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on 6 January 2012
I wanted to read about the story from a citizens point of view as I was aware that much of the history of the siege was written from Stalin`s point of wiew and
I knew that this was likely to be a whole lot of lies,the story is almost completely based on diary accounts of those inhabitants who lived through the long seige.It was facinating to hear how people managed ro survive; it amazes me that even through the worst periods the communists still managed to deal with so called enmies of the people.
Ifound it amazing that the mighty german army got bogged down on the perimeter of the city even though that the russian army was so disorganised.
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on 3 November 2011
Reid's new book focuses on one of the most woefully represented periods of World War Two: the Leningrad Siege. She tackles various cliches and misunderstandings (the heroism of the citizens as represented by Soviet propaganda, the pleasing and redemptive narrative arc presented by earlier histories) which have been previously written.

While the book focuses on the grand sweep of World War Two at various points, this is primarily 'street level' history, offering a look at the siege from the point of view of citizens who lived through it. We see their thoughts through memoirs and diaries written at the time, as well as through interviews by the author with the few remaining 'siege survivors.' A previous reviewer's comment about the history's over-reliance on such testimony seems to me slightly ridiculous. These people provide the real, heartbreaking evidence of how citizens suffered, died and survived the siege. Reid brings them and their stories to life marvellously.

The story that emerges, even to someone well versed in Soviet history, shows that regime to be shockingly incompetent and wasteful with human life. The Soviet authorities were complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of their citizens in this tragedy alone. As Reid explains, the country is still coming to terms with how to deal with and memorialize this tragedy today.
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on 19 September 2011
This is a detailed and amazing story of survival under the worst circumstances imaginable. For those interested in the history of Second World War this is a must read. Anna Reid knows her subject very well and has skilfully brought to life a part of recent history that we tend/wish to forget. we can't turn back the clock of course but there is still so much to learn from the painful past and this book has done a painstakingly research for us. All we have left to do now is to put time aside for reading it and reflecting on what went wrong.
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on 16 October 2011
Anna Reid writes with a beautiful balance of empathy and detachment about the extreme horror of starvation, cold and negligence which caused the death of 800,000 people in the 900 days of the Nazi blockade (1941-4) of Leningrad now renamed St Petersburg.
I read this book during a visit to this stunning city, and its recent emergence as a restored centre of culture and freedom is a testimony to the suffering of those who effectively enabled it to survive.The siege and its results also demonstrated the absolute inadequacy of dictatorships, whether as defenders or agressors, to operate other than with extreme cruelty, repression and corruption.
Anna Reid processes an enormous amount of research and archival material to masterfully transport the reader back into this nightmare and to explain its causes and effect with great width of vision and masterful selection of detail. It is an immensely readable,sad and salutary book.
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on 18 October 2012
I saw this book reviewed in The Economist some time ago and largely bought it on their recommendation and I was not disappointed. Anna Reid does a fine job in detailing the life of the people of Leningrad during WWII.

The siege was Leningrad's darkest hour. This would have been darker still if the German army had occupied the city. Nevertheless, the Leningrad siege is one of the many war crimes committed by the German army in WWII.. One feels disgusted that the leaders of Army Group North came out so well after the war.

What the author also explains very well is the incompetence displayed by the Soviets. One would assume that a dictatorship would be more capable in moving people. On the other hand, one felt occasionally that Stalin was not unhappy about the plight of the Leningrad people as he perceived the city as `not really being one of us'. Despite the siege, the authorities seem to have had ample time to go after its perceived enemies.

What I particularly liked about the book are the many quotes from survivors of the siege. This puts a lot of emotion into the narrative and brings the whole story to life.
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I was looking forward to reading Anna Reid's new book `Leningrad' having recently read her excellent work on Ukraine, `Borderland'. I was not disappointed, this is another magnificent book no doubt the result of extensive research in the Russian literature and archives. Once again Reid is able to take a subject which must have quite a lot of potential to be boring or tedious and to breath life and immediacy into the narrative so that at no point does it sag. You find yourself caring about the fate of the selection of real people from all sides of the conflict that Reid has chosen to follow as they suffer the consequences of the strategic decisions taken by their leaders.
The style of the book is straightforward and clear. With modern scholarship the author has been able to sweep away the distortions and omissions that were introduced by the communist government (and happily followed by western media) and give a heartbreaking and honest account of this dreadful siege. As indicated above, Reid swaps from commanders in the Kremlin and Leningrad, to Hitler in his forward post in East Prussia, to a selection of Russian families trapped in the city and to Russian and German soldiers facing each other in the front lines in order to paint a vivid picture of this costliest of all city sieges. The author has chosen to devote the main part of the book to the worst years of 1941 and 42 and to describe the privations, starvation and occasional acts of heroism. However, Reid is also able to keep us informed of the ongoing Party intrigue, and the senseless terror arrests and shootings by the NKVD of already starving victims that continued right through the siege and then on through subsequent purges until Stalin's death in 1953.
There are a number of fascinating little cameos of key buildings and forgotten gravesites in the surroundings of Leningrad (St Petersburg) that the author has visited and is able to describe with great poignancy.
The dust cover contains praise from Antony Beevor (Stalingrad) and Catherine Merridale (Ivan's War) that is fully merited. This is a truly excellent book that I have no hesitation in recommending for all those interested in this period of history and despite the darkness of the subject it is a surprisingly easy read and a further corrective to the longstanding myths surrounding this subject.
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on 13 February 2013
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 the first city scheduled for occupation was Leningrad [St Petersburg]. Not only was Leningrad a naval base and an important railway junction, it also contained numerous arms factories and was the symbolic "cradle of the Russian Revolution". Hitler was certain the loss of the "spiritual home of Bolshevism" would demoralize Soviet forces and break their will to fight. German troops reached the outskirts of the city in late August 1941 and by 8 September of that year they had completely encircled it. The Siege of Leningrad began. The siege would last for 872 days and would become one of the most destructive sieges in history and by far the most costly in terms of lives lost. By the time the siege was lifted on 18 January 1943 over 750,000 civilians alone, most of them women and children, had died of cold and hunger.

Anna Reid's book is an interesting, easy to read and meticulously researched account of the blockade of Leningrad. Drawing on newly available NKVD [Soviet secret police] files, eyewitness accounts, diaries and the testament of survivors of the siege - Blokadniki - Reid paints a vivid picture of life and death in a city and society on the verge of total collapse, a place where the very best of human nature is shown in all its glory and the very worst of human nature is shown in all its squalor. Focusing on the early days of the siege [three quarters of the book covers this period] Reid's sources describe the terrible first Winter of 1941-2 when cold, hunger and starvation wiped out tens of thousands of the city's people - although according to the Soviet records nobody starved to death in Leningrad at all; people died of a peculiar euphemism for death by hunger, "dystrophy".

For me, one of most outstanding features of this book is how Reid uses the information contained in the recently declassified NKVD files to explode these and many other Soviet myths about life in Leningrad during the siege. Contrary to the official Soviet accounts of the blockade both crime and cannibalism were rife throughout the blockaded city and corruption and black market activities were widespread. The files also reveal that many Leningraders were actively anti-Soviet and hoped for a German victory to free them from communism - although those caught expressing such thoughts could expect no mercy from the regime and the NKVD continued to ruthlessly suppress dissent throughout the siege and long after it . However, as Reid acknowledges, it was, perhaps, this hideous totalitarianism which made capitulation impossible and enabled the city to survive the German onslaught. Indeed maybe only a communist regime such as Stalin's Russia could have built the so-called "Road of Life" [the ice road across Lake Ladoga] which broke the siege and kept the starving Leningraders supplied with food. It is unlikely that a democratic society would have had the stomach for the kind of losses incurred in the defence and relief of the city.

Yet, amidst the all the catastrophe and despair, it was still possible to find "sparks of light in a vast darkness". Throughout the siege the cultural life of Leningrad went on as best it could. Although the museums and galleries were empty [over one million artefacts were evacuated from the Hermitage alone] both the theatre and ballet continued to lay on sporadic performances for the city's people. According to Reid however, the greatest source of comfort for Leningraders during the siege was the radio which, when not broadcasting programmes, broadcast the sound of a metronome - it's constant tick, tick, tick becoming "the heartbeat of the city" and something many blokadniki found reassuring right up until the day the siege was lifted.

Shortly after reading this book I was fortunate enough to visit the Blockade of Leningrad Museum in St Petersburg where much of what Reid has written about here was brought to life. Despite nearly all of the exhibits being described in Russian [and the museum staff speaking little or no English] I was still able to appreciate the experience largely thanks to what I had read here. The museum, like this book, is a testament to the Leningraders who lived and died in their magnificent city during that terrible siege and should be on the reading list of anyone interested in WWII or European history.
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on 23 January 2015
Having read Max Hastings' account of the final months of the last war, I was eager to know the background to the Soviet psyche with regard to WWII, I downloaded (in my defence, it was on offer again) 'Leningrad: Tragedy of a City under Siege, 1941-1944'. If you're ever in need of feeling totally depressed and hopeless, this is the book for you. Caught between the incompetence, brutality and corruption of Soviet-era Communism and the sadistic desire of the Nazis to see what would happen if you starved x million people to death, the people of Leningrad endured unimaginable horrors in order to survive. This is a story cleverly told from the perspectives and first-hand accounts of the participants, and is clearly very well researched. It certainly helped me to understand the Russian determination to spare no-one in their fight back. I particularly liked the way in which officialdom coined a quasi-medical term for 'dying of hunger' without actually saying it - 'dystrophic'.
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on 3 August 2014
For those who have any interest in the events of the Second World War on the Russian people in general and St Petersburg in particular this is a fascinating book. A bit hard going at times, especially with some of the statistical information, but it clearly portrays the situation faced by the the population of this proud city. The author is quite explicit in outlining the shortcomings of both the German and Russian leaders in dealing with the siege. For any who previously had visions of romance, valour, loyalty and love this book will be an eye opener. Yes those qualities are on display, in great number, but they are set against the reality of brutality, dishonour and always with the background of death. A great book but only for those who really do want to know what did actually happen during the siege.
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on 18 September 2012
A detailed and harrowing account backed up by eye witness accounts of what it meant to freeze and starve during the siege of Leningrad. I found it particularly interesting how much worse this tragedy was made by Stalin and the communist party. Although not mentioned in the book the people of Leningrad created a siege museum after the war full of artfacts recovered from both the Russian and German participants - dont make any plans to visit it though as Stalin had it destroyed as he didn't want the people of Leningrad to feel they were somehow any better than other Russians ! What a way to run a country - no wonder the citizens reverted back to the name of St Petersburg when they got the chance. A great read and not to be missed.
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