Sixty-five years on, the story of the Battle of Stalingrad still has the capacity to shock and appall. The Soviet 62nd Army was expected to buckle under the superior power of the German Sixth Army. It came perilously close to doing so, but somehow it held the battered city and inflicted a war-transforming defeat on Germany. Although the epic quality of the battle has attracted many historians, most recently Antony Beevor, Jones' contribution is special for two reasons. First, he seems to have been able to dig deeper into the Soviet archives than previous authors, and he got some extraordinary testimony from survivors, notably Anatoly Mereshko, at the time a 20-year-old lieutenant on the staff of General Vasily Chuikov, who combined utter ruthlessness with tactical flexibility and a deep rapport with the men under his command. Second, he addresses the core question of just what it was that motivated these men to keep on fighting, given the low probability of survival and the terrible conditions. The order to hold every position until death was well known, but Jones demolishes the notion that the soldiers fought solely under duress. There is evidence of extraordinary courage and willpower in the face of death -- and a conviction that, to paraphrase the army's slogan, there was no land for them beyond the Volga. This is not an epic book, but it is compelling and moving.
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