Some books are just so well written that it makes reading them almost like watching a film. In Stalingrad Antony Beevor has produced such a book. You lose awareness that you have a book in your hand and you just picture what is going on in your head. This is a book that is that well written. But I think that this isn’t just down to the skill of the author. I imagine that to get the realistic feel that this book has it must have been necessary to spend many hours in research getting to know the subject matter intimately. You don’t think about that when you are reading it of course. The effort it must have taken to produce no more crosses your mind when you are reading a good book than you think about the animination techniques in a well made film.
So although the reader owes the author a great debt of gratitude for his pains, that will be the last thing on your mind when turning the pages. And those pages will get turned, don’t worry. Beevor’s style is tell the story in terms of the men and women who actually experienced it. There are plenty of accounts which explain the strategy. It is grand and dramatic stuff. The Germans were always going to face a dilemma when they got this deep into Russia. Should they go for a political win by capturing Moscow. Or should they push south for the economic prize of the oil of the Caucuses which would give them the resources to keep the war going. In the event, they managed to get caught up in a massive way at the city of Stalingrad. Stalin probably couldn’t believe his luck when he found that a large German army had put itself in a position to be relatively easily outflanked.
But that is the big picture. This book is far more about the day to day experiences of the men involved. The hardship on both sides was intense. Even though it was part of the biggest conflict in human history, the humans involved were the still the same size as the rest of us. The only difference between us and them is that they got caught up in something that even now really defies understanding. You get to feel sympathy for all of them, the Russian defenders, the hapless German attackers who later found themselves surrounded. and even for at least one of the Nazi politicians. He tried to show solidarity with the men trapped in Stalingrad by eating the same rations that they had been reduced to. It made him ill and Hitler ordered him to stop. But it was a gallant gesture, and you don’t get to say that about a top level Nazi very often.
And the 90,000 Germans taken prisoner by the Soviets illicit some pity as well. They more than anyone else must have known that after what their army had done in Russia they were hardly going to get decent treatment at their captors’ hands.
It is a fantastic read and I can’t recommend this book enough.
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