of the crimes and social engineering that were part and parcel of Hitler’s eastern empire.

Probably Lower's greatest contribution to the historiography is in her sections regarding the Commissariat organization in the Zhytomyr region and the role it played in enforcing Hitler's brand of 'exterminationist' anti-Semitism. She provides a great deal of evidence showing how the 'polycratic system that caused so much chaos and inefficiency in Berlin and other large population centers was never a significant issue within the Zhytomyr region of Ukraine. This was in large part because of the unified view that most working within the region had regarding the administration of their colonial possession irrespective of the branch they were employed by…at least as it regarded extermination of the Jews in the region and terrorization/diminishment of Ukrainian society and culture. The author provides numerous examples in the documentation of cooperation between agencies that would be competing for power in regions nearer to the hub of Nazi authority. She writes, “The most remarkable administrative pattern was one of ad hoc collaboration. Ironically, factors that might have otherwise caused conflicts or resistance to the Holocaust, such as personnel shortages and the isolation of the rural outposts, actually furthered it” (159).
Another impressive addition to the extant scholarship is in her contribution development to the concept of lower levels within the Nazi hierarchy developing action plans that would “work towards the Fuehrer’s wishes” (9). Throughout, Ms. Lower provides numerous examples of instances when lower level, SS , Police authorities and civil administrators committed atrocities in the name of a ‘Fuehrer’ or ‘Reichsfuehrer SS’ who had not ordered that specific action. Instead, basing their actions on vague, perceived and sometimes even unspoken wishes by senior Nazi leadership these lower level men committed horrific atrocities in response, to curry favor or simply do what ‘needed to be done’ in the massive and violent ethnic cleansing project that was Zhytomyr.
The one area in which the analysis WAS a bit underdeveloped for my taste was with the very first chapter. Although a single chapter devoted to the evolution of Imperial/colonial eastern ‘Lebensraum’ theory in Nazi and even pre Nazi times serves to at least introduce the reader to this concept, it is far too brief for a narrative in which the analysis is dependent on it. This particular topic could easily have taken up two or three times the 12 pages spent on it. Indeed, how the eastward colonial ‘Lebensraum’ theory evolved, which is the absolute critical basis of this work, is disappointingly underdeveloped by the author. Providing a 12 page introduction into this topic is a tantalizing and frustrating tease that leaves the reader nearly shaking the book and asking ‘where’s the rest of the story’?!?
Finally there are the less tangible contributions of this particular narrative. The bibliography is very impressive for such a short work and is comprised of a better than fair number of both primary sources and early memoir sources. Secondary sources are also well represented, however the author never becomes reliant or dependent on them as many less skillful writers frequently seem to. Likewise, the numerous photos included are great additions to the text. Several will be familiar to those who read much in the way of Holocaust history or even WWII history; however there are many interesting additions that I had not seen prior. Lastly, there are the physical qualities of this work and I must admit a certain sentimental attachment to a quality hardcover book in this age of digital everything. At least for the edition that I had, the pages were from a good and heavy paper, the binding was a nice cloth and the book had a solid, slightly heavy feel to it…not to mention the smell it had and has me looking for other works published by the University of North Carolina Press. Altogether this history was an engaging read and had a sense of quality to it in EVERY way.
I can unreservedly give ‘Nazi Empire Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine’ a five star rating. The research and prose are topnotch throughout. My only quibble is just that, and in no way inhibits me from giving Lower a standing ovation for her effort. Research into Nazi purpose and rationalization for social engineering projects in Ukraine, as well as elsewhere should be greatly influenced by this groundbreaking analysis.


Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II (General Military)
Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II (General Military)
by Prit Buttar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.82
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Strong Narrative Covering a Little Known Topic, February 27, 2014
The historiography of the Eastern front of the second world war is flush with narratives covering a huge body of operations, offensives, counteroffensives, individual unit histories, social history, Shoah naratives, and memoirs...and this body of published work is growing weekly still today. With this said, one portion of the historiography that HAS lagged behind a bit has been any attempt to tell the story of the struggle for the Baltic States. Although attempts of varying quality are made to tie these into surveys of East Front or Shoah narratives and analysis, these attempts are often disappointingly far too brief. The merely whet the appetite. Mr. Prit Buttar wrote 'Between Giants' as an attempt to fill, at least in part, this gaping hole. His attempt, although certainly somewhat weak in his use of primary sources, is a solid success.

The introduction and first chapters of the narrative offer the reader a great historical survey of the three Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. This survey includes both a short overview of ancient history of these peoples and also the period immediately following the end of the first world war in which independence efforts flowered in all three countries. Further, the reader is reacquainted with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and how the war that followed doomed these nations to First Soviet and then Nazi occupation. Although the Russo-German non aggression pact is likely very familiar to the audience who will purchase this book, the perspective with which the story is told here is definitely a fresh one and so takes the reader into new diplomatic territory. The reader is thrust into the situation from the perspective of the Baltic peoples who suffered immensely as small states between these two giants and Mr. Buttar does justice in retelling the diplomatic scrambling that occurred as Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian leaders attempted-inevitably unsuccessfully-to prevent the occupation of their countries by the USSR through any number of diplomatic contortions. Following this, the author details the secret (or not so secret) efforts that Germany was making in preparing for its war against the Soviet Union, particularly as it applied to Army Group North, which would be pushing through the Baltic on its approach to Leningrad. Alongside these military preparations, the reader is also introduced to the ethnic cleansing operations that would likely occur following immediately behind this army group.

The remainder of the narrative is spent on the intra-war years and Buttar once again does solid work in balancing pages that describe military developments, the diplomatic struggles of the nations in the path of the Nazi and Soviet armies, exploitation of the territories involved and lastly the genocide that occurred first in fits and starts and then more efficiently over time.

With that said, the largest portion of the book IS devoted to the military operations that flowed eastward and then back towards the west in 1944. This also is the greatest strength of Buttar's 343 page survey of the war years of the Baltic states. The author is most adept in describing the large-scale military struggle that ebbed and flowed beginning in 1941, as well as superbly telling the story of numerous individuals on both sides who fought, suffered, died and survived this most destructive of conflicts. He truly is in his element telling this story and at times the reader is carried away, racing through pages to find out how Otto Carius, Mascha Rolnikaite and others in the midst of the maelstrom survived.

The one area that the author displays a curious weakness, is in collecting and working from primary sources or even many of the groundbreaking secondary sources of the past 20 years. Unfortunately, this is a gripe that I had in reviewing his last work, 'Battleground Prussia', as well as commenting on other reviews of the book. This led me to discuss the issue with the author directly, albeit briefly. His bibliography, is surprisingly the weak link again. He stated in our brief discussion that he worked from direct sources but the problem is that without citing them, they are unverifiable. What's more, he fails to utilize Friedlander, Megargee, Longerich, Fritz, Overy, Kershaw, and lastly Citino. These are GIANTS in eastern front and holocaust historiography and in the case of Citino would have greatly assisted in his clear misunderstanding of 'auftragstaktik'.

In short, this is a very good survey of the plight of the Baltic states during WWII and it definitely highlights the author's command of the sources he works from. Mr. Buttar clearly is a master of placing the reader in the middle of the story he weaves. The pages fly by and this was a pleasure to read. My only struggle as a trained historian is that I immediately upon purchasing a book, turn to the back to peruse the sources cited. In this case, to my disappointment, many of the greatest historians have been omitted from the secondary sources and the primary sources cited were yet again thin in representation. That is the ONLY reason I have withheld a fifth star.


Home Before the Leaves Fall: A New History of the German Invasion of 1914 (General Military)
Home Before the Leaves Fall: A New History of the German Invasion of 1914 (General Military)
by Ian Senior
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.58
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A VERY solid Narrative of the German Invasion of France in 1914, August 3, 2012
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When the story of the German invasion of France in 1914 is told in contemporary literature there is a strange disconnect. This disconnect is manifested as such: the story is primarily told from the point of view of the British army on the continent although it was French and Belgian territory being invaded and the battles of the first month were in large part French and German affairs. The vast majority of the sources used in the extant narratives are British although there are a lesser number of French...German sources are typically in much shorter supply. As such the works created have an understandable British emphasis. Ian Senior's new work "Home Before the Leaves Fall: A New History of the northern wing of the German Invasion of 1914" is an admirable attempt to rectify this shortcoming in the historical record. The book is told in a much more balanced manner with the primary emphasis on the two largest combatant nations on the Western Front and does much to explain the leading role of France-with an emphasis on the human cost-to the defeat of von Schlieffen's vaunted strategic vision. Furthermore, a significant amount of space is dedicated to the numerous miss-steps of German Army commanders, including von Molke himself, which led to the defeat at the Marne and long-term stalemated trench war.

Senior's work is a fairly short work and although it is written primarily from secondary sources, it is impressively well done. Although the historiographical focus is not clearly established in the introduction, it seems fair to determine that the gist of it is to rectify the above noted gap in the historical record, as it exists in published English works. Throughout the body of this narrative he provides amble evidence of the strengths and weakness of French and German pre-war planning and strategy, as well as execution once the invasion had begun. His analysis of the German and French commanders is solid if a bit superficial throughout as well. Most interesting for me was Senior's contrast of the battlefield control of Joffre vs. the inconceivable lack of it demonstrated by Moltke. Throughout there is little doubt that the author is making a clear case that where it mattered most, the German OHL was unwilling to grasp and forcefully control the direction of events. Indeed, Senior contrasts (perhaps unintentionally) the control Joffre exerted even in ensuring orders were received by issuing them via telegraphic cipher AND physical delivery, whereas Moltke for far too long counted on unreliable radio transmissions (181, 191).

Another extremely strong point of the work was the flow of the narrative itself. Senior is a VERY good writer (likely with a VERY good editor as well) and I found myself reading for hours at a time, only stopping to jot the occasional note, without noticing how long I had been reading. His descriptions of a fairly complex series of battles, meeting engagements, and maneuver are very well done and flow quite smoothly. In particular, his use of individual memoirs is timely and frequently quite poignant and NEVER seem out of place or excessive. One of the greatest weaknesses I've noticed in many first-time-published history writers is the use of block quotes almost as a crutch when lacking the ability to flesh the story out with their own thoughts and analysis. Although he uses them a little heavily, Professor Senior almost NEVER falls back on this crutch and instead uses memoirs and first person anecdotes as a means of coloring an already effective narrative. As the title of this book indicates, the very nature of this story is a tragic one. The numerous battles described in which entire battalions and regiments nearly ceased to exist, even when battles of maneuver were occurring during the first month of the war, Senior has described in heart-wrenching honesty and with the help of the above-mentioned memoirs. Particularly touching, for me at least, is his description at the end of his narrative of the correspondence of a German widow of the early campaign with another from France. In short, the author does an admirable job taking what has increasingly become a story of casualty numbers as the years pass and has put much of the emphasis back on the human toll.

Lastly, on the plus side of the ledger is the author's use of maps and the supplementary information made available in the appendices (order of battle, table of equivalent ranks, etc.). These additions are quite helpful throughout the narrative as one attempts to follow a near dizzying array of opposing Corps, Divisions and Brigades on opposing sides. The maps in particular are quite good and do a commendable job of assisting one in understanding the movements described in the narrative. This is particularly true of marking the positions of numerous smaller units described. There were a couple spots where maps seem to have been missed and would have helped; the narrative describing the meeting engagement between 6th Army elements east of Paris and the German 4th Reserve Corps on the September 5th stands out (193).

My one complaint, albeit a small one, is that the narrative is simply too short. There were several interesting points made about the conduct and planning of the invasion, as well as errors made by the Germans in the "Analysis" chapter at the end of the book that had very little corresponding space devoted in the main body itself. The points made about the issues with logistics that Germany faced in particular, deserved much more space in the text than they actually received (311). Furthermore, Senior identifies communication problems within the German command structure as a significant failing once combat had begun but devotes far too little space in describing these in the course of the narrative. Really, this book could have easily been an additional 150-200 printed pages in order to flesh out some of the identified issues more effectively with almost NO effect on the readability of this book!

In conclusion, this first effort by Ian Senior is commendable. The sources he's collected, although certainly not exhaustive, are thorough. His text is without glaring errors and his narrative flows well throughout this work. Although, it wouldn't be fair to call a narrative of this sort a `page-turner', it is certainly a VERY engaging read. My only complaints are niggling ones and overall I truly enjoyed 'Before the Leaves Fall'. Senior does a very good job in putting the emphasis of the German invasion of France in 1914 back where it belongs; on the German and the French soldiers who fought it.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 30, 2014 9:34 AM PDT


The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Lost War, 1943 (Modern War Studies)
The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Lost War, 1943 (Modern War Studies)
by Robert Michael Citino
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.16
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Operational Analysis of the Wehrmacht's First Year of Retreat, January 30, 2012
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Choosing to read analysis of military history can be a difficult decision to say the least. This choice can be even more difficult in the genre of WWII history. There is no end to the offerings currently available or about to become so. Traditional divisions in the historiography amongst aviation, ground, and naval can be further subdivided by campaigns, weapons design, unit histories, individual offensives in some instances, and even synthesis of the political and racial goals of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. What has come to the fore, then, is typically the decision of the reader to choose either analysis of the quantitative advantages (weapons production and economic issues for example) of a particular army at a particular moment or that army's qualitative advantages (leadership and planning vs that of an opponent). The result has been primarily, books that either read more like a straight chronological narrative geared towards the WWII history enthusiast or scholarly works meant for specialists and perhaps history graduate students. Col David Glantz massive works on the Eastern front certainly fit this mold and although certainly great additions to the existing literature, they can be ponderous, to say the least, for the layperson to wade through. On the other hand, Robert Citino has specialized in the former type of historical analysis. Although he does not shy away from delving into weapon's development he has for the most part focused his analysis of Nazi Germany's war effort on the style, planning and leadership of that country and its opponents. In `The Wehrmacht Retreats' Prof Citino has produced a masterpiece which not only focuses on these topics but expands upon them and analyzes their own limitations in explaining why 1943 was the year of the Wehrmacht's retreat in all theaters. He writes in the introduction that the detailed operational analysis of this work "will attempt to place these modern events in the context of certain longstanding traditions of German military history and culture"(xxiv).

This book of moderate size(428 pp including notes and bibliography) is chronologically organized and divided into chapters shifting between the fight against the western Allies (North Africa, Sicily and Italy) and the USSR as the year progressed. Significant historical background is provided for each new chapter, which facilitates understanding of various factors involved in the various campaigns of 1943. Furthermore, the notes and bibliography are a treasure trove of further information for the enthusiast who wishes to delve deeper into particular campaigns or even individual aspects of the campaigns. This is truly one of the greatest strengths of this particular work. Although there are bound to be detractors who dislike this or that area of analysis, it is supported in the vast majority of analysis with the original source documents. In other words Prof Citino never expects the reader to merely take his word for it and constantly backs up what he asserts. In all honesty, it would be fair to write that one could create a comprehensive reading list of the European theaters operations from the primary sources cited alone. The chapter on the Kursk offensive is a great case in point with the author pointing out dozens of primary German language documents, English translations of the German and Russian sources, English secondary sources in books, military journals and scholarly journals just in endnot 13...truly impressive!

Although the narrative flows as well as any work of fiction a reader could find, another great strength of this book is the aforementioned analysis. It is thorough without being dull and is exceptional in its ability to challenge previous ways of determining the outcome of the war. For example, Prof Citino continues to develop his analysis of the `German way of war'-one of operational movement and maneuver-which was first presented years ago in a book by that title. In his chapter covering Gen Manstein's famous Kharkov counter offensive in February-March 1943 there is a magnificent short essay included on the limitations of Operational genius in determining battlefield outcome. In short, the point of this essay, as well as much of the later portions of the book, is that irrespective of any general's genius there are myriad circumstances that affect the course of the battle that are completely beyond his control. As such, narratives that heap effusive praise on this or that battlefield commander are to a large extent missing a huge part of the story. Manstein is the example of this in that despite re-taking Kharkov he was unable to finish the job. The Kursk bulge remained due to weather and manpower factors that he had could not affect despite his expertise in `war of movement' (73). Citino concludes the chapter with the assessment that rather than the Soviets or the Germans being masters of their way of war they were "trapped in the talons of their own doctrines"(74).

In conclusion, `The Wehrmacht Retreats' is a phenomenal work and should have a prominent place in any WWII enthusiast's library. The narrative is masterfully written, the sources cited are comprehensive and the analysis is as cutting edge as anything a reader is likely to find in the coming year. It should be an absolute first choice if one is trying to decide which book to purchase right now. Citino is a master of the genre and sits alongside Glantz and Kershaw as the best of the best in WWII history.


Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations
Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations
by Norman Davies
Edition: Hardcover
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Essays on Forgotten Europe, January 18, 2012
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The historical memory of nations has a great deal to do with their position amongst contemporaries at the time of their existence. Thus the stories of Rome, Greece and Great Britain are well chronicled. In fact the historiography seems to grow by the week of these great nations and empires. In contrast however, nations that had an admittedly mediocre history, or were perhaps consumed by these other great nations have largely disappeared from the historical picture. A current analogy might be the manner with which we tend to forget mediocre performing professional athletes and the astronauts after Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon. This is the type of issue that Norman Davies sees in the current state of history of Europe,however and he has set about to remedy, at least in small part, this glaring gap in the historical record of Europe with the writing of `Vanished Kingdoms'. In so doing he has striven to "both highlight the contrast between times present and past and to explore the workings of historical memory"(9). What's more is that, although left unstated, this work sets out to collect a series of histories that might never be able to be read by the layperson due to the highly specialized nature of the research, as it currently exists. What has resulted is a fantastic work of history and although it is some 739 pp in length, is hardly a ponderous read.

The book is organized into 15 essays covering such little known nations and kingdoms as Alt Clud, Tolosa and Etruria. Each chapter is further organized into three sections covering, in order: a sketch of some geographical area as it exists now within the onetime borders of a particular kingdom, a narrative of the particular nation and lastly, the current state of historiography of the kingdom/nation. Lastly these essays are organized by their general relative age. The aforementioned organization makes `Vanished Kingdoms' a pleasure to read. In my own experience, the chapter covering the history of the many manifestations of Burgundia, was particularly enjoyable, with the story set up by the description of the island of Bornholm, which once was part of the massive territory of Burgundy. In general, the narrative flows quite well as I have come to expect from Prof Davies works. Detail is rich in this book without becoming burdensome.

Although, other reviewers have taken exception to the historiographical analysis found in the third section of each chapter I have found these sections to be particularly interesting. Prof Davies is a consummate historian with decades of work spent on various topics in European history and although his opinions of the state of history in each section may not concur with the reader's own conception, they are as interesting as the general narrative itself and frequently quite enlightening. Besides, isn't the entire point of analysis to do the research and then state one's conclusions based on said research? If his opinion makes frequent appearances in this analysis, I'd argue that it makes those conclusions far more interesting to read than many I've seen in other sources. Curmudgeonly is hardly an accurate description of his outlook here.

In conclusion, `Vanishing Kingdoms' is an absolute treasure for those of us who are fascinated with times past and are wanting more than merely the standard works on the standard topics in national histories ie., Rome, Greece and anywhere in modern Europe. The narrative flows and many times throughout the book, the reader will find him or herself wishing to investigate the history of old Europe in greater detail. Indeed, I now have a list of topics to further research. I must extend a heartfelt thanks to Prof Davies for wetting my appetite and instilling the desire to broaden my horizons in European history as only a great writer can do.


The Russian Origins of the First World War
The Russian Origins of the First World War
by Sean McMeekin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.79
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79 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Absolute Gem of World War One Historical Writing and Expose, December 1, 2011
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In the arena of history of the First World War, Fritz Fischer has for decades stood above all other historians with his narrative, `Griff nach der Weltmacht' (or `Germany's Aims in the First World War' in English). This work, demonstrating a mastery of German and Austrian sources, for decades stood as THE overwhelming proof of Germany's bid to begin the Great War in order to secure its place as a world power. Numerous historians since its publication have delved into it and included it as an indispensible addition to the bibliographies of their own works.

But what if Fischer's research was incomplete? What if that fact led to mistakes that made nearly all his conclusions only partially correct-or worse yet-outright wrong? That is precisely the argument that Professor Sean McMeekin lays out in compelling fashion in his new narrative `The Russian Origins of the First World War'. In laying out the focus of this work he issues a broadside directed at the current state of the historiography of World War One. He writes, "Understanding of the First World War may be said to have regressed after the Fischer debate taught several generations of historians to pay serious attention only go Germany's war aims (3)". Thus, the focus on his current work is to rectify what he believes to be a serious deficiency in the historical record. In other words Russia's war aims must be examined every bit as exhaustively as those of Imperial Germany. McMeekin believes that "the current consensus about the First World War cannot survive serious scrutiny (5)".

Indeed, the scrutiny that the author applies to the existing documents and historical record is withering in regards to the preconceived views of so many past historians. Right away he goes to work explaining the Russian desire for control of Constantinople and the Black Sea straits the city commands as not romantic. With an admirable command of the primary sources, he goes to work proving that control of the city was anything but romantic. Instead, he argues that it was cold hard logic and the understanding of Russia's leaders of the threat to economic growth that lead to active war planning for the city's seizure as early as the last decade of the 19th century. These plans only developed and became more urgent as time went by and particularly with outbreak of regional wars during the early 20th century as well as ongoing improvements to the Ottoman navy. Indeed, McMeekin points out the purchase of Dreadnought class warships from Britain as a tipping point which solidified planning of an amphibious invasion. Russian military leaders knew that once these powerful Battleships were in Turkish possession, the balance of power in the Black Sea would swing inexorably to their favor, making any attempt at seizure of Constantinople a foolhardy venture.

Once McMeekin lays the groundwork demonstrating Russia's need for the seizure of Constantinople on clearly practical grounds, he goes on to demolish, once and for all, the myth of a diplomatically uninvolved Russia. His masterful use of the existing primary source documents clearly proves that leaders such as Sazanov and even the tsar were knowledgeable and cooperated with the entente in developing diplomatic and military responses. In short, the author proves that Russia was indeed a full member of the Entente and not merely led around by the nose or simply following the chain of events to their conclusion. Russia did indeed play a pivotal part in the initiation and escalation of hostilities, as well as the joint diplomatic planning for post war, such as Sykes Picot. They were, McMeekin argues most emphatically, not sitting along the sidelines unclear of their role.

In conclusion, `The Russian Origins of the First World War' is a gem of revisionist history. The author's command of the existing original sources is superb as is the analysis drawn from them throughout the pages of this narrative. His ability to draw the reader in with his writing skill is likewise excellent. Indeed, for me at least, this book was exciting and an absolute page turner with some quality maps to enhance the story. My only complaint with this book at all was that the 243 pages of text flew by far too rapidly. An additional hundred pages or so would have been thoroughly welcome! Bravo for this amazing work Dr. McMeekin. It clearly deserves 5 stars and I certainly look forward to many future ventures in history writing.
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Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East
Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East
by Stephen G. Fritz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.12
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83 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE Comprehensive Narrative of Hitler's War of Extermination, October 25, 2011
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The onset of the Russo-German war of 1941-45 marked the beginning of a striking evolution to the manner with which war was being waged by Nazi Germany. It also could be described as the continuation and evolution of a long policy of racist aggression towards the Slavs, German utopian `Lebensraum' ideology, and a radical anti-Semitism long adhered to by Hitler and the senior officials of the Nazi party. For years now, these disparate threads of the historical record have been studied and analyzed with an increasingly sophisticated dialogue. With that said, with the exception of Geoffrey Megargee's fine analysis on the first half-year of the eastern war, "War of Annihilation", there has been nearly no attempt to write a synthesis of all these differing but connected aspects of the Russo-German war. This gap in the history of Nazi Germany and its nearly four year war in the east has now been addressed in Stephen G. Fritz' fine analysis, "Ostkrieg". Indeed his goal, admirably stated is, "to provide a deeper understanding of the complexity and immensity of the Ostkrieg by anchoring the military events of the war within their larger ideological, racial, economic and social context" (xx).

This narrative works best exactly as the author intends; as a synthesis of the work already done by pre-eminent history writers such as Richard Overy, Ian Kershaw, Peter Longerich and David Glantz, among hundreds of others. In fact, the bibliography alone indicates the immense degree of work spent preparing this book and reads like a `who's who' of Nazi Germany historiography. The narrative is constructed in chronological fashion and ties together the political, racist, economic and military history of Hitler's war against Soviet Russia in exemplary fashion.

An excellent example of this is in the author's analysis regarding the failures of `Taifun', the assault on Moscow, which began on September 30th of 1941. Typically a reader is likely to come across descriptions of the terrible mud that made advances by trucks, panzers and even infantry torturous. Likewise, one is likely to read accounts of the effects of the precipitous drop in temperatures beginning in November and the lack of winter clothing for German troops. Fritz' analysis, however, combines these elements with accounts of the incredible mental and physical fatigue of troops, the lice the inability of supplies to move forward to these same troops and a myriad of other difficulties that have been rarely connected in this manner (160).

Furthermore, the author deftly connects these difficulties to the equally significant racial and economic issues involved, such as the supply difficulties being exacerbated due to a hardening of attitude by the various Russian peoples. He also goes on to demonstrate how the Nazi hierarchy's racist starvation plans actually worked against weapons systems production at the very moment when an increase in production was most critical. Indeed, Fritz shows how it was not until the more than 3 million POW's in German custody had almost entirely died of malnutrition that Hitler reversed this policy. By this point however the net gain of POW's capable of productive work could in no way match the lost manpower due to men called up for military service (171).

Overall, the analysis is top-notch and allows the reader to understand the thinking and planning (as little as there seems at times) that existed in seeking truly pan-European goals. Fritz demonstrates that, rather than seeking war with the USSR in 1941 because of the intransigence of Great Britain, it was actually in spite of this fact. He further shows how the political, military and economic realities contributed to an ever-increasing radicalization of policy against both Slavic populations and most tragically, the Jews of all Europe. This radicalization, particularly against the Jews, Fritz demonstrates as an example of anti Semitism flowing and growing both from Hitler and those below him. In other words, he shows how Hitler directed the overall flow of planning with generalized statements and general plans but in many instances, the actual evolving brutality and radicalization on the ground was driven by those wishing to prove their devotion or wishing for more freedom of action to act on their own hatreds and biases. Finally, he provides a fine overview of all aspects of the war, from the initial exuberant victories through the absolute destitution and destruction of Hitler's Germany.

In conclusion, "Ostkrieg" is a fantastic piece of analysis and is by far the most complete narrative of the critical war waged by Nazi Germany against Soviet Russia. Although there are minor areas in which I am not completely in agreement with Fritz, I find overall this a compelling and worthwhile area of research and one that he has demonstrated a high degree of mastery. This work should serve for years as THE preeminent discussion of all aspects of Hitler's racist war of extermination. This is easily one of the best works of analysis on the Eastern Front and absolutely deserves the five stars given it!
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The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States
The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States
by Gordon S. Wood
Edition: Hardcover
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101 of 104 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Analysis Both Wide-Ranging and Eminently Readable, May 17, 2011
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First of all I must say that, quite simply put, Pulitzer prize winner Dr Gordon Wood has crafted yet another masterpiece. "The Idea of America " is a phenomenal selection of essays regarding the American Revolution and Early Republic with a smorgasbord of topics ranging from trends in historiography, Conspiracy in pre Revolutionary thought, the depth of Thomas Jefferson's republican radicalism, and fears in the early republic of a connection between federalism and a reestablishment of monarchy.

This work is a series of essays written by Woods over the course of his impressive career in colonial/early Republic writing spanning nearly six decades! Although primarily a work of analysis, this work is an absolute page turner after the initial chapter on historiography. Never before have a found a work of analysis to be so absolutely satisfying of a read. The above-mentioned first chapter is primarily a discussion of the development of revolutionary history writing from the Progressive movement to the later Neo Whig/idealistic interpretations to Woods' own synthesis of both styles. He argues quite convincingly that although ideas cannot by themselves lead to actions they play a significant role in forming of the motives that did lead to action.

Most fascinating for myself was the chapter on `Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style...'. So engrossing was his description and analysis of the origins of conspiracy theories in pre Revolutionary 18th century America and Europe that I completely forgot my normal note taking for pages at a time. His argument is that rather than widespread conspiracy theories and a "paranoid style" being somehow unique to Americans as Richard Hofstadter wrote decades ago, they were themselves a logical outgrowth of the enlightenment belief in natural law. In compelling fashion Woods analyzes this phenomenon. Indeed, I found myself through this chapter now searching for further, more thorough development of the topic.

Also gripping in its own right is the chapter on `Disinterestedness' in politics of the early Republic. This is particularly interesting to those biography nuts out there as it gets right to the heart of the issue of the profiles of honorably disinterested public figures and what this actually meant for the revolutionary generation. As hard as it is to believe in time when nearly all public `servants' are up to their necks in some corruption scandal or another, Woods does justice in describing a time when there actually were some (John Adams and George Washington for example) who believed in doing the right things for the nation and the citizens living within its borders.

Really one could go on and on about the phenomenal scholarship and analysis contained within this collection of essays, as well as Dr. Woods gripping writing style. All in all this is a book which should be included in any college survey of the pre-revolution/early republic period. `The Idea of America' is a six star book that I can unfortunately only rate with five.
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Finland's War of Choice: The Troubled German-Finnish Coalition in World War II
Finland's War of Choice: The Troubled German-Finnish Coalition in World War II
by Henrik O. Lunde
Edition: Hardcover
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strong Narrative of a Little Known Area of the Eastern Front, April 6, 2011
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The story of Finland's war against the Soviet Union at the side of Nazi Germany from 1941-1944 is one of contradictions and complicated narratives intertwined. Indeed the contradictory memoirs themselves present such a tangled mess of half-truths and outright deceit within the history of the war that they may never be completely straightened out. Complicating an already complicated situation such as this is very uneasiness of Finnish historians attempting to come to grips with the unpalatable fact of cooperation with one of the most repulsive regimes in modern history. As such, attempting to untangle any of this narrative is a supremely challenging undertaking and in itself demands a degree of respect. It has simply not been attempted by a writer in English since the war's end. Attempting to do all of this while also presenting analysis of that narrative is nearly an unbelievable feat.

Retired US Army Col. Henrik O. Lunde's narrative Finland's War of Choice is an excellent and worthy first attempt in the English language. Lunde himself describes the historiographical focus of the book as primarily addressing "the unique problems that arose from an ill-prepared coalition between a democracy and a dictatorship" (3). Secondly, this work is an effort at analysis of the military operations and what decisions led to them. This is investigated both `in theater' and contextually within "the international political arena" as well (5). This is accomplished with varying degrees of success throughout the book.

Lunde is most successful in the straightforward telling of the military operations both on the strategic and tactical level. Although he comments in the introduction that the narrative will frequently deviate from a normal chronological approach, for the most part his retelling does not. Indeed, this is partly why the narrative is so effective. It is quite frankly very smooth and well crafted: a great read. This is by no means to say that what is contained within this book is lightweight. Detail is rarely omitted for the sake of `readability' (whatever that means) and descriptions of combat frequently are covered at the battalion level. Where Lunde does occasionally deviate from a strict chronological approach is in telling the story of the three primary regional efforts of the Finnish/German forces to affect some significant result. Each is covered separately particularly during the initial period of war.

Among the most gripping portions of the book is chapter four which describes the numerous attempts to cut the Murmansk rail line from central Finland and thus cut off the city of Murmansk itself. The next chapter, describing the primarily Finnish offensives in Ladoga Karelia and the Karelian Isthmus are equally enthralling, particularly as it will likely be the first time many readers have ever seen descriptions of the offensives in print. This well crafted narrative actually continues throughout the book after the first chapter and draws in the reader repeatedly. Indeed, at times readers will likely find themselves gritting teeth and nearly shouting at the book for the strategic idiocy demonstrated by both Finnish and German planners in 1941 and 42. Repeatedly Lunde describes the division of effort between numerous objectives along the rail line and failure to identify an area of primary effort.

Somewhat less consistently successful is the author's attempt at analysis. This can be explained to a certain extent by the fact that this is only his second published work. When compared to the giants of the field of World War II history such as Col David Glantz or perhaps holocaust historians Peter Longerich and Christopher Browning this work is revealed as a much lesser work. Typically, the analysis is somewhat superficial and frequently rather brief. Although this is disappointing by and author who's claimed secondary goal was analysis it is certainly not a crucial flaw, merely a mildly frustrating one at times. This is particularly the case with the epilogue. Although he raises some interesting points regarding the nature of the German-Finnish coalition he never really goes much below the surface. A pleasant exception to this was the author's investigation of the failure of the offensives in central Finland to cut the Murmansk rail line, which are quite intriguing and thought provoking.

Least successful for Col Lunde is his effort in telling the story of the initial diplomatic moves which eventually led to the coalition. Frequently the author resorts to assumptions and suppositions in the first chapter. Within one particular section of two pages he can be counted as writing "may have", "assumed" (twice), "unlikely", and "probably" (38-39). This is incredibly passive and poor writing and thankfully disappears for the most part after the initial chapter. It is unfortunate that the author did not benefit from a stronger editor. This weakness also leads on a few occasions to Lunde giving his opinion in the first person which is a huge no-no which would also been avoided with a better editor.

Lastly on the negative side of the ledger are a couple of minor irritations: the somewhat weak selection of primary sources and the shortage of quality maps throughout. As far as the primary sources go, it is unfortunate that the author's admitted lack of fluency in Finnish and outright inability to read Russian so affected his use of contemporary source materials. Really that is what research assistants are for, so the excuse is really not acceptable. The map issue is unfortunate but in general the detail of the narrative is strong enough to follow the story without additional maps.

In conclusion, although certain flaws certainly exist Lunde has done a creditable job in writing the first real history of the Finnish and German coalition against the Soviet Union. The prose is top notch and the narrative is truly engaging at times. Although the analysis is frequently superficial and the editing could certainly have been better, this is overall a very good effort at telling the story of the very strange union between Nazi Germany and democratic Finland. Through Lunde's exceptional efforts this confusing and contradictory story has been made significantly less confusing as well as highly intriguing. This is a solid four-star book marred only by the need for deeper analysis and better editing. These minor flaws are all that separate it from a fifth.
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