Berlin – The Downfall 1945 Antony Beevor, Penguin, 2002
You might get the impression from some of my recent posts that all I do is read German history, but it is fair to say that these entries are not entirely representative of my reading habits. Before I get to the book itself, a little gripe – this book’s cover includes the strap line “The Number One Bestseller”. It is amazing how often that line is used – I think it is largely devalued now. No doubt if challenged the publisher could justify it by selecting a very limited period of time, or category, or location. Number one in the non-fiction category on December 11th 2004 in Latvia doesn’t really count.
I am being overly cynical however, because this book is a highly authoritative account of the fall of Berlin. As you might expect, the horror is unrelenting, and while I now know more about this terrible period of history than I could possibly want, I confess the detail has not stuck – there is a long parade of generals with similar sounding names, battles across unknown terrain, without any clear overall picture of the progress of the war – there is simply too much detail for the non-academic reader.
This is “popular” history, that is history for the mass market, with half an eye on a TV series, but few concessions have been made to accessibility. It’s not an easy read, for many reasons, and even students of the period could probably find better, more digestible accounts. It is also one of those history texts that provide little in the way of food for thought. Compared to say When Money Dies, which can provide much to think about in the context of today’s society, all this book tells us is that when wars come to a bloody end there is an incalculable price to pay, which I think we knew.