Nagorski makes his argument in vivid and compelling detail, and his book is laced with bitter irony ... turns out to be a book about how wrong a dictator can be when planning and making war ... Thanks to his mastery of historical sources and his acute insight into when, why and how decisions are made in real life, he is able to make a credible argument that 1941 was a turning point, if not exactly the turning point, of World War II in Europe. But a hard truth is always apparent just beneath the surface of his argument and his analysis: It is impossible to predict what turns out to be inevitable, which makes 1941 an essential text and a healthy caution for the war planners in Washington today.
This is a familiar story but Mr. Nagorski tells it well. He makes the conventional point that, when push came to shove, Stalin, unlike Hitler, was sensible enough to know when to leave war to the generals—at least those who had survived his purges. The author underplays, however, Stalin’s cunning ... Mr. Nagorski keeps the focus at a high level, on the men—Roosevelt, Churchill, but above all Hitler and Stalin—who directed the great powers at war. The benefit of this restricted cast is that Mr. Nagorski is able to keep up the pace of the narrative while showing how global conflict was interconnected ... Only when Mr. Nagorski turns to the Axis offensive into the Soviet Union does he explore more deeply the firsthand experiences of servicemen and civilians on both sides. Their testimony heightens the drama and strengthens his argument that the failure to take Moscow in late 1941 marked the point at which Germany lost the war. There is something to this, though the author also makes clear that, as far as Hitler was concerned, the war was sure to be lost in any case unless the Soviet Union was invaded.
Nagorski makes a compelling case ... These unforeseen turns of events in 1941 drive the book’s narrative. It slows only when Nagorski gives us too much detail about the comings and goings of diplomats — American, British, and Russian. Too many characters float in and out of these scenes. Here, the story tends to get bogged down, and this reader wished more for a summary.
... a thoughtful analysis ... Nagorski brings keen psychological insights into the world leaders involved (particularly Hitler and Stalin) and a striking awareness of Eastern European affairs. He points out convincingly that Stalin, as well as Hitler, harbored dangerous and self-destructive illusions, and he exposes both leaders’ personal and tactical failings. He sometimes loses sight of his central thesis—a not-uncommon phenomenon when authors saddle themselves with overweening premises—but, nevertheless, this is solid history.
Most readers will be surprised when Nagorski points out that Hitler’s plan to invade the Soviet Union was no secret thanks to talkative Nazi officials and Soviet spies ... Despite few revelations and though dominated by the immense war between two unsympathetic evil empires, this is a lively, opinionated account of a critical year.
... [a] successful history ... Nagorksi’s strength is in piecing together political, diplomatic, and military narratives to create a cohesive whole. He’s a clear and lucid writer whose account of this pivotal year will please history buffs.