Stalinism at War: The Soviet Union in World War II, by Mark Edele

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article review


The first thing to note about Mark Edele’s excellent textbook is the periodisation. Elongating periodisation has in recent scholarship altered our understanding of key events in modern Russian history, for example Jonathan D. Smele’s analysis of the Russian Civil War as spanning 1916–26 rather than the usual 1918–20. Edele decides not to focus on the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, but on the Soviet Union in the Second World War from 1937–49. This twelve-year period forces the researcher to consider the Soviet Union its Eurasian context, and to focus upon the Civil Wars in the Western borders of the USSR that were not overcome until the end of the 1940s.

It is a challenge to present the complexities of this geographical and spatial coverage in an easily digestible text for students. Edele draws upon the life stories and memoirs of a range of individuals caught up in these events to illustrate the variety of experiences and responses. This is a very effective technique; one that will enable students to appreciate human behaviour in the terrible circumstances of brutal warfare under Stalinism, a system that in peacetime resorted to savage methods against its domestic population to maintain control. Edele outlines how the Soviet security services arrested, deported and shot presumed or real enemies. Shooting on such a large scale placed physical and emotional demands upon the executioners. As an example, Edele mentions Vasily Mikhailovich Blokhin, who ‘was a specialist in such matters. He had brought a suitcase of pistols as well as specialist protective clothing made of leather: apron, cap and long gloves reaching over the elbows. Thus attired he and his associates shot between 250 and 300 people a night, exchanging weapons several times during a shift, as they quickly overheated. At the end of a night’s work, he handed out vodka to his associates, who drank themselves into oblivion’ (p. 65).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1877-1878
Number of pages2
JournalEnglish Historical Review
Issue number589
Publication statusPublished online - 1 Dec 2022


  • History


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