Antony Beevor,
The Fall of Berlin 1945
(Viking Press, 2002)

The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Antony Beevor is obviously about the last series of battles in World War II. It not only covers the final battle for the German capital, but it actually starts in January 1945. The Russians are sitting on the Vistula River, just outside Warsaw, and waiting to launch one of the final attacks that will finally collapse the Nazi regime.

Beevor has done lots of research and it shows. This is a completely compelling book. You do, however, have to have an interest in the subject and you should probably not be in a really bad mood when you read it. It is kind of a downer.

For the most part, Beevor concentrates on the Russian front as the Germans face off against the Soviet army. He does have a chapter or two about the other allies, but his focus is on the Eastern Front and the attempt by some Germans to retreat to the American and British lines so that they could surrender and not get killed by the Soviet hordes. Beevor also details the Yalta Conference and how Stalin completely hoodwinked Churchill and Roosevelt (Roosevelt himself was very ill at this time and certainly wasn't at his best) in regards to his intentions for Poland and Berlin. Other than this, however, Beevor is completely devoted to action in Poland and eastern Germany. This isn't surprising, as most of the action in this period of the war was centered here. Not to say there wasn't any fighting in the West, but once the Americans crossed the Rhine, the Germans seemed more intent on making sure they didn't surrender to the Russians.

Beevor does a good job with his subject. He writes in an interesting manner that doesn't contain the dryness that is prevalent in some history texts. However, he does go deep enough into the subject that it's obviously not intended for light reading. This is a history book, and it certainly feels like one. It's not history-lite for somebody with just a mild interest in the subject. Not being a historian, I can't speak to the accuracy of the research, but he does have a lot of sources, all of which are detailed in the back. He uses archives, interviews and unpublished diaries (including three sources that he insists must remain anonymous, so presumably they are Russian) -- mostly primary sources (which means they are original documents rather than using other history books as reference, for those unfamiliar with the term). There are 431 pages of text, three pages of sources, 30 pages of notes and a very nice bibliography at the end. The notes, unfortunately, are in an awkward format that scarcely makes them worth the effort to read.

The maps are outstanding as well, although they are all at the front of the book, so you find yourself flipping back and forth a bit. It would have been nice to have a couple of full strategic maps at the beginning of the book, with tactical maps beginning the section in which they are described. Still, the maps themselves are very well done, detailing every attack on both fronts.

This is a truly powerful book, especially where Beevor describes the utter devastation in Poland and eastern Germany. Berlin was nothing but a pile of rubble with bombs going off everywhere and hardly any undamaged buildings remaining. I think it affected me even more because I read it during the U.S. war in Iraq. I was seeing so little (relatively speaking) city and civilian damage, but reading of cities that were being bombed into oblivion. It was very disheartening. You certainly should not be reading this book if you're depressed.

Beevor details the horrors of war, as German citizens flee from the onrushing Soviets, victorious soldiers rape and pillage, and there is so much human suffering. Even the Polish and captured Soviet troops were not spared. It is truly amazing what the human race is capable of, and Beevor tells us all about it.

That is another small fault with this book, though. While I certainly understand the concentration on the devastation that was inflicted on the Germans, Beevor really seems to center on the subject of rape, a subject he revisits -- at length -- time and time again. It became monotonous. While the subject shouldn't be whitewashed, it could have been handled better.

Ultimately, this is a very worthy book, with just a few minor quibbles. If you like military history, this is definitely the book for you. Beevor does a great job of covering the subject; you certainly won't enjoy it, but you will find it compelling. And that's what a history book should be.

- Rambles
written by David Roy
published 23 August 2003

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