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The Deadly Embrace: Hitler, Stalin and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939-1941 Paperback – October 17, 1989
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From Publishers Weekly
Writing of one of the most unlikely alliances in history, the authors describe the "monstrous chess game" the two dictators played, using whole countries as pieces, while preparing for a battlefield confrontation that would rival anything before or since in bloodshed. PW declared, "There is new material throughout this majestic narrative." Photos.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Anthony Read is the author of many books, most recently The Devil’s Disciples: Hitler’s Inner Circle. He lives in England.
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An initial big issue I have is that these authors, like many before and after them, make an attempt to get into the "minds" of evil men like Hitler, Molotov, Ribbentrop, and Stalin. But these are mostly sheer guesses. There is little or no documentary support, as the men themselves didn't dictate or publish their contemporaneous thoughts. Good history is not conjecture and no amount of conjecture can ever really tell us what these men where thinking as they plotted and carried out their evil actions.
A second big issue I have is in regard to the source material for the work. First, do keep in mind that this is NOT an academic work. It is popular history. Thus there is minimal sourcing for the limited end "Source Notes". All they do is point you to the source but not the specific details of the source. For example, if the source is a book, all you get is the title of the work but not a specific page number. So there is no way to verify the information. Second, the authors have relied heavily on diary materials (e.g., Ciano, Halder, Jodl, etc.). Yet even they admit these materials are heavily biased, highly self serving, and not necessarily accurate. In addition, much of the sourcing comes from the official diplomatic/foreign office documents of the various governments. Of course, these documents have their own biases (sometimes more of what they leave out than what they tell).
Third, the work suffers greatly from poor maps! There are not enough of them. And of the few that are here, they are too small and lack many important details related to the text material. Take a few specific issues. There is some discussion of the Suwalki Triangle and the Lithuanian Strip (or Tip). But the former is barely shown on p. 23 (though only if you know where to look as it is unmarked) and on p. 335 (though only the city of Suwalki is specificaly identified. And the latter is never shown anywhere! It was a critical oversight not to have a detailed map that showed the border and boundary disputes tied to Lithuania. Who knows where Ribbentrop wanting his hunting lands? No one every shows the "tip". Another horrible oversight is in regard to the borders of Rumania. There is supposedly a detailed map on p. 470. It shows N. Bukovina and Bessarabia (which the USSR received) as well as S. Dobrudja (which Bulgaria received). But it doesn't show the huge part of Romania received by Hungary! Nor does any map anywhere do justice to the changing borders of Hungary in this time period. It isn't as if these border issues aren't covered in the book, They just aren't supported by decent maps.
Fourth, I can't believe the authors didn't include a lot more statistical data, which could've been done in charts & graphs, covering the actual orders and deliveries of commodities, supplies, and equipment from the USSR to Nazi Germany and vice versus during this period. We only get a vague sense of the size and scope.
Fifth, they range too far afield from their expertise and sourcing at times to give lots of details. This is especially true in regard to the minutia of military equipment. Take just naval discussions. On p. 115 they discuss "the [German] cruiser Nurnberg". They discuss her "formidable array of heavy guns" and claim she is "an elderly ship". Yet the Nurnberg is a light cruiser with only 6" main guns, not a heavy crusier with 8" guns. And she was laid down in 1934 and commissioned in 1935. Thus she was hardly "elderly". And not really that formidable. Then on p. 206 they discuss "the elderly battleship Schleswig-Holstein" and her "formidable array of guns". She was a pre-WW I pre-dreadnaught class ship. She was outdated and obsolete in WW I which was why the victorious Allies let Germany keep her. She possessed only 4 older style shorter caliber 11" guns as her main battle array. So the knowledgeable reader sometimes shakes his head filling in all the details.
I suspect whether the reader likes this book or not may be heavily dependent upon how badly they want to fell like they are "there". The authors go out of their way to give lots of small details about everything from the dinners served at diplomatic functions to the architecture of various buildings to the interior decorating of same. It all adds up to pages and pages of worthless detail that only adds to the length of the work.
So, yes, the work at first seems to be fascinating and a stimulating read. But after about 300 pages or so the reader starts being overwhelmed with a never-ending stream of minutia that distracts from the overall thesis and which covers material that is far better served in other works (e.g., if you want to learn all about the Finnish Winter War, pick up a good book on it; the bibliography gives a few). To give an idea, the invasion of Poland commences on p. 326. Issues tied to the Finnish Winter War cover pages. 370-425.
There are two small sections of b&w photographs. Eight pages between p. 176-177 and eight more pages between p. 496-497.
The book is about the dance that Stalin did with Hitler. Stalin desperately needed to industrialize his country quickly. Hitler was equally desperate for raw materials. The two dictators grudgingly traded something to each other. Stalin knowing that those raw materials would soon be used against his country!
If you enjoy reading this book, I urge you to read any of the many works authored by Sir Martin Gilbert; especially his official biography of Winston Churchill titled "Churchill: A Life."
The authors touch on various interesting information. For instance, consider the fact that there are many different ideas about where the term Slav came from. Authors Read and Fisher suggest that it came from the German word SLAVAN, which means silent. (p. 8).
The unwillingness of the French and British to fulfill their treaty obligations to Poland became obvious long before the start of WWII, thus emboldening Hitler. For instance, the British communicated to the Germans a lack of seriousness when they refused to sell an appreciable amount of arms to Poland. (p. 195).
During the Soviet-Nazi alliance (1939-1941), the Soviets sent millions of tons of goods to Nazi Germany. The authors tabulate this information. (p. 442). Obviously, this alliance was serious. It was no temporary expedient.
SHORTCOMINGS OF THIS WORK
Authors Read and Fisher have an almost annoying tendency of engaging in would-be mind reading. They write as if they know the motives of those about whom they are speaking, as when they say that so-and-so was vainful, overconfident, etc.
The authors' treatment of the 1939 German-Soviet conquest of Poland borders on the abysmal. They manage to repeat all the hoary myths of this campaign. For corrective, please see the Peczkis Listmania: Military History: 1939 Blitzkrieg Myths...
"POLES TO TAKE BERLIN" IRONY
Political posturing, conducted by both sides, should be recognized as such. When Poles spoke of "taking Berlin", this has sometimes been taken literally, as if Poles had no idea of their limited military capabilities. Interestingly, Hitler also spoke, in dead seriousness, of the Poles conducting fantastic military exploits (that far exceeded their capabilities), as described in the next paragraph.
Thus, authors Read and Fisher describe Hitler's unsuccessful attempt, in discussions with Ambassador Ciano, to get Mussolini to join him in the upcoming attack on Poland, (quote) Hitler trotted out the usual arguments about the Polish weather forcing him to invade soon: "From September to May, Poland is one vast swamp and completely unsuitable for any military operations", he claimed. Poland could occupy Danzig [Gdansk] in October, as she probably intended to do, he said, knowing that Germany could do nothing about it, since he would naturally never bomb and destroy the city. He began to rant about the Poles, claiming that they were intent on taking the whole of East Prussia and advancing as far as Berlin. (unquote). (p. 191).
Obviously, Hitler knew from his military advisors that the Poles could not possibly take Berlin. Polish military leaders certainly also knew it.