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This is one of a number of new books covering the Second World War without the filter of the cold war and hence provides a more even-handed view of the role of the Soviet Union. This book basically covers the period from Hitler’s death to the end of actual fighting and, in doing so, covers a period either not covered in other histories of the period or covered too lightly to yield much information.
The chapters are thematic with most chapters covering a single day of the war after Hitler’s suicide, one describing the events which caused the observance of VE day to differ in the West and in the Soviet Union (and now Russia), one covering how the end of the war was celebrated in Russia and one covering the discoveries of the concentration and the extermination Camps. Many of the chapters contain background information explaining why the events being discussed were important and there is a great deal of background information for those who may not be thoroughly familiar with World War II as well as the period leading up to the start of fighting.
What makes this book particularly interesting is the effort the author put into trying to explain why the Soviet government and the Red Army took some of the actions that it did and why actions that the West saw as examples of the Soviet Union just being “difficult” were critically important to the Soviet Union. Mr Jones goes out of his way to make many of those actions seem quite reasonable from the Soviet perspective and often blames the Western resistance to those actions on US and British ignorance of why these items were of importance to The Soviet Union. While he often makes his case, he also appears to completely miss the point at times. For example he describes Stalin saying that the US had developed the Atomic Bomb in secret and had not told Russia, its ally, of the effort, thereby giving Russia cause to distrust the honesty of its allies in the West. This comment might carry more weight if it were not for the fact that the Soviet Union knew all along of the effort through its spies in the Atomic Bomb program as well as the secrecy that the Red Army surrounded all of its actions with. The Red Army would never tell either the US or the British about its planned actions, its time tables or even its strength, the Soviet Government would not allow the US or the British to land bombers in the Soviet Union, even for humanitarian reasons and kept those airmen who were forced down in the Soviet Union as internees and refused to return them to the West during the war. It seems odd to hear Joseph Stalin complain about secretiveness of the US and the British when they themselves were even more secretive.
Still this book covers much that I had not read before. The efforts of the Doenitz Government to split the Allied Powers apart by offering to surrender to the West, but not to the Soviet Union, its continual efforts to prolong the war and split hairs in its agreements, the actions of some of the German units who refused to surrender when the German government had finally agreed to do so, the actions of the two Russian divisions fighting along side the Germans and against the Red Army (until the very end) and the revolt of the Prague partisans in trying to seize the city from the Germans were mostly all new to me. As a bit of a warning to potential readers the book covers the liberation of the concentration and extermination Camps in quite some detail and some of those descriptions are very difficult to listen to. I had to skip forward in some parts because the descriptions of what took place were too painful for me to hear.
The narration by Robert Mackenzie is quite good, but some of the pronunciations of Russian names are different from those Americans are used to. For example Americans are used to hearing Joseph Stalin pronounced as STA-lin while Mr Mackenzie pronounces it as sta-LEEN and other Russian names are similarly pronounced with an emphasis on different syllables than Americans are used to. Other than that the narration is very well done.
I found this book to be very thorough and it added quite a bit to my knowledge of how World War II actually ended and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in learning how the war in Europe finally concluded.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful
didn't focus as much on the geopolitics as I hoped for. spent more time on the fate of different peoples, cultures, and armies.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful