On the Precipice: Stalin, the Red Army Leadership and the Road to Stalingrad 1931-42, Peter Mezhiritsky

On the Precipice: Stalin, the Red Army Leadership and the Road to Stalingrad 1931-42, Peter Mezhiritsky

The official aim of this book is to examine the reasons why the Germans were able to penetrate so far into the Soviet Union in 1941-42, using Marshal Zhukov's memoirs as a framework.

The writing is conversational and distinctly Russian in tone (you'll see what I mean). The author is presenting an argument rather than providing a clear history of the period, with Stalin very firmly cast as the villain. Some background knowledge is thus useful, both to provide a framework for events and for some balance.

The biggest problem with book is the author's tendency to introduce something as pure speculation and then later use it as the foundation of major arguments. One example is the death of several members of the General Staff in an air crash. The author suggests that this might actually have been an early example of assassination by Stalin's agents, but provide no proof. This crash is then repeatedly referred to as the start of the purge of the army, part of Stalin's long term plans to eliminate the army leadership. As a result the force of other better documented arguments is reduced, as part of the evidence they are built on is unproven.

Another problem is that the purged army officers are portrayed as a brilliant generation under whose leadership the entire course of the Second World War would have been different. While it is true that many of Stalin's appointees weren't up to the job in 1941, that doesn't prove that the earlier generation would have done quite so brilliantly as the author suggests. Again, this is part of his wider argument, that Stalin's purge of the army was directly responsible for all of the Soviet disasters of the Second World War.

The section after the German invasion feels more solid. The author makes some convincing points about the importance of Moscow in 1941 and the impact its fall might have had on the war. There is a clearer framework here, and this gives imposes more discipline on the author, so the digressions feel more relevant. The author was also caught up in these events as a child, taking part in the mass evacuation to central Asia. His accounts of the spread of rumours and the limits of official news sources are thus first hand.

Don't expect a clear, well organised account of this period. Do expect an entertaining read, with some fascinating if often rather odd digressions, and a very clearly expression opinion on the reasons for the early German successes and Soviet failures.

1 - Interlude: Children…
2 - His origin, according to Zhukov
3 - Interlude: a fixed interest…
4 - Military Education 1
5 - Interlude: February…
6 - Military Education 2
7 - A Promotion
8 - About the purge…
9 - Marvellous Timeliness: Some Facts
10 - The Great Leader and Teacher
11 - A World Turned Upside Down: The 'Congress of Victors'
12 - The Justification
13 - The Congress as a Prologue
14 - What was happening in Germany?
15 - The RKKA and its Murderer
16 - The Army Executions Begin
17 - On the Matter of a Plot
18 - The Purge
19 - The Fate of Marshal Bliukher
20 - Khalkhin-Gol
21 - The Kiev Special Military District
22 - Interlude: The Second World War…
23 - Cadres and People
24 - The Wise Strategist Comrade Stalin…
25 - Great Expectations
26 - Politics and Morality, Genius and Villainy
27 - One the Eve
28 - Interlude: The War of Ideas…
29 - The War of Ideas (Conclusion)
30 - The Eve
31 - The War Begins
32 - The 'Barbarossa' Plan
33 - Implementing Barbarossa
34 - 'Separate and finish off!'
35 - The Brief Rule of the People's Commissariat of Defence
36 - The Finest Hour
37 - The Kiev Express
38 - El'nia
39 - Stalin and His Generals
40 - Moscow … There is Much Meaning in this Word
41 - The Spirit of the Army
42 - The Defense of Moscow
43 - On October 28, 1941…
44 - An Interlude: The Motive behind the Purge…
45 - Turning Point at Moscow
46 - Interlude: The General Staff…
47 - The Turning Point at Moscow: The Conclusion
48 - From the Point of View of a Water Drop
49 - The Genius
50 - On the Question of Losses
51 - The Victories in the Spring of 1942
52 - Interlude: The Tools of Power
53 - The Stalingrad Axis
54 - Interlude: Zhukov
55 - Summer 1942
56 - The Stalingrad Defense
57 - Interlude: The Author…
58 - The Concept
59 - Were the really Allies?
60 - The Stalingrad Triumph
61 - The Frightening Tale of Stalingrad
Instead of an Epilogue

Author: Peter Mezhiritsky
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 400
Publisher: Helion and Company
Year: 2014 edition of 2012 original

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