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Capsule Review

The Crimean War: A History

In This Review

The Crimean War: A History
The Crimean War: A History
By Orlando Figes
Metropolitan Books, 2011, 608 pp. $35.00 Purchase

Drawing on military analysis and diplomatic history alike, this lengthy book details the three years of 1853–56, when war pitted France, the Ottomans, and the United Kingdom against Russia, and also offers a history of the decades leading up to and following the war. Figes introduces into his story not only leaders but also people of all classes; his settings are not only capitals but also far-flung territories. The four empires get equal attention, and he shows the impact of a changing domestic situation in each -- changes ­catalyzed, in some cases, by the spread of the telegraph and the advent of “unembedded” foreign reporting by journalists such as the London Times war correspondent William Russell. Florence Nightingale gets her due, and so, too, does Russia’s Nikolai Pirogov, “the first surgeon to employ anesthesia in a field operation.” Figes emphasizes the powerful role of religion in predisposing the parties to conflict, but it was more Orthodox versus Catholic than Christian versus Muslim. This elaborate mosaic of contending leaders, armies, peoples, and ideologies is the most comprehensive history available of the Crimean War.

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