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review 2015-08-06 05:19
A long-overlooked conflict finally receives its due
The Crimean War: A History - Orlando Figes

On July 18, 1854, two British warships under the command of Captain Erasmus Ommaeny bombarded the monastery on the main island in the Solovetskie Islands in the White Sea. The monastery itself had no real military or political value, but as Ommaney lacked the forces necessary to attack the main Russian base in the area at Archangel he decided that the monastery was a suitable enough target to win his men plaudits at home. After the outdated Russian batteries defending the monastery were destroyed, Ommaney demanded the surrender of the place; when this was refused he launched a second bombardment before sailing away in frustration, his bold military action having caused a total of six casualties, all among his own men.

There is no mention of Ommaney's adventure in Orlando Figes's history of the Crimean War, which is unfortunate considering how nicely it encapsulates the pointlessness that is a dominant theme of his assessment of the conflict. Its absence is also revealing, as it shows Figes's focus to be squarely on the eponymous theater of the war. There is some discussion of the combat in the Caucauses, a couple of passing mentions of fighting in the Baltic and no mention of battles anywhere else. This is also unfortunate, as it would have been interesting to see him employ the same penetrating analysis to these other overlooked theaters that he applies to the fighting in the Crimea. His book offers a reexamination of a often-overlooked conflict, one that demonstrates its underrated significance to the history of Europe in the 19th century.

Figes spends the first part of the book teasing out the complicated origins of the war. While many factors were involved, he considers the role of the Russian tsar Nicolas I to be the most significant one, giving greater weight to religion as a motivating factor in his actions than have previous historians. Yet this only served to define some of the particulars of what was an ongoing struggle between the major European powers over the fate of the Ottoman Empire and her territories. Pressured by Russia, the Ottomans received support from Great Britain and France, each of whom were motivated by different interests and seeking different goals.

Achieving their various goals eventually cost the sides involved far more than they had anticipated. When war did break out in 1854, the British and the French were divided as to what to do to strike at the Ottomans. Eventually an assault on the Russian Black Fleet and their main naval base at Sebastopol became their goal, motivated as much by the allies' desire to move their forces out of cholera-afflicted Bessarabia as anything else. Their landing and subsequent advance soon developed into a ponderous siege of the town. Here Figes excels in describing the siege and the major personalities involved, capturing the bravery of the men and the appalling errors which were made by their leaders in waging it. The fall of Sebastopol, along with Nicholas's death and succession by his reform-minded son Alexander II, led to a negotiated peace that was a humiliation, one which was soon reversed by a combination of adroit diplomacy and fortuitous timing. Figes concludes with a chapter in which he looks at the weight given to the conflict in the national imaginations of the various countries which sent men to fight and die there, a few of whom were immortalized but most ultimately forgotten.

Figes's book is a superb history of a often-overlooked war. His background in Russian history and his command of the Russian-language sources allows him to provide a far more complete examination of the conflict than exists in most English-language accounts, while his abilities as a writer help bring the war to life. In this sense Ommaneny's escapade can go unnoticed, overshadowed as it was by the far larger and bloodier farce that took place further south that Figes recounts with both humanity and insight. The result is a book that, while far from the final word on this complex and multifaceted conflict, is unlikely to be bettered anytime soon for the author's success in providing such an entertaining and informative account of a war that has long been denied its due.

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review 2014-08-05 20:57
Slow start, rich middle.
The Crimean War: A History - Orlando Figes

This book starts with a "heads of state making grand decisions" perspective and slowly zooms in as the war approaches -- until there you are outside Sebastopol in the mud and the ruins and surrounded by men dying of exposure and dysentery, while Tolstoy has life-changing revelations on the enemy lines. Perfect for filling in the gaps between the Continental Wars and WWI, especially in regard to Turkey and Russia, which I've often found easy to skip over. I'm trying to be better about that: this book is a great help, and a very substantive read.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2013-09-30 05:06
Review of "Love in the Afternoon" by Lisa Kleypas
Love in the Afternoon - Lisa Kleypas

Before starting this review, I have to admit that I could not finish this book, not because it was a bad book, but because it was a good book that kept going when it should have ended.  I really enjoyed Kleypas's voice, the characters, and the fact that it was set during the Victorian Era instead of the Regency Period, which seems to have flooded the historical romance shelves for the last decade or so.  However, I can't help feeling as if this book should have ended much earlier than it did.  Most books consist of a beginning, middle, and end, but this book should have ended a good 100 pages before it did.  Not only are the characters happy, but they're already engaged and all the conflict is over.  Had the book ended earlier, I probably would have given it a much higher grade because up until that point it was a really good book.

 

Love in the Afternoon is the story of Beatrix Hathaway, a member of an eccentric family that had a membership in the Victorian Aristocracy thrust upon them very suddenly, and Captain Christopher Phelan, a soldier sent to fight in the Crimean War.  At the start of the book, Christopher is still out fighting, the only thing keeping him sane is the letters he receives from the beautiful, Prudence Mercer.  The only problem is that Prudence hasn't written him a single letter; the real scribe was Beatrix, having taken on the task when Prudence showed her a letter he wrote about a dog.  Prudence doesn't understand why Christopher is so preoccupied with being a soldier and fighting for Queen and Country, and she no longer wants to have anything to do with him.  However, she doesn't want to give him up, either, because he is proving to be the ultimate accessory, so she asks Beatrix to write to him and sign the letter in her name.  Beatrix, being the kind soul she is, agrees.  It is only supposed to be the one letter, but after Christopher replies, she can't help writing to him more and more until it gets to the point that they are in love with each other.

 

When Christopher gets back to England, all he wants to do is find Prudence.  Not realizing that the woman he knew before the war couldn't possibly be the person he was corresponding with despite the fact that Prudence has the emotional depth of a sponge (one that isn't of the squarepants variety because he has stunning depth for an invertebrate), she is the only thing he can think of.  However, it doesn't take him too long to figure out that she was not the person he thought she was and it takes him an even shorter amount of time to figure out that it was Beatrix that he really wanted.

 

This is about the point where I felt the book should have ended.  Their "Happy Ending" was pretty much guaranteed the moment he found her in the barn and it wasn't necessary to go any further.  They loved each other and they were getting married.  The rest of the book was about how the Hathaways are unconventional and that was something that Christopher really liked.  Cool.

 

Despite this, there were a lot of things I really did like.  I loved Kleypas's prose.  She has a way of drawing the reader in and making it hard for them to want to stop.  Up until the point I closed the book for good, I was laughing at things the characters did or said.

 

I also really liked the way she handled Christopher's PTSD.  This isn't something we see a lot of in historical romances and when we do, it tends to be cured by the magic of love.  Love can do a lot of things, but curing PTSD is not one of them.  I am really glad that Kleypas didn't go that route.

 

What I would have liked to see instead of The Hathaway Saga was Prudence going all Fatal Attraction on Beatrix and Christopher.  It is alluded to that Pru's grip on reality was slipping a bit after Christopher dumped her for Beatrix, and it would have been fun to see her going after Beatrix and her menagerie.  Maybe she does.  I don't know and I'm not going to find out.

 

P.S. Kuddos on the soap opera shout out--Soaps, the original "Love in the Afternoon."

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review 2013-06-12 00:00
Orlando Figes - The Crimean War
The Crimean War: A History - Orlando Figes

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/16/orlando-figes-fake-amazon-reviews

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review 2013-02-07 00:00
The Crimean War: A History
The Crimean War: A History - Orlando Figes well-researched professional work; sole weakness was that compared to great WW2 histories where we learn the names of individual divisions/commanders, the Crimean War was a more chaotic, less organized affair and so the story becomes more about generalities (viz., 'the minie gun' vs the 'musket') rather than pure tactics / personages.

professional work. really should give it the fourth star, but probably I'm trying to game the recommendations from the GR alg
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