The Greatest Battle
Reviewer: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 28 Nov 2007
I cannot say that I am as much a diligent reader as I want to be, but I think I typically do fairly well, as WW2DB visitors can see from the relatively frequent book reviews. Of course, deep down I always wish each day can be just an hour longer so that I can have that much more time to feed my hobby in World War II history.
About a month ago, I had the opportunity to get back in touch with an old colleague, and our conversation somehow turned onto the topic of audio books. It has been a long time since I had listened to a book in audio form. I thought it would be pretty interesting to make use of my morning and evening commute time to listen to an audio book; not only would it be an interesting change from the usual National Public Radio (NPR) broadcasts, it would also satisfy my wish to read (well, listen) just a bit more. With that thought, I got my hands on the audio version of the book The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II, authored by Andrew Nagorski.
Probably due to the form of presentation, narrator Michael Prichard's voice left an impression immediately. After searching on the web, I realized that he was a veteran of audio books, having lent his voice to a multitude of projects in various genres. His voice talent seemed natural for this book. The words were clearly spoken, the speed of reading was just right, and his voice acting of German and Russian characters was acceptable. The Greatest Battle, at least the audio book version of it, had already scored a point just based on that.
Whether audio or traditional, the most important part of a book is always the content. Nagorski's research covered a wide array of sources, including biographers of top ranking figures such as Joseph Stalin and Georgi Zhukov, while not forgetting the memories of the common folks. Experiences of front line soldiers and civilians were weaved into the work at appropriate places, painting a complete picture that showed the battle for Moscow was not only among the greatest land battles of WW2, it was also something that had changed the modern Russian experience for the contemporary generation and the next. The stories of the common people, particularly those from the junior officers of the NKVD, were most interesting and were probably the portions of this work that I enjoyed the most.
The content, however, gave me the feeling that Nagorski fell in the category of the stereotyping western writer. There were many generalizations of the war between Germany and Russia. References to Russia's complete refusal to recognize the existence of Russian prisoners of war and Berlin's rigid policy against sending forth winter clothing for the troops made me wonder if the entire Eastern Front was really fought with such absoluteness without exception. For instance, even if Stalin denied the possibility of a German invasion, would his commanders still be so feeble as to allow the Russian military to be so inadequate a force? Although not doubting the author's sources, I felt at least with certain topics, he did leave me with certain questions. Nevertheless, I was by no means discounting other portions of the book, which was for the most part clear and detailed. The cross reference between the defense of Moscow and the diplomatic intrigues with the Western Allies, for example, was beautifully executed by Nagorski. It provided me the opportunity to see how the regional conflict at Moscow affected the thinking of top Allied leaders, who in turn decided how the entire World War was to be fought.
The version I listened to was in MP3 format, meaning it was very convenient for me to load them onto my MP3 player. A search on the web revealed that a version with traditional audio CDs also exists, which caters to traditional CD players well. Of course, I was able to see that a printed edition of The Greatest Battle is available.
I highly recommend The Greatest Battle as an audio book. It was written with enough intrigue to keep the listener interested while was narrated with expertise to keep the listener entertained. I wonder if I might just add the printed version to my reading list to confirm that Prichard really had done Nagorski's work justice.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939