Book reviews from Steve Earles: June edition

A Gentleman In Moscow

By Amor Towles

Published by Hutchinson

In this humorous and beautifully written book we are introduced to a certain Count Rostov, an aristocrat who has survived the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution; and had spent the last four years in a suite in The Metropol, a magnificent hotel near the Kremlin (Suite 217 of the Hotel Metropol in Moscow, was the place where the first Soviet constitution was drafted). But in 1922, Rostov is dragged in front of a Bolshevik tribunal and declared a ‘Former Person’ (a horrible Bolshevik term for people of the old Regime).

He placed under house arrest in the same hotel but now living in the attic.

But his new circumstances open up a much wider world to him, he is proof of the wise words of Marcus Aurelius: ‘Look upon the inmost causes of things, stripped of their husks; note the intentions that underlie actions; study the essences of pain, pleasure, death, glory; observe how man’s disquiet is all of his own making, and how troubles never come from another’s hand, but like all else are creations of our own opinion.’

A superb book vividly revealing the characters inner-journey against the backdrop of a world in radical change.

This is a book that would make a very fine film.

And Quiet Flows The Don

By Mikhail Sholokov

Published by Penguin Classics

A welcome side-effect of the 2017 centenaries of Russia’s Revolutions of February 1917 and October 1917 are the amount of new books on this period and classic books being reprinted.

So, hats off to Penguin for this fine printing of ‘And Quite Flows The Don’; one of the great Russian novels.

It deserves to be far better known and it’s portrayal of the Cossack way of life and it’s destruction in the crucible of the Russian Civil War is an unforgettable one.

The writing is evocative, with a detail. Sholokov brings this now past world back into vivid life.

I am particularly impressed with Sholokov’s handling of the Russian Civil War, as it is most fair and even-handed (particularly from a man who was a devout Communist, if such a phrase is not a contradiction in terms)

Truly super, one of the 20th century’s, or indeed, any century’s great novels.

Images of War: Armoured Warfare in the First World War 1916-1918. Rare photographs from wartime archives.

By Anthony Tucker-Jones

Published by Pen & Sword Military

‘Images of War’ continues to be one of Pen & Sword’s greatest success stories, because every picture really does tell a story. The reproductions of these black-and-white photographs is superb (there is an amazing photo of the splatter mask created to protect crews from shrapnel, it looks like something out of Mad Max), and Anthony Tucker-Jones’s text is just right, as always.

Armour was one of the breakthrough weapons, not just of the Great War but of the 20th century, as this fine book proves.

The British mark IV and Mark V tanks look like something out of a H.G. Wells’ novel, and in a sense this it true because the Great War was pushing forward the speed of development of new technologies greatly. By comparison the German AV7 tanks look cumbersome and unwieldy and were little threat to the Mark IV and Mark V tanks. Proof of this being the fact that the Germans often reused captured British tanks.

The highlight of this book has to the photos of the Battle of Cambria; the first massed used of tanks in battle, overall, a worthwhile book.

Images of War: The British on the Somme 1916. Rare photographs from wartime archives.

By Bob Carruthers

Published by Pen & Sword Military

One of the most inspired ideas from Pen & Sword are their ‘Images of War’ book.

The reproduction of the photographs is first class, their visual impact bringing the events of the Somme (one of the great senseless massacres in world history to vivid life).

Carruthers gives a brief, intelligent informative comment to each photo, placing it in its correct historical context, which is as it should.

Essential for anyone with an interest in the Great War.

1919: Britain’s Year of Revolution

By Simon Webb

Published by Pen & Sword History

The Great War destroyed the Romanov Dynasty in Russia that had lasted for over two centuries, and following that war’s end, the map of Europe was re-written as civil wars and revolutions broke out, and monarchies fell in the flames.

And as this startling book shows, it could have happened in 1919 in Britain.

Strikes, riots, and mutinies abounded, the country was awash with weary men, trained to fight in the cauldron of pointless carnage that was World War One, and for what? To return to a country rife with poverty, injustice and unemployment.

In Ireland, its 32 counties still part of the British Empire an actual war raged against the British Empire for Independence. While on mainland Britain, tanks and warships were used to intimidate strikers. Earlier in the year a thousand soldiers had marched on Downing Street where they were disarmed by a battalion of Grenadier Guards loyal to the government. In Luton, the town hall was burned down by rioters. The army brought tanks onto the street of Glasgow fearful of a Bolshevik revolution there.

Indeed, that was biggest fear of the ruling powers, that there would be a Bolshevik-style uprising in the U.K. similar to that of the Russians. Britain would have gone from being a monarchy to a Soviet-style republic.

A very worthy book which would appeal to a wide audience, and would make a fine documentary.

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (

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