excellent book, with many eye witness accounts. Some different representations of more accuracy in the sequence if events would have been nice, some time line graphs ,diagram/ picture type of data would have been an improvement
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Overall I enjoyed this book, I began reading it with little to no knowledge of the subject and came out with a reasonable understanding of the war. The book is on the whole very readable which is quite an achievement considering the nature of the war - a long drawn out affair with a lack of decisive battles. There are a couple of reasons for this, firstly excellent use is made of eyewitness accounts which combined with photographs (I believe this was one of, if not the earliest wars where a photographer was present) bring the rather dismal campaign to life. Secondly the author holds nothing back in delivering a scathing portrayal of the officers (particularly those of the British) and the numerous tactical blunders made by both sides which is to some extent refreshing.
I nevertheless have a couple of problems with it, the author obviously has some very strong opinions about the conduct of certain participants - Lord Raglan and Florence Nightingale for instance - and whilst I've no doubt he's correct to emphasise the shortcomings of their actions he does take this to extremes to make his point. Florence Nightingale for instance, whilst undoubtedly not the saint she was portrayed in the media as at the time, has been reduced to some sort of egotistical monster with little to no mention of anything positive (in comparison to the new saint Mary Seacole). Furthermore there is a hugely misrepresentative argument employed to downplay her contribution by focusing solely on the death rates of the hospital at Scutari and the massive drop off as soon as she left. In the text this is presented as though the sole reason for the drop off stemmed from inept management of the hospital whilst after doing a little light research I discovered that there was a massive outbreak of cholera during the period where Florence Nightingale was in charge which tailed off by the time she returned to England.
That aside however I would recommend this book for anyone wishing to learn more about the subject, but bare in mind that in the attempt to (rightly) bunk some of the myths surrounding the conflict the author can occasionally go a touch overboard.
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The Crimean War is a fascinating topic, but unfortunately Clive Ponting's history of it makes it seem like a bore. His flat,unexpressive narrative and his obsession with statistics are the main reasons for this. At no stage while reading this book did I feel immersed ,or even involved in the subject matter. This is a pity because I have read many narrative histories in the past which had the capacity almost to make me feel that I was there and which created vivid and memorable character portraits of the leading figures in the historical events.I am thinking of Adam Zamoyski's "1812", Tom Holland's "Rubicon" and Ernle Bradford's "Great Siege ,Malta 1565" in particular. Regrettably, Ponting's book doesn't even come close to emulating these evocative works . The Crimean War was a large scale human tragedy , with over 650,000 fatalities. There was a year long siege, a series of incompetent military decisions by the British High Command ,such as the ludicrous Charge of the Light Brigade and a number of large scale, bloody battles at Alma, Balaklava and Inkerman, while Florence Nightingale's activities at Scutari make for an interesting sub-plot. With all of this excitement and controversy, how come Ponting makes it all seem like a total bore ? I lost count of how many times I yawned after repeatedly encountering turgid statistics such as : "The Russians suffered about 13,000 casualties and the allies only slightly fewer. The French lost 7,500 men, The British 2,500 and the Sardinians forty". Ponting's dispassionate account provides the reader with all of the minutiae surrounding the political background to the grand- scale futility of this War, which was only ever a half-baked attempt to ward off Russian expansionism, that Britain should have stayed well clear off. War seems to have been decided upon on the grounds of "We're here , because we're here, because we're here..." ; the British generals on the ground in Varna didn't fancy their chances in the Crimea at all, but felt obliged to follow the will of their political masters in London and Paris and to do something to justify their presence in that region. While Ponting presents "the facts" of the conflict reasonably well , the reader is let down by the inadequate provision of maps throughout the book, especially of the battles and troop positions, a poor and sparse selection of photographs from the War and relatively uninteresting eye-witness accounts , which mostly repeat the same information that Ponting relays in his narrative. I would have liked to have read a book about the Crimean War, which railed against the appalling indifference shown by the British Government and the military High Command towards the hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians who died in the Crimea for nothing, in a war that did not need to have been fought ,which had no clear military objectives and which did not have the support of most of the major world powers such as Prussia, Austria and the USA. In that sense comparisons to the dubious "War in Iraq" in the 21st Century appear to be justified. I would have liked to have read better eye-witness accounts and post-War reflections from participants in a conflict which has only just moved beyond the realms of those who have a living memory of it (or at least those who are alive who knew somebody who fought in it). Even in my home city of Belfast,there are streets called Sevastopol Street, Odessa Street and Crimea Street, while my late father knew a man named Inkerman (or Inky to his friends). This conflict left a huge mark on this country ,especially socially, as it opened the eyes of a lot of working-class people to the contempt in which they were held by the British upper classes, particularly obvious during the long winter of 1854-1855, in which their appalling conditions and treatment were in stark contrast to those experienced by their French counterparts. However this emotionless ,dry work by Ponting neither fails to capture the social significance and human impact of the Crimean War,nor does it properly convey the horror and the heroism that took place there 150 years ago.
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