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Russia at War: 1941-1945 Paperback – 8 Dec 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 1136 pages
  • Publisher: Avalon Publishing Group; 2 edition (8 Dec. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786707224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786707225
  • Product Dimensions: 20.9 x 13.9 x 7.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,479,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 1 Feb. 2011
I would certainly concur with William Shirer, the author of Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich that "Russia at War" is "magnificent... the best book we probably shall ever have in English on Russia at War." The book was first published in 1964; Alexander Werth was a war correspondent who "got up close to the action" and was fluent both in German, as well as Russian, having been born in St. Petersburg. He was relatively free to travel throughout the county, and to speak directly to Russians of all social strata, and all ranks in the armed forces. The book is over a 1000 pages, and thus not for the casual "fun read" crowd. It is not primarily a military history, replete with unit designations and movements. Instead Werth tends to deal with the military action with the broader brush; he also deals with the political motivation of the leadership on both sides, as well as the global perspectives on the war. As the author says in the introduction: "This book, therefore, is much less a military story of the war than its human story and, to a lesser extent, its political story." He goes on to list an impressive group of contacts that gave him a good cross-section of Russian opinion.

He commences in 1939, with the Finnish-Russian war, and the conflict in the West after the invasion of Poland. Naturally there was much political maneuvering to avoid the Russo-German aspect of WW II, and when it finally came, although it had been much anticipated, it was startling how unprepared the Soviet forces were.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Phil on 25 May 2009
I picked up a rather shabby old copy of this book for a few pence at a market stall. Never having heard of Werth, I was not expecting much. It soon became apparent that this is one of the finest books ever written on the Eastern front war.
Alexander Werth left Russia as a teenager and was a journalist for the Times. He spoke both Russian and English fluently,and in addition to this he had a natural talent for journalism (some of his work is included in the Faber anthology of great reportage) So,in short,a lucid and talented writer, who spoke and wrote both Russian and English like a native, and was actually present in the Soviet Union at the time! Why, Oh why, is this book out of print?
I lend it to a friend who was something of a homegrown 'expert' on WW2. Initially reluctant because of its length, poor condition and age, he finished it within a week.
Werth was pilloried a little for being something of a Russophile (although certainly no communist).However you can understand on reading the events he witnessed and people he met why he was so full of admiration and sympathy for the Russian people. His account of the broken and despondent German prisoners of war, the one time Teutonic supermen, being led through the Moscow streets after Stalingrad. The largely silent Moscow crowds just staring at them, and Werth overhearing a little child turning to her mother and asking- "Are they the men that killed daddy?" This brought tears to my eyes, and it wasn't the only page to do so.
Of course, with more access to records and archives later writers have been able to uncover far more details, but this book covers the strategies, battles , tactics and politics brillianty considering its date and the fact the writer was 'on the ground'
I have since read another Werth book - The Year of Stalingrad- another brilliant work. It is my intention to read as much of this great, and largely forgotten writer, as I can.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 29 reviews
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
One of the most incredible books I've ever read 15 Jan. 2000
By Sven Bjornholm - Published on
Russia at War: 1941-1945 by Alexander Werth is one of the most incredible history books in existence. Eyewitness accounts of the aftermath of barbaric Nazi occupation and interviews with survivors of German captivity are haunting and unforgettable. With its maps, contemporary press clippings and excerpts from memoirs by Nazi and Russian officers the book appears to be an invaluable repository of second world war facts put in concise, popularly accessible form. To a modern day revisionist, Cold War warrior or russphobe, some of Alexander Werth's accounts may seem to be overly pro-Soviet (or rather too unsympathetic to the Nazis - the complaint one hears most frequently) and the style with which he described certain events as insensitive and even callous (like his stunning narration of the last days of the German army at Stalingrad), however to most people reading Alexander Werth's Russia at War will uncover a new honest perspective both on the events leading to the WWII and on the actual meaning of the allied Victory at its conclusion. This fascinating book is so well written, that comparing it to other books on the same subject is difficult and perhaps unfair to their authors, one can compare reading Russia at War: 1941-1945 by Alexander Werth to playing an addictive (computer) game: once started, it is almost impossible to stop.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A Fantastic Introduction to a Massive Subject 20 Mar. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
At the opening of the D Day museum a few years ago, historian Steven Ambrose made an incredible statement during his remarks. He said the democracies of the United States, Britain, and France (yes France) defeated Nazi Germany. Well...yes, in a way, but....
Of course that statement completely overlooks the horrific sacrifice the people of the Soviet Union made to battle Germany in WWII. If it can't be said that the Allies could never have defeated Nazi Germany without the Soviet Union, it certainly can be said that the casualties on the Western front would have been much much higher (particularly for the United States).
For Ambrose, a noted WWII historian, to committ such an oversight is inexcusable. For the average American, it is perhaps understandable. The American perception of the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany has been downplayed at best, grossly distorted at worst, particularly during the Cold War. Werth's massive (but very readable) tome, written during the height of the Cold War, should be required reading for anyone interested in this subject. And who wouldn't be? This is history on a massive scale. The largest armies ever seen battling to the death on a front extending for thousands of miles. A titanic clash of ideologies. Incredible blundering by political leaders on both sides. Incredible bravery on the part of ordinary soldiers (and civilians). And Werth keeps the pace moving, blending an incredibly intricate war into a very readible history.
Even this book's shortcomings (the description of the Battle of Leningrad left me strangely unmoved) are more than compensated for by its many achievements (I have never read a better description of the desparation during the Battle of Stalingrad).
If you are not familiar with this aspect of WWII history, you owe it to yourself to begin with this book.
36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
History for Russophiles 30 July 2000
By Chapulina R - Published on
Alexander Werth has sometimes been accused of being a Soviet-apologist. But in his superb history of the Eastern Front, it is the Russian (and Belorussian, Siberian, Ukrainian, etc)*people* who are the true heroes. Published in 1964, the work is undeniably free of the Russophobia of an accelerating Cold War period, probably due to its focus on the human drama and trauma of the War. The Russian people endured horrific loss and suffering, no small part of which was brought on by the policies of Stalin himself. But because Stalin was savvy enough to appeal to Slavic pride and national loyalty -- even to simultaneously procuring the blessings of the Orthodox Church and resurrecting the pagan image of Mother Russia -- ordinary Russians were willing to give everything for their "People's Sacred War". This massive book (nearly 1100 pages) is extremely "readable", being divided into numerous small chapters of 10 - 20 page length. Poignant first-person interviews with combatants and civilians, survivors of battle and siege, give the reader appreciation for what the Russians accomplished, and admiration for them as a people. The author has three other books, out of print but worthy of reading, "Russia: Hopes and Fears", "Russia: The Post War Years", and "Russia Under Krushchev".
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A superb one-volume history of the Eastern Front. 31 July 2007
By No one of consequence - Published on
I have read a fair bit about World War II over the years, including Eastern Front narratives by Alan Clark, Anthony Beevor, William Shirer (which was not limited to the Eastern Front) and others. Of all of them, Werth's history is my favorite. It manages to capture, in a single volume, the breadth and scope of this enormous conflict in a way that no one else has quite been able to do, in my humble opinion. Werth examines all aspects of what the German invasion meant to the Soviet Union, whether diplomatically, militarily, economically, culturally, politically or ideologically. Of course, there is a limit to the depth of coverage in each of these areas, but each is treated to the extent necessary to provide a good overview of Soviet life during the war years.

Werth picks up with the European diplomatic scene in 1939, as the post-purge Soviet regime begins to appreciate the dangers posed by the growing German military threat. The account of the various diplomatic missions and exchanges is relatively well detailed, albeit not so well as Shirer's (which is, in any event, from a completely different perspective). Werth leans a little heavily on Pravda excerpts and the official Soviet history, but that's understandable given the shroud of secrecy that stifled the free flow of information. Werth provides insights into Soviet thinking of the day, both among the leadership and the citizenry, that paint a different picture from what many have learned about Soviet motivations for entering into the non-aggression pact with Germany. While there was some of the traditional "evil empire" mentality as to Poland, the measure was largely self-preservative due to Britain's diplomatic ineptitude during those crucial years.

The military narratives are sweeping in the their scope, and stay generally at the strategic perspective. Major segments of the book focus on large sectors of the front, such as Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad. Troop strengths are frequently measured in armies and hundreds of thousands of men, with only occasional glimpses at the lot of the foot soldier. Werth does this through various "close-ups" to add much needed color and flavor to what might otherwise be a fairly sterile presentation. During some of these, Werth recounts his own personal experiences "on the ground," meeting with both peasants and generals alike (including Chuikov and Malenkov, for example).

Overall, I found this history to be quite objective. Although this is a Russocentric view of the war, it is by no means an apology for the Soviet regime. Werth takes all parties equally to task where appropriate for their bad decisions, but at the same time he is not colored (as we Americans so often are) by an anti-Soviet bias in discussing the successes of the Red Army and its leadership. He is unflinching in his descriptions of Soviet weaknesses and failures, and spends some time discussing the origins of the Stalin personality cult and the myth of his "military genius." While Werth is not as hard on Stalin as some historians have been, he stops far short of adulation. If anything, I think Werth's treatment of Stalin amply conveyed his intense pragmatism, which often expressed itself in brutality toward his opponents, both real and imagined. Take, for example, Stalin's embrace of nationalist propaganda during 1942, only to resume the party's ideological norms in 1943 after the tide had been turned at Stalingrad. Another example is the regime's courting of the various peoples of the Caucasus in 1942, followed by the mass deportations of 1943. Werth also makes no bones about the regime's (and by implication, Stalin's) crass propagandizing of the Soviet people. His portrayal of Stalin is, in a word, objective.

In short, if you want a grand overview of what the Eastern Front was all about, from the perspective of a people that sustained the brunt of the German onslaught, you will find it here. Is it a perfect history? No, of course not, but it's certainly a good one.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A masterpiece 19 Sept. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
I read this book years ago when it came out and recently reread it. It is still as compelling as it was on the first read. Yes Werth was a man of the left and his sympathies lie with the soviet union, but the sense one gets of his leftism is not Stalinism but of a left that harks back to the great men of the left--Jaures comes to mind.
I also think that this book is necessary not only to inform people about what Harrison Salisbury called "The Unknown War" and but also to ensure that history will not be able to rewrite the events of WWII in an Orwellian fashion.
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