On the morning of the 13th February the city of Dresden remained the jewel of the German east, the Elbflorenz or Florence on the Elbe. It had weathered the privations of the second world war well, considered immune from bombing by the lack of heavy industry, the distance from the UK and even theories about Churchill's wish to protect a favoured aunt. The culture-loving, proud citizens did not fear the dawning of the 13th, but the number would be catastrophically unlucky for the city. By the 14th the city's impressive buildings, countless artistic treasures and a significant proportion of its populations would lie broken and charred under the ruined wreck of the town centre. Frederick Taylor has taken the story of that dreadful night, and woven a complex and erudite history around the event. The story of the actual raid has to wait until the middle of the book, as the historian darts around various strands of history to build a thorough base for understanding the context of the raids. He considers the earlier history of the city, debates how it acquired its uniquely cultural and architectural heritage, looks at the history of fire in warfare, the previous destructions of the city, its role in war,the development of bombing as a weapon of civilian terror and the fate of the city's small Jewish population. This ensures that the ensuing story retains as much balance as is possible for a British historian to deliver. The context is essentially the crimes of the German Reich, set against the undoubted brutality of the attack. Taylor considers whether the raid was necessary, or simply a barbaric example of revenge attacks. The contrast is set by the description of the annihilation of Coventry, and the pummelling of London and other British cities. Despite the debate over the rights and wrongs of Bomber Harris's campaign, the tragedy of the night for the ordinary citizens of Dresden is clearly and compassionately illustrated. As with any conflict on such scale there are the ironies of the most impassioned opponents of Hitler being indiscriminately sucked into the fiery vortex. Taylor has matched Beevor's performance in demonstrating the horrors of war on the localised level. Berlin and Stalingrad are now augmented by this detailed study of Dresden. It makes a welcome addition to understanding how the detached nature of modern warfare makes the resulting annihilation, the Gotterdammerung of this Wagnerian city, all the more difficult to comprehend. The only criticism that reduced the overall score to 4.5/5 (although not allowed on the Amazon point scoring system) is that it takes a while to warm to the author's style. In dealing with such a horrific night it seems somewhat jarring that there is almost a jocular element to the early pages. It is perhaps an understanding of the repeating ironies of history, but still sits ill on first reading.