This book presents the battle for Moscow in 1941 through interviews, diaries and other accounts from participants, both civilians and combatants (a distinction, as soon becomes clear, that is very blurred) on the Soviet side. It is a fascinating story of cruelty, courage - and of sheer obstinacy on the part of the defenders in a battle which has not so far had the recognition it deserves.
Braithwaite presents enough of the wider context, and eschews enough detail, to make it clear what was happening. (I do think that a few more maps would have helped, though). He also sets out the evidence in a number of areas that are still controversial, and shows how the changing politics of Russia, and the need in some quarters to discredit the former regime, have opened up areas to debate, and led to new interpretations, sometimes to the indignation of the veterans.
At the centre of the book is, of course, Stalin and his leadership. The effects of this - the cruelty and the waste, but also Stalin's role in stiffening resistenace - are made plain, but the book keeps its focus on the battle rather than being side tracked into a more general assessment of Stalin and his role in the war.
In the end, the impression the book left me was of the Russian people, defending their country quite literally "at all costs", not because of but despite the regime (and to the surprise of those, on both sides, who thought that revulsion at that regime would lead them to welcome the invader - a lesson the current crop of Western political leaders have disregarded) .
The outcomes of particular historical controversies, and the crimes of the regime, can take nothing away from their courage and sacrifice, which this book documents well.