Friday, 8 August 2014

On the Precipice - Peter Mezhiritsky

Title: On the Precipice
Author: Peter Mezhiritsky
ISBN: 978-1-909384-95-8
Publisher: Helion and Company
Pages: 399
Photos/Maps: 27/7

This book represents one of the first comprehensive Russian studies of the impact of Stalin's purges upon the psychology and effectiveness of the Soviet military running from the period 1932 to 1941. It is a fascinating subject, little understood by the West, as it touches upon a myriad of subjects:

1. Why did the Leadership of the post-Tsarist Soviet army allow itself to be culled without reaction;

2. What were the underlying causes that drove Stalin to undertake such a draconian course;

3. How was Stalin able to create an environment within which he was able to wipe out his officer class;

4. What impact did Stalin's actions have on countries outside of the Soviet Union;

5. Why did the Red Army stay loyal to Stalin's government; and

6. What impact did Stalin's actions have upon the effectiveness of those leaders of the Red Army that survived the purges?

Any student of military history, international relations and psychology has a rich subject to look at here. At no time in history has the leadership of a nation undertaken such a thorough bloodletting of its professional military class, followed by a devastating war and come out at the end stronger than when it started.

Unfortunately, this book has a number of drawbacks that take away from its enjoyment and utility. Primary amongst these is the writing style of the author. The closest that I can come to relating to it is to compare it to a discussion with an old uncle relating stories of his past after having had a few drinks. He is not completely drunk but is certainly not sober and trying to follow his line of discourse can be challenging in the extreme. Regularly, the author's narrative seems more like a stream of consciousness rather than a structured study. Subjects are brought up but not completely finished before the author is on to a different track. This is both extremely frustrating and confusing.

The book has a number of interesting nuggets of information for those willing to wade through its narrative and the subject is one that is absolutely horrifying and fascinating; however, I would recommend it only for those with time and patience looking for a starting point from which to follow up on the subject of Stalin's purges. This is not the definitive work on the subject and, while the author has made an obvious effort to shed light using Russian primary sources and deserves credit for his undertaking, this is not a book that a typical Western reader would appreciate or easily follow. 



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