Saturday, 24 May 2008

Berlin - book review

I think it’s fair I share my own book report with readers here, as we teachers ‘bully’ our students to read a lot and to post their reviews here.

I have spent ages reading “Berlin – The Downfall 1945” by Antony Beevor. It took me a long time because it’s a long book, detailing the end of World War II in Europe. It’s a very well researched history, and fascinating in the detail it goes into of not just the battles and traumas of the final months of the war, but also the personalities and motives of the various political and military leaders.

This is a part of the war I knew very little about, as it is dominated by events on the Eastern Front where the Russians sought to reach Berlin before the Allies. (Being British, I naturally learned from and of the western perspective when I was young). The book follows the collapsing German resistance to overwhelming Russian advances; some brave, some futile, some callously selfish. While the Germans had wrought devastation upon the Russian motherland in their invasion in 1941 (Operation Barbarossa), with unimaginable cruelty on civilian populations along the way, it seems to me the Russians were equally intent to payback like with like.

What was particularly interesting for me was the clear chronological analysis of what was happening within Hitler’s inner circle of henchmen in his bunker, and of Hitler’s spiraling loss of grip on reality. It is also clear that even in 1945 Stalin was paranoid and playing his generals against each other. He also allowed Churchill and Roosevelt to con themselves that Russia had any intention of allowing Poland to become strong & independent once liberated from the Germans. The Allies could, and in my opinion should, have made haste towards Berlin themselves. Not doing so left Stalin with all the cards he needed for the division of Europe in his image, and the resultant Cold War impasse.

The Russian push towards the capture of Berlin was obviously relentless and brutal. It cost hundreds of thousands of lives, many civilian and with a shocking amount of rape. January to May 1945 is a short period in the history of the last century, but one I am very glad to have been able to learn about with this gripping book.

What am I going to read next? “Momentous…the history of the conflict surpasses all others” says the blurb. I bought this book two years ago and have been looking forward to reading it. ‘1914-1918 The History of the First World War’. Might take a while…