It seems wrong to categorise this book as military history. It is like reading a film ... Like a cameraman, Beevor twists his lens between the close-up and the wide-angle ... Both Beevor and his research assistant have a novelist’s eye for the telling detail, even though their canvas is half the size of the planet...This kind of detail accumulates to powerful effect ... The field of Russian civil war studies is crowded in many languages, and Beevor, whose books have sold millions of copies, has mined the sources with academic rigour. In this volume he confidently sets out military strategy in all its complexity and confusion, marshalling shifts, tides and patterns as corps, armies, guerrillas, underground cells and loose military alliances on flanks and fronts fragment and consolidate. Sometimes describing events day by day, he charts congresses, offensives and counter-offensives, insurrections, hungry winters, real or invented bourgeois sabotage and the ‘whole imbroglio of misunderstandings’ as strategies alter and alliances weaken ... It does not matter that the reader struggles to follow whether the 14th Division on the left flank of the 9th Army ever did meet up with the 10th Army based in Tsaritsyn: the story steams through the fog of war ... Beevor presents dense data in a resolutely narrative style that is fluent and agreeable ... Directly quoted individual voices are the yeast that allow history to rise ... Together with a strong opening, setting the events of 1917 in their historical place, these glances to the future lend the story a robust sense of context. Otherwise, the book avoids the longue durée approach ... The author is so accomplished that occasional infelicities come as a relief. It is pleasing when days are numbered, word spreads like wildfire, silence is stony and even Vladimir Ilyich does not pull his punches. Beevor might be brilliant, and might have mastered the accessible, vivid style to which all modern historians aspire and, worst of all, have sold those beastly millions, but a cliché beats him from time to time. I will therefore end with a cliché myself. The book is a masterpiece.
Beevor strips away the misty romanticism that once surrounded the revolution ... Likewise, Beevor’s reconstruction of the storming of the Winter Palace on November 7, when Kerensky’s Provisional Government was toppled, is a lot more sordid than Sergei Eisenstein’s depiction in his film, October ... Beevor skilfully recounts a 'fiendishly complex' war fought on Russia’s periphery, in Belarus, the Baltic, Ukraine, Poland, Siberia and Persia ... Beevor, best known for his formidable book Stalingrad, commands authority as a historian because his research is comprehensive and his conclusions free of political agenda. He’s a skilled writer, but his prose is not what makes his books special. Rather, it’s the confidence that his authority conveys — one senses that he knows his subject as well as anyone. He allows his mountain of evidence to speak for itself, simply charting the course of this horrible war, exposing its boundless cruelty. This is easily the most horrifying war story I’ve ever read. One wonders how Russia could ever contain so much suffering ... This is an unmerciful book, unceasingly agonising, yet always irresistible. Horror is delivered in relentless rhythm.
[Beevor] is a wonderfully lucid writer who marshals the extensive material with great verve and understanding ... What is instantly striking is that the kind of violence we’ve witnessed on television of late has a long and depressing history in the region ... At its most bloody points the book requires a strong stomach to continue reading, and I was sometimes left with the slightly dazed feeling I remember experiencing after watching Elem Klimov’s harrowing Come and See. But its saving grace is the personal testimonies that Beevor assembles, having been unearthed by his much-valued researcher Luba Vinogradova, to whom the book is dedicated ... Beevor has captured the beginnings of the tragedy in mesmerising detail.