Book Review: Stalingrad

Currently I am painting a platoon of German Grenadiers which is taking some time. I have a fair amount still to go on this platoon, however I am on the downward slope to completion. In my spare time however I have been reading some hobby magazines and some books. One of these books is called Stalingrad, of which I will provide a review.

Stalingrad by Antony Beevor
Penguin History, ISBN 0-14-024985-0

Stalingrad, as you will no doubt guess, is about the famous battle for Stalingrad during World War II.  This book begins with a general summary of the situation of the war leading up to this engagement as well as the lead up battles to Stalingrad itself. It approaches the subject matter using a whole slew of reference material woven together with letters recovered from soldiers involved in the conflict. The narration is done through the various  view points of generals, officers and the common soldier engaged in the fighting. As well as this the politics and decisions of both regimes are carefully woven into the framework of the story. This provides a contrast between the ordeals and experiences of the troops on frontline as well as the leaders and generals distanced from the fighting.

I found that this book paints a vivid picture of the battle without alienating those readers who aren’t overly versed in military nomenclature. It doesn’t elaborate on movements and positioning of individual forces, rather it describes a general overview of each army to provide clarity of the situation on the ground at each stage of the fighting. It does a great job of balancing the story between being too vague and too detailed. It also is excellent at mixing in the letters of the soldiers with the retelling of the situation, providing an even greater insight to the conditions on the ground. Also included within the book are great maps that give a summary of each army’s position and movement, vital reference points as you read. Additionally there are black and white photos of soldiers and locations that do a good job of breaking up the book (Warning: there is one photo containing a deceased body, however it isn’t graphic and it is not the main focus of the shot).

This is my first attempt at a book review so please bear with my rating system. I am going to rate books of this nature using various categories. Each category relates to aspects that, I feel, are related somewhat to the hobby.

The categories, that will be rated out of ten are, are:

  • Reference – Does this book provide accurate information that can be useful for modelling, painting or wargaming?
  • History – Is this book relevant for historical content and/or context? Does this book provide good historical detail and is it accurate?
  • Inspiration – Does this book make you want to paint/model/recreate forces or scenes
  • Entertainment – Was the book interesting to read? Were there sections that one had to grind through?
  • Overall – A quick TLDNR summary of the book.

Reference (5/10)

The book deliberately does not go into a significant amount of detail in terms of force composition, equipment, tactics or strategy; rather it picks chunks of each of these elements and integrates them with the narration. This makes the book lighter and easier to read, also it allows the layman to be able to pick up the book and get something out of it. This means that it does score lower on this category. The best references one would get out of this book would be the names and locations of armies/corps/forces involved in the conflict. Also what could be used are locations of some of the battles within the main battle, however there is little detail on them other than the name. This information you could use as the basis for further research. To assist this research there is an appendix full of reference listings.

History (7/10)

“Stalingrad” does a good job dealing with the history of the battle. It provides a great lead up to the main engagement, it covers the battle as it progresses until it’s conclusion, and then touches on the aftermath. The politics of both regimes are covered as well as the mindset of each of the leaders. It paints a grim picture of the fight, all of the while picking out specific details that are interesting. If you are well versed in the battle I would say that you would not pick up too much that you didn’t know before but it does a good job of setting the scene for you. Even though I have said that it is, at times, light on detail it is, however, backed up by a significant amount of reference material. The appendix includes over fifty pages listing subject matter that was referenced. One final note is that this book, in my opinion, feels slightly biased towards the Germans. It is not much but I feel that it is there as a general undertone. It does not taint the retelling of the events and others may not feel the same way, so this is a minor point.

Inspiration (8/10)

I got drawn into the book and, although I was wanting some more detail, I came away wanting to model forces and/or scenes from Stalingrad. It was a great book to break up painting sessions. After reading a chapter or two I would come back to the palette reinvigorated, ready to paint up a storm. It definitely made me want to stop what I was painting and crack open my blister of greatcoats.

Entertainment (9/10)

I was thoroughly entertained by this book. Although I am quite busy, there were times that I freed myself up so that I could come back to this. Even though I am have a good appreciation of the battle and associated events, it did a great job of setting the mood of the common soldier. The haunting scenes are vivid and tell a dirty and undignified fight, where disease and the louse was as much of an enemy as your opponent.

Overall (8/10)

  • If you want reference material for WWII hobbying then this isn’t the book for you
  • The historical aspects are solid and the narration is good
  • A good way to keep up the painting inspiration during breaks.
  • Entertaining and engaging
  • Lots of listings for further detailed research

I hope that you enjoyed my book review and found it appropriate or useful. I am interested to hear your thoughts on this book, so feel free to provide feedback. Found the rating system interesting/stupid, let me know.

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