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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Stars of Death stood over us, January 26, 2007
This review is from: Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War (Hardcover)
and innocent Russia squirmed
under the bloody boots . . . "
Anna Akhmatova: "Requiem"

After June 22, 1941, when Hitler's armies launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union, it is fair to say that Russia squirmed not (just) under the boots of the NKVD (the actual subject of Akmatova's poem) but under the boots of millions of German soldiers, under the treads of thousands of German tanks, and under the bombs of thousands of German bombers.

The first year or so of the war on the eastern front saw the Germans advance toward Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad. Historical accounts of the battles of Stalingrad and Leningrad are legion. For some reason, accounts of the advance on Moscow have commanded less attention even though the Battle of Moscow was fought over territory the size of France and involved seven million soldiers. Rodric Braithwaite, former British Ambassador to the USSR/CIS from 1988 through 1992, has evened the scales a bit in his well-crafted "Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War".

"Moscow 1941" is not a military history of the Battle of Moscow. Although there are maps and a discussion of the key battles sufficient to give the reader a feel for the order of battle, this is really a compilation of stories about how Moscow and its citizens dealt with the war and the threat of the approaching German armies. As such it has something of the feel of an oral history about it. Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said: "[a] single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." Braithwaite has taken the Battle of Moscow and interlaced a general discussion of the battle with the accounts of soldiers, schoolgirls, actors, factory workers, party leaders, and people from all walks and stations of life. In so doing he has taken the story of the Battle of Moscow out of the realm of statistic and into the realm of tragedy, survival and, ultimately, triumph.

I found Braithwaite's writing style to be to the point. His writing is concise and not overly dramatic or florid. He seems content (rightfully I think) to let his sources speak for themselves. Braithwaite also does a good job providing general background information sufficient for any reader not thoroughly immersed in the history of the USSR to get a feel for the socio-political context of the times. Braithwaite provides a concise summary of the events leading up to the war on the eastern front, including Stalin's devastating purge of the Red Army's high command (from Tukachevsky on down through the officer ranks) to the Army's poor showing in its Winter War with Finland in the winter of 1940-1941.

I think that Braithwaite's "Moscow 1941" makes for a valuable addition to the historical record of the war on the eastern front. In particular I think Braithwaite has done an excellent job in personalizing one of World War II's greatest battles by presenting the reader with some insight into how it must have felt to be a citizen of Moscow during those dark hours. I was pleased to see Braithwaite make ample use of some excellent source material. For example, Braithwaite makes good use of the war reporting of Soviet author and journalist Vasily Grossman whose war reporting was admired by millions of Soviet soldiers and citizens. (I think Antony Beevor's "A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945" makes an excellent companion volume for "Moscow 1941".)

Rodric Braithwaite's "Moscow 1941" is an excellent popular history of the Moscow home front during the early stages of World War II on the eastern front. I think it can be enjoyed by those with any level of interest or knowledge of the subject matter. Highly Recommended. L. Fleisig
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 12, 2007 7:25:37 AM PDT
B. Evans says:
I've just finished this book and think your review of it superb. I, too, would recommend it highly.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 12, 2007 8:49:22 AM PDT
Thanks very much for your comment. I'm glad you liked the book!
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