Berlin - the Downfall:1945, by Antony Beevor

After finishing Beevor's epic WW2 book, I was keen to learn more about what happened, and this one turned up as a deal with the audiobook cheap, so I got it straight away.

However... whereas in the WW2 book, the downfall of Berlin had a chapter of exciting and gripping story, a complete book that is 18 hours of audio is less easy to take in. I suppose that if you're distilling the action (of which there was a lot) down to a relatively bite-sized chunk, you can make it seem much more like an ordered and purposeful sequence of events by picking out the bits which are most significant. But I found this book had a more messy feel to it.

I don't mean that as a criticism: the actual events were messy, and there wasn't really a "story" that linked everything together in a simple way. There are lots of pieces of narrative that I take to have been diligently researched, and based on contemporaneous evidence, but the overall impression is of a mass of horrendous behaviour: the Russians notoriously raped and plundered their way to and through Berlin, but the Germans don't seem to have been that much better, and quite often I lost track of which side was being talked about when he was talking about so-and-so's army doing something dreadful to some bunch of conscripts on the other side.

I think maps would help a lot with this book, and they are in the book, but I couldn't refer to them because I was listening to the book in the car.

The point was made (as in the WW2 book) that the Russians were pretty outraged when they realised what a standard of living the Germans had compared to what they themselves were used to ("why did they invade us when they're so comfortable"). This also went against the propaganda they'd had back home, and caused problems for Smersh, who were worried about popular uprisings when the soldiers came back home. I can't remember if the other book mentioned this, but the Russian PoWs had a pretty bad time: they were often sent back to the Gulags as traitors for letting themselves get captured.

Beevor says in this book that nobody appears to have heard the shot when Hitler killed himself. That contradicts the testimony from Hitler's secretary (who he does quote in other contexts) who, in her interview in the "World at War" TV series says that they did hear it, and one of Goebbel's children commented "That was a bullseye"

So, I'm glad I've finished it, but not sure I'd read it again. I've got another couple of Beevor books but I'm more hesitant about reading them now.

Completed : 1-May-2019 (audiobook)

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