Round-Up of Recent Book Reviews – 2 December 2017
November 2017 proved a rich month for reviews of Sevastopol’s Wars. The first to appear was a review in the Autumn edition of the Forces Pension Society bi-annual magazine, the Pennant.
The reviewer praises ‘this magnificent history’, and highlights its ‘overarching theme’ as ‘the continuity of Russian history’, pondering whether the ‘recovery of Sevastopol’ may prove to be President Vladimir Putin’s ‘greatest legacy’. Only time will tell, but I suspect that it may well prove to be the case. The reviewer questions, however, why I didn’t describe the ‘civil war’ in the Donbas in any detail, and concludes the review rather bizarrely with: ‘No air defence gunner could accept that amateurs could have operated a Buk SP system to destroy the Malaysian airliner in July 2014’. An interesting question – but not one that a book on Sevastopol, which took as its end point 9 May 2014, could hope to cover.
A very fulsome review appeared in the latest edition (Vol 4, No 1 (2017)) of the prestigious on-line British Journal of Military History.
I was very honoured in being asked to supply the cover image for this edition: a photograph of a detail of the Sevastopol’s Panorama Museum’s circular canvas, 115 metres long by 14 metres high, ‘The Defence of Sevastapol 1854-1855’ by Franz Rubo. This enormous piece of art depicts the defence of the besieged city at the Malakhov Tower on 18 June 1855, when its Russian defenders repulsed a major French attack during the Crimean campaign.
The reviewer, the Rt. Hon. Dr Julian Lewis MP, Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, notes the approach taken in Sevastopol’s Wars – which he describes as a ‘monumental work – as follows:
As Melvin’s account proceeds, from the Crimean War, through the 1905 Revolution, the First World War and the victory of the Bolsheviks, then the Red Terror and the coming of the Nazis, his objectivity never wavers. The strengths and weaknesses of all the military commanders are systematically laid bare and the strategic context is enlivened with sufficient personal testimony to keep the reader’s interest alive. The personalities and their effectiveness are rigorously analysed; and, at the centre of it all, the role of Sevastopol is held firmly in historical focus.
Dr Lewis also discusses the book with regard to the current context of Crimea and Sevastopol:
The final chapter shows how Khrushchev – previously head of the Ukrainian Communist Party – engineered the transfer of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. It gives an admirably concise account of the dangerous polarisation that had occurred by 2014 between Ukrainian factions (including Crimea) looking East to Russia, and those preferring to embrace the European Union and its Common Foreign and Security policies. Melvin is no apologist for the unilateral Russian seizure of territory: his analysis is admirably balanced and circumspect.
To be fair, the reviewer also criticises the length of the book (a not infrequent comment raised to the author):
There is only one problem with Sevastopol’s Wars: it is simply too long for its single-volume format. Not much could usefully be omitted, but scholarship on this scale, in a previous era, would have justified two volumes – or, at the very least, a synopsis at the start of each chapter. Nevertheless, this monumental work can only enhance Western understanding of the centrality of Sevastopol in the geopolitics and the history of modern Russia.
The full review that appeared in the BJMH is available here.
Finally, Allan Mallinson reviewed Sevastopol’s Wars in the The Spectator, published on 18 November 2017, in a listing of ‘More books of the Year‘. He wrote:
Books get overlooked. One of these is Sevastopol’s Wars: Crimea from Potemkin to Putin (Osprey, £30) by Mungo Melvin, a retired major general who for years has immersed himself in the place. A graduate of the German Army Staff College, a Russian-reader and author of an acclaimed biography of Manstein, the field marshal who fought the Red Army there, Melvin explains why, to a Russian nationalist, Crimea could never be part of Ukraine. And a lot else besides. It is remorselessly realistic.
An author cannot be happier than that! I trust with the added exposure in the November 2017 series of reviews, the book will now be more widely read. My thanks to all three recent reviewers for taking the time and trouble to read and review such an extensive work as Sevastopol’s Wars.
STOP PRESS: I heard last week from Osprey Publishing that it has sold the Russian language rights to a Moscow-based publisher – so hopefully a Russian edition of Sevastopol’s Wars will appear in 2019 or 2020. More details to follow.