Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
|Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A superlative, must-read volume of 20th Century history.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 544||Date: September 2011|
The first chapter is enough. I don't mean the preface, or introduction, that mean you start reading chapter one about an hour in, but chapter one itself, detailing as it does the way Stalin blatantly enforced collectivization on Ukraine's farms, thus killing off millions of local civilians. The seed stock ended up being taken away as part of the grain quota to feed the rest of the Soviet Union, and hardly anybody failed to go without at some point as a result. The first chapter here, then, is more than enough in telling us what we didn't know, explaining perfectly lucidly yet academically how and why what happened happened, and at times of quite gruesome anecdote and contemporary reportage, churning our stomachs and making us have second thoughts about reading on.
Read on we do, however, and Snyder proves himself an even greater historian, when his second chapter is able to show how this fed in to other countries in what he terms the bloodlands, as political outfall from this, and from Stalin's Great Terror, fed west across eastern Europe long before World War Two started its own heinous crimes.
The subject of this book then is one crime against humanity after another. With under six million dead, the specific Holocaust itself does not even provide half the dead civilians Snyder can find scattered across the scarred and scared landscape he portrays. He encounters Einsatzgruppen responsible for shooting hundreds of people a night, campaigns of ethnically-charged slaughter that killed thousands in weeks, and of course the major political decisions of Stalin and Hitler that played out over years and were responsible for millions of deaths.
It sounds a heavy, at times unwelcome read, doesn't it? Well, I'd admit to the first - it's a weighty chunk of small print you'll have in your hands a mighty long time. But unwelcome it isn't. Snyder is crafty enough to slip in his own abundance of humanity into his writing, courtesy of fishing out the slightest-known piece of documentation from across Europe and beyond, to portray the sufferers as real, memorable people. You learn countless facts about WWII, and the players in it both large and small, famous and unknown.
As the countless cover quotes on my edition show, this book has been lauded from all quarters as a brilliant, exhaustive history piece. It seems a history lesson on a par with what it documents, for it puts the reader easily in the lecture hall, and delivers a superlative, yet always compelling, level of attention and detail. Snyder breaks into the easy moral he finds in his research, that too much of what he presents has been missing from history - if not ours, then that of one or more of the relevant, participating countries - for far too long. You'll agree with him, for the look at Eastern Europe during this worst of wars he provides is well worth being on every bookshelf, starting with your own.
I can't expect a non-fiction book to have such a heightened level of perfection for a long time, nor for one so stuffed with education to have such a memorable emotive response. Definitely my non-fiction title of the year.
I must of course thank the publishers for my review copy.
Poland is at the core of the bloodlands, and one story to come from that time and place has been revealed expertly already, in Finding Poland by Matthew Kelly. Russia's history over a longer time features in Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith, while the result of the bloodlands is never better than in The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War by Ben Shephard.
You can read more book reviews or buy Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder at Amazon.com.
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