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Americans think of World War II as “The Good War”, a moment when the forces of good resoundingly triumphed over evil. Yet the war was not decided by D-day. It was decided in the East, by the Red Army and Joseph Stalin.
While conventional wisdom locates the horrors of World War II in the six million Jews killed in German concentration camps, the reality is even grimmer. In 13 years, the Nazi and Soviet regimes killed 13 million people in the lands between Germany and Russia. The majority of these deaths occurred in Eastern Europe, not Germany.
In the groundbreaking long-view style of Tony Judt and Niall Ferguson, Tim Snyder, one of America’s foremost historians of Eastern Europe, has written a new history of Europe that focuses on the battleground of Eastern Europe, which suffered the worst crimes of Hitler and Stalin. Based upon scholarly literature and primary sources in all of the relevant languages, Bloodlands pays special attention to the sources left by those who were killed: the letters home, the notes flung from trains, the diaries found on corpses.
This is a new kind of European history, one more concerned with suffering than with intention, one that recognizes how stories of progress or victory have excluded the most salient human experience, and one focused on the extreme predicament of the tens of millions of Europeans who found themselves between Hitler and Stalin.
The scale of destruction in the lands between Germany and Russia has eluded historians and baffles the cynicism of our new century, but for these very reasons, Bloodlands offers the way forward to a sensible reconstruction of European history. Ultimately, in Snyder’s matchless telling, the German and Soviet regimes appear not so much as totalitarian twins, but as rivals whose ruthless pursuit of similar goals doomed millions of innocents.
Let's start with the end: you should buy this book. It will surprise you, shock you, scare you, enlighten you, inform you and more than anything else, it will make you think. As promised by the description (and from my own time in high school history classes) most Westerners think of WWII from a western perspective, the attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany invades France, the landing at Normandy, the march towards Berlin. But we don't think of the drama in Eastern Europe, the areas between Berlin and Moscow. That was where the real atrocities happened between 1930 and 1945. This book examines these areas, known to our author as the Bloodlands.
With wonderful depth, humanity and detail, the author describes what happens throughout Eastern Europe as it is annexed by Stalin, invaded by Russia and Germany, traded back and forth in the war's Eastern front and continually starved, persecuted and purged of "unnecessary eaters". This is the story of how the Holocaust was worse than most westerners even know, of how dictators decided certain people didn't need to live and how 14 million private citizens were brutally murdered. It has changed modern history for me and opened my eyes to events I scarcely understood before. Moreover, it ends with a discussion of the Stalin and Nazi regimes and how modern man could fall into such psychological traps again. This is a spectacular book; I can't recommend it enough.
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
first off, the narrator for this audiobook is great and his somber tone fits the material well. Also, no prerequisite knowledge of WWII is necessary for reading this one. It is pretty self-contained.
The writing itself can be at times a little bland, especially when statistics counting the number of people who died are read off. However, the author artfully intersperses within these larger numbers personal stories about actual people who died, their dreams and hopes, which really help the listener get a grip on the tragedy that occurred in the "bloodlands". Even still, the scale of the killing which took place in this region is difficult to comprehend and often forced me to reflect on the value of humans and the individual meanings they each may have for their lives.
This book is definitely a downer, but is a story very much worth hearing.
16 of 16 people found this review helpful
It's as if Mr. Snyder wrote his book to be read by Mr. Cosham. Together they are magnificent in the telling of this dark, awful period in human history. Of particular note is Snyder's ability to give the victims of the Bloodlands their individual humanity. I couldn't stop listening, couldn't help but be moved.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
It takes a strong mind to grasp the enormity of what happened in Eastern Europe between 1930 and 1945. Snyder has the necessary imaginative courage and also the knowledge and skill. One of the most disturbing and morally challenging histories I've listened to or read. The reader is excellent, clear, deliberate, fluent.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
I'd heard about this book when it came out and picked it at a whim from audible's catalog. I'm so glad I did because this work is going to stick with me and affect the rest of my life. I was so affected that I had to purchase the print version as well so that the rest of my family can take it in. At first glance, Snyder is giving an accounting of the massive death and misery that covered Eastern Europe (in an area he calls the "Bloodlands") from 1931-1945. I mean "accounting" in the professional sense of the word. He is aiming to give true and accurate numbers, so far as this is possible, to the various mass-killings which occurred it the Bloodlands through state-sponsored actions. What blossoms out of this undertaking is a beautiful explanation of how tyranny came to dominate Europe, how that tyranny morphed into totalitarianism, how that totalitarianism came to view mass-killing as a viable tool, and how that tool was enacted. I came away from this book with an appreciation that the tragedy of this era is not just the holocaust, but that the holocaust was simply the grand finale to unimaginable death and killing as implemented by 2 murderous regimes (Soviet Union, Nazi Germany). In effect, there were multiple holocausts and Snyder attempts to give each it's own story. Very moving and performed very well by the narrator.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
Penetrating history of the lands and peoples caught between the powers of Germany and the U.S.S.R. beginning with the pre-WWII context through WWII and into the post-war period. A mind-numbing in terms of the magnitude of the inhumanity and the destructive policies of starvation, death by bullet, death by work and death by death camp. The author traces the policies of Hitler and Stalin as they destroy, often repeatedly, the peoples and cultures of the lands in between their two countries and their expanding needs. The author adds a new perspective to the understanding of WWII and its impact in Eastern and Baltic Europe. The reader captures the historical detail and gathers momentum around the impact without giving way to extremes. This is an important piece of the history of WWII, well-told, well-read and worth understanding in our current world context.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
Bloodlands promised to inform about the mass murder by the Germans and Russians in Eastern Europe in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I was not disappointed. Accessing newly available sources in a number of languages, Snyder corrects many misconceptions about the period. Oh, the struggle of Poland was far greater than I had imagined. Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic Republics all came out of obscurity for me. The juxtaposition of Germany and Russia in this text is a remarkable accomplishment. I am just amazed at how Snyder has pulled together and related happenings in the eastern front, what we commonly call the Holocaust, and the Stalinist pogroms. His final comments on morality and related observations are very thought provoking. Well worth the reader's time.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to Bloodlands the most enjoyable?
New information flows from this excellently researched book that covers a largely lost body of history. The book crosses a long arc of Soviet history and shows the recurring theme of inhumanity to a helpless people. The Bloodlands were the western areas of the Soviet Union that took the brunt of the German Assault in WWII. However that is only part of the story. This area was devastated the persecution of farming Kulaks and the miserable collectivization of farms that created epic famines. What was enlightening and horrifying was that the greatest number of murders came from the Soviets on their own people for no sensible reason.This book could make all of us think twice about the consequences of strong centralized, all powerful governments with cliques on their own agenda.This is a particularly difficult book to read as it deals with horrific events exacted on helpless people. It is a story of the systematic murder of millions of innocent civilians by two countries, the Soviet Union and Germany. After reading this book, you will be assured why the Ukrainians wanted out of the USSR at the earliest opportunity. Frankly, several times I wondered if I was doing the right thing, plunging into this pit of human despair and informing myself of things that I might have been happier not knowing. For that reason, I waited 6 months to write this review. This is an important book that deserves reading and the people of the Bloodlands deserve to be remembered in some degree. This book will never set anything right, but it is important that we not forget and forgive the unforgettable and the unforgivable. The narrator told the story, he did not read. His resonant, magisterial voice delivers this impactful story with the solemnity required. He does treat the irony perfectly with voice tones that brings lift to the written word.This is a solid 5-star book, disturbing but richly informing.
Who was your favorite character and why?
This is a book where the characters are somewhat odious and you cannot really say that any of these arch villains are anyone or anybody's favorite. There are no heroes in this book.
Which scene was your favorite?
This is really not an appropriate question. All of the book is interesting. None of it lends itself to being a favorite. All that said, I would suggest that the pre World War II saga was quite interesting and informative as the modern Soviet Union and Russia have disappeared this from history.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
The suffering of the people of the Ukraine. It is impossible for me to comprehend the savagery that they suffered in Stalinization, the German invasion and then improbably the Russian retaking and march west to Poland and Germany. The starvation of the young child and his plaintive murmurings touch the soul.
Any additional comments?
You could learn to hate the Soviet Union, Soviet Communism and the Soviet government forever with a clear conscience once you read this book. They were horrifying and cruel beyond imagination. They make Hitler seem unimaginative in the destruction of their own people. You see that WWII was very convenient means for the Soviet Union to create a new narrative and bury the past.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to Bloodlands the most enjoyable?
We're all aware of the Holocaust to some degree. This book takes you much farther than common knowledge. It goes into painful detail on the sins of both Hitler and Stalin. This is not the kind of book you listen to for enjoyment. It is for information.
What other book might you compare Bloodlands to and why?
I have never read a book like it.
What about Ralph Cosham’s performance did you like?
Good perfomance though maybe a bit monotone.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?
Any additional comments?
You should read this book to comprehend the evil of Stalin and Hitler.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about Bloodlands?
one of the more important books I have ever read. The enormity of the evil in those places in those times is hard to comprehend.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful