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Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1 Paperback – 4 Feb 2008


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (4 Feb. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862079935
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862079939
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 125,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A timely read... It is a valuable, frank and important work.'
-- Irish Times

'An important book'
-- Guardian (Nicholas Lezard's paperback of the week)

'Beslan is a sensitive, gripping and intimate account of the catastrophe, at once lucid and sobering' -- Observer

'In the shameful absence of any meaningful state inquiry, this study examines not only the massacre but dysfunctional modern Russia' -- Daily Telegraph

`A brave and sensitive writer'
-- Evening Standard

About the Author

Timothy Phillips was born and grew up in Northern Ireland. He
studied at the universities of Oxford and Helsinki and has travelled widely
in the former Soviet Union, including the Caucasus. In 2005 he completed a
doctoral thesis on the role of the holiday resort in Russian culture,
particularly in the Caucasus. He has worked extensively as a translator
and was the principal translator for the BBC on their Beslan documentaries.
This is his first book.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By oscar on 11 May 2007
Format: Paperback
Timothy Phillips has succeeded in writing a book which makes a complex geographic, ethnic and political history both comprehensible and readable. While the focus of the book is the tragedy of the Beslan siege and the deep national and ethnic undercurrents that shaped those fateful three days of captivity, he successfully engages the reader with the ordinary people of the region that he meets on his journey. In many ways, they become the symbols of the real life of hardship, poverty and disenfranchisement, which is the legacy of post Soviet Russia. It becomes an allergory for the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the economic fall out that befell the region as an economic infrastructure, bloated by bureaucracy, inefficiency and straddled by years of corruption, finally disintegrated in days. This story is about the people who face a new world after collapse of "Soviet stability", but equally, a longer history of pre 1917 Russia.The Regional rivalry, mixed with ethic conflict and fuelled by generations of distrust, is the mood music which Tim Phillips skillfully lays out as a precursor to the tragedy of Beslan. And the tragic siege itself ? An account built upon careful research takes the reader through a myriad of conspiracy and incompetence on the part of the Russian security forces. Failure to co ordinate a central strategy during the seige is a key theme, but the unseen hand of Moscow is never far under the surface of an unfolding nightmare. Ultimately, the sense of paranoia and despair, draw the reader closer to the central actors of the book. The parents and teachers. The negotiator and regional bureaucrats, the complicit role of a President, thousands of miles from the scene, but directing local officials.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By S. Dawson on 22 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
A compelling read. Detailing the history of tension between the Ingushens, Chechen and North Ossetian people, and taking a look at what was going on inside the gym with the terrorists and the hostages. Unlike some books about terrorists sieges this does not point fingers or take sides, there are no conclusions from the author only the facts and opinions on of the people this crisis effected. Timothy Phillips deals with this story in a very sensitive and moving way, worth reading.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By T. Kunikov on 28 Feb. 2008
Format: Paperback
This book is an interesting read about what happened at the siege of Beslan's school No. 1 but in the end I found it lacking. The book is broken into chapters, but they are not exactly in chronological order. The first chapter will address a part of the Siege while the next will go into the background of Chechnya or Russia and maybe tell the author's own adventures while over there and what kind of impact they had on him, the next chapter will again relate to Beslan and the one after again to the historical context, and so on and so forth.

I have to say that the author committed a few errors in his historical prose and I can't say he was 'unbiased' in presenting the plight of the Chechens. The author does talk about the various deportations of the Chechen and Ingush people as well as a variety of other ethnicities throughout the Soviet Union, what I noticed was missing was the fact that none of the other ethnicities turned to terrorism against innocent civilians, worse women and children, aside from the Chechens, why leave that out? The accounts from the parents and others who were trapped in the school were all quite interesting.

Some stories that are stuck in my mind are when the first police units arrived they had blanks for bullets, the police "armourer" had gone to the city and had taken the key to their arsenal with him. At one point when a negotiator asked the terrorists if they would allow food and water to be brought in for the children the response was that the children "had announced their own hunger strike in sympathy with the terrorists' aims." More than once the author points out the media's incorrect guesstimates when it came to how many hostages were bieng held in the School.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A tragedy beyond description 22 Oct. 2010
By Harmonious - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This accomplished account by Mr. Phillips brings forth, with full force, the inferno that visited School number one in Beslan, Russia. It seems that human sacrifice is alive and well judging by the extremes into which people with an agenda is prepared to go.

I will not fill you with the gory details (they are there in the book), instead, I want to stress how respectful was the author towards al the persons involucrated in the tragedy and, how even handed he was when depicting to us what took place in that remote corner of the Caucasus, but, nevertheless, caught the full attention of the whole world. This is a tragedy to reflect upon (as all of them should be).
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
An OK book but certainly not a good depiction of events 18 May 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Update 2/22/2015:

As my "living and breathing Beslan" period is nearing its fifth year, I would like to add that I recently published a book titled "The Beslan Massacre: Myths and Facts" where I made an honest attempt to dispel some of the most popular myths surrounding the Beslan tragedy. During my research of the subject matter I've encountered many works where authors' statements were difficult to verify leaving the reader with nothing but a hope that the presented material was true. Often, that was not the case. So I decided to go an extra step and provide evidence for my arguments including actual witness testimonies, photographs, scientific explanations, and etc. I hope that readers will not view this update as my attempt to advertise myself or my work. I've been working on this topic long enough to know that a lot of opinions have already been shaped, and any attempt to shed some light on the facts may even be perceived with hostility if the facts contradict such opinions. I take comfort in knowing that facts won't change no matter what someone may believe in.

--Previous review (5/18/2012 with minor changes as of 2/22/2015)--

This book is better than John Giduck's awful "Terror at Beslan", hands down. It is, however, not a very good depiction of events that took place.

I have spent the last two years living and breathing Beslan. Among my accomplishments related to that subject I'd name an article in Russian Wikipedia, which became featured and was voted "The Article of the Year" in 2011. I know... Wikipedia... anyone can edit that... But I wrote the article from top to bottom and hold responsibility for every word in it. During my work, I've read and seen practically everything under the sun that's related to Beslan except for the official Russian investigation materials, which remain secret. I've spoken to some hostages and their relatives, I've interviewed spetsnaz officers that were on site during the events, piled through mountains of court transcripts, expert reports, gigabytes of photographs and videos, you name it.

Mr. Philips' book is a rather comprehensive analysis of events. The first half of the book is quite on target in terms of description of the situation, although using rockets to booby trap the sports hall is a bit excessive. Even for a cvilian that the author appears to be (i.e. no military experience). That's the first half.

Unfortunately, in the second half the author slides into repeating well-known myths, which resulted from a combination of incompetent or dirty journalists, unwise officials and the information war that followed Beslan. These include but not limited to:

1. "The government lied about 354 hostages". The truth is no one knew how many hostages were taken. The rumors had it at between 120 and 1,380. Even the headmistress and the Colonel who were in the building were naming different figures. The headmistress said 1,200, the Colonel said 1,020 (this was during Aushev's visit). The operational headquarters (command center) decided to send local police officers across the city and collect names for those who could possibly be inside. When they were done it turned out "there were" over 4,000 people in the gym because many names were recorded more than once. I have personally seen these lists and I saw one name on the SAME PAGE being repeated FOUR times. The number "354" was announced by the government in regard to the NUMBER OF CONFIRMED IDENTITIES at the gym, but the journalists totally misinterpreted that and it was blown up into a huge scandal. It would take a lot of effort to get to the bottom of this issue whereas it was much simpler to just take for granted what was written in the press.

Keep in mind, I'm not defending the government. They screwed up a lot of things there and there is no doubt about that but they didn't lie about the number of hostages.

2. The tank did not fire at the building during the day time. There are testimonies but generally they're limited to "I haven't seen, but I was told", "I haven't seen but I heard and assumed", "I've seen but no one else around me can confirm". Note that people who heard and assumed sometimes describe an RPG as "a metal pipe that they put on a shoulder and it went "BANG!"". The whole tank topic is too broad to be covered in a book review but, in any case, that didn't take place until late afternoon.

3. The fire did not start until at least 2.30pm (14.30). There are famous photos of a little girl climbing back into the gym. They were taken around 2pm (based on the EXIF information). The pictures taken by the same journalist at 3.19pm (15.19) show blazing fire. There are testimonies of bomb squad soldiers who were in the gym around that time trying to disarm the remaining bombs and get the people out. These soldiers got into the gym roughly an hour after the first explosions. Don't forget throughout this whole time the terrorists were firing at the gym from the canteen and south wing with all they had, which included RPGs, grenade launchers, tracer rounds, etc.

That's just to name a few.

Yes, the book shows genuine respect towards the victims but, I'm afraid, that's not enough for a non-fiction book. Personally, I'd rather see facts than emotions.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Best available account in English 17 Oct. 2013
By Ahram al-Yardum - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a book about the Beslan school hostage incident, and it is also a book about how difficult it is to write accurately about the Beslan school hostage incident. I think this very obvious second theme has eluded some of the other reviewers here. Be that as it may, information uncovered in the years following the book's publication may render parts of it inaccurate, but this is no reason to avoid it. It is the best available book on the incident in English, with the others available being rather tendentious and even tabloid-ish.

What does this book have to offer? It is a semi-chronological account of the events as they unfolded, with some retrogression due to the use of interviewee accounts. Structurally, the book alternates between the hostage event the history of territory shifts in the region during the Soviet Union leading up the present. In this way, two narrative threads are followed, coming to a kind of simultaneous climax, which I found very effective. In the end, the aftermath is presented as a series of confusing and tragic conspiracy theories, give the impression that the town has suffered from the added tragedy of social implosion, thanks to endless suspicions about collaboration and culpability. These final chapters, detailing the conspiracy theories, are not, as other reviewers have written, a sliding into the repeating of well-known myths, but a testament to how difficult it is to come to a resolution about this event with so many accounts in public currency. Perhaps the irresolution of the book is its most admirable and literary quality.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A respectful insight to the tragedy 1 Dec. 2013
By John Desmond - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author goes well beyond the story of the terrorist attack itself to give a lesson on recent Russian history and put the story in context. A little confusing on the chronology, but a very good account.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Heartbreaking Tragedy 10 April 2012
By Laura Lewis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The story at the Beslan school is beyond heart-breaking and this book masterfully covers all areas of that tragic story that took the lives of so many innocent children for nothing more than political and religious extremism. While not for everyone, this book is a very interesting study of the events at Beslan and the participants of that incident. I caution readers who are upset easily because this book does describe cruelty to children, so it is only for those who are truly interested in the truth behind this tragedy.
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