33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant and a stunning achievement,
This review is from: Crimea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
The most important event of the nineteenth century was the Crimean War. Paradoxically, it is also the most forgotten one. However,Orlando Figes has resurrected its memory and in his new book about it he has done a superb job. This is history at its best, written by a master historian who knows how to write history which reads like a thriller.
More than 800000 men were killed in this horrible war, whose starting point was a religious motive and which ended in many changes in the European political,religious and ethnic fields. The war signified the end of the Concert of Europe. According to Figes,it is the first book to draw on many and various Russian,French,Ottoman and British sources and his command of the new, hitherto untapped sources is perfect.
The first quarter of the book serves as an introduction to the causes of the war, where Professor Figes discusses the religious factor which was the main reason for the Crimean War. He offers the reader a panoramic view about the pilgrims to the Holy Land; a description of the Russian and Turkish clashes over the Holy Land and interests in those places and an in-depth analysis of the Eastern Question.
The rest of the book,more than 400 pages, is devoted to the war itself, and it is this part where the reader will,in my view, enjoy it most. Figes' forte is in using as many perspectives as possible about the same event,thus you will be able to know what the Russian soldier,the Turkish officer,the British doctor or the French Emperor were doing what and where. Kings, queens,princes,courtiers,diplomats,religious leaders,Polish and Hungarian revolutionaries,doctors,nurses,journalists,arists and photographers,pamphleteers and writers(the most famous one being Tolstoy) and also historians-all are here with their individual stories,memories,journals,photos or letters. In fact,the abundance of sources is so rich that you get the feeling of watching a multi-angled excellent documentary.
In the words of the author,"the Crimean War was a watershed.It broke the old conservative alliance between Russia and the Austrians and as a result of the war,new nation states emerged, among them Romania and Germany. It left Russia with a deep resentment of the West,a feeling of betrayal that the other Christian states had sided with the Turks,and with the frustrated ambitions in the Balkans that would continue to destabilize relations between the powers in the 1870s and the crises leading to the outbreak of the First World War".
This was the first war where the public had its say, where the telegraph aided the war correspondets in their mission to tell their readers real and rapid accounts of what was happening in the killing fields of Balaklava, Alma,Inkerman and Sevastopol. Only on the battlefield of Inkerman the Russians lost about 12000 men,the British 2610 casualties and the French 1726,which was "an appallling number killed in just four hours of fighting-a rate of almost on par with the battele of the Somme".
The war correspondent Nicholas Woods observed that ..."some (men)had their heads taken off at the neck,as if with an axe;others their legs gone from the hips;others their arms, and others again were hit in the chest or stomach,were literally as smashed as if they had been crushed by a machine".(pp.268-269).
Among the many interesting many characters peopling his opus,there stands out the Russian surgeon Nikolai Pirogov,who was responsible for the introduction of field surgery trouth the use of anaethetics.
One of the main villains in this war was Lord Palmerston who wanted to see a crushed Russia,thus helping the British achieve masterdom in East Asia. Seeing Russia as the main aggressor was the British point of view which had dominated British politics up to World War Two.
This war changed many things among them the way the West regarded the Turks and the way the Turkish leaders regarded the West.In Britain it marked the end of the British aristocracy being the defender of the Empire,substituted by the common soldier.
The other strong points in this book are the way he describes the soldiers,the officers and the civilians in the Crimean theater and their daily methods of coping with disease,their war crimes(looting, rape,murder),personal tragedies and so on.
The last part, the shortest,is about the way the war stirred-and still does-memories mainly in France and Russia. In 2006 the bodies of 14 infantrymen were discovered, buried with their grenades and crucifixes in the famous battle of Alma,and they were reburied with full military honours.
This is one of the best history books which I have read in the last ten years and I am sure that it will become not only a bestseller but also a classic. Bravo,Professor Figes!