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The Crimean War: A History Paperback – February 28, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. All most people know of the Crimean War is the charge of the Light Brigade, but this war was both global and modern, insists noted historian and University of London professor Figes (The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia) in his magnificent account. It was fought with industrial technology, railways, and steamships; 750,000 soldiers and uncounted numbers of civilians died. After an 1853 religious dispute with Ottoman leaders, Russian armies invaded a disputed area in present-day Romania. Longstanding anti-Russian anger in both Britain and Turkey boiled over into war. French opinion was less enthusiastic, but Napoleon III yearned for military glory. Although Russia soon retreated, Britain's cabinet wanted to inflict serious damage. The result was the massive 1854 British-French Crimean invasion. But the armies dawdled, resulting in a costly siege, bloody battles, and 18 months of legendary heroism and incompetence ending in a treaty that only temporarily restrained Russian advances and the Ottoman Empire's decline. Using French, Russian, and Ottoman as well as British sources, Figes has written a lucid, thoroughly satisfying, definitive history. 16 pages of b&w photos; 19 b&w photos throughout; maps. (Apr.)
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“Engrossing . . . In a book densely packed with incident, Figes highlights the influence of the press and the brutal casualties that the war produced . . . Could make a hardened war correspondent's blood run cold.” ―The New Yorker
“Important and impressive . . . it is freshly informed by Russian sources, of which [Figes] is a master. . . . [The Crimean War] admirably narrates the saga in its international and religious setting.” ―Max Hastings, New York Review of Books
“Meticulously researched . . . Comprehensive and compelling . . . Using a startling array of sources, from government records, news articles, and memoirs, to the letters of barely-literate soldiers, Figes deftly balances political, military, and social history . . . The chapters on the war itself are as gripping as an adventure novel . . . The Crimean War is an evisceration of war, a celebration of scholarship.” ―Boston Globe
“Fascinating . . . Narrative history at its best, with patient unfolding of events unknown and forgotten--but that have consequences even today. A thoroughly impressive book.” ―Kirkus, starred review
“A lucid, thoroughly satisfying, definitive history.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Narrated in fearsomely vivid detail and with analytical precision . . . Figes restores historical significance and human suffering to the conflict.” ―Booklist
“A wonderful subject, on every level, and with Orlando Figes it has found the historian worthy of its width and depth.” ―Norman Stone, Standpoint
“Figes' new work will remind readers of his gifts, keen judgment and mastery of sources.” ―Max Hastings, The Sunday Times
“This is the only book on the Crimean War anyone could need. It is lucid, well-written, alive and sensitive. Above all, it tells us why this neglected conflict and its forgotten victims deserve our remembrance.” ―Oliver Bullough, The Independent
“Figes is a first-class historian. . . an excellent guide to the vagaries of the battlefield and the suffering of the ordinary soldiers . . . and the extent to which this was a religious war.” ―Dominic Sandbrook, The Daily Telegraph
“A fine, stirring account, expertly balancing analysis . . . with an impressive narrative across the vast panoramic sweep of the war.” ―Mark Bostridge, Financial Times
“Excellent. . . I could not help but marvel at the many parallels with the present.” ―Anne Applebaum, The Spectator
“A stellar historian. As ever, Figes mixes strong narrative pace, a grand canvas and compelling ideas about current geopolitical tensions.” ―Tristram Hunt, The Observer
“Entertains as well as enlightens… With its account of combat in the Balkans and conflict in Iran, Afghanistan and Jerusalem, [The Crimean War] makes the modern reader blink with recognition.” ―Angus Macqueen, The Guardian
“A complex tale, told vividly by Figes.” ―The Economist
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It was a war driven by misunderstandings of each party's intents as was the case of so many wars that had preceded it. It was the first war that saw Christian Europe side with a Muslim nation against another Christian nation. It was a war that saw the implementation of true field hospitals near forward operating bases, it gave birth to Florence Nightingale and the myths that grew around her, of the Siege of Sevastopol, the modernization of logistics, and a good comparative study in the difference in the training and the moral of the soldiers in the field with Brittan and Russia soldiers being the least trained, least provided for and the most miserable, due primarily to the lack of leaders' concerns for their welfare. The French Army had been modernized under Napoleon earlier during the Nepoleonic Wars, in ways that would eventually influence other military commands, generations later.
This is one of the best texts I have read on this war, as most have been written from a very British and Russophobic point of view. A worthy read for any history buff. I was glad of previously reading about Catherine the Great which gave me the background on the Russian position on the Ottoman and AustroHungarian Empires and this geographic area that is still being disputed to this day with Putin's incursion and occupation of Crimea, geography and strategic positions always drive wars, and the hubris of those in power. .
So the author is righting a wrong by providing an extremely well written history. It has elements of an engaging narrative given the first person accounts which are balanced with significant detail. In fact, it is that detail that suggests this is not a pleasure read - it is best consumed by those with more than a passing interest in history. Several aspects resonated and impressed me:
- fighting would anticipate the crass, mass method of war to follow while confusingly mixing in quaint codes of chivalry
- the book rightfully spends a great deal of time on the siege of Sevastopol. The statistics and lengths of which will amaze: it lasted two weeks shy of a full year and saw 150 million gunshots and 5 million bombs lobbed between the two sides
- it was fought with modern technologies, supply chains, and transportation. And extremely interesting are the facts and observations advanced by Figes on the role of media and how it influenced public opinion in Russia, France and England - in starting the war, waging it, and interpreting who won
- over 750,000 soldiers lost their lives but this figure is made even more fascinating when it is known that the vast majority died due to disease and poor conditions rather than combat. Figes spends appropriate time describing fighting conditions, medical treatment, and several innovations that became common practice to better care for fighting men
The author's epilogue titled "The Crimean War in Myth and Memory" is an astounding examination of how the conflict has been oversimplified, how it impacted the countries and their militaries who fought it, and how media and propaganda emphasized and inflated innocuous, romantic aspects which, in turn, contributed to war's glorification and ultimate repetition. A thoroughly educational and illuminating history from the author whose superlative "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924" equally impressed.
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That is very relevant for their policy toward Russia today.