With good reason, many military historians consider Georgy Zhukov to have been the greatest general of World War II. No other military leader played so central a role in so many battles that determined the war’s outcome, from the defense of Leningrad and Stalingrad to the conquest of Germany. Zhukov made misjudgments in some campaigns, but as Roberts details, he had few, if any, peers when it came to his instincts during complex strategic situations, his capacity to size up and mold the forces under his command, and his mastery of large-scale military actions, such as Operation Bagration, in 1944, in which 2.4 million Soviet troops, 5,200 tanks, and 36,000 artillery pieces sent the Germans reeling back across Europe. Even more remarkable was Zhukov’s ability to survive in the Soviet system, a tale well told in this compact biography. Stalin spared him from a purge of senior officers in the 1930s only to cast him out after the war, fearing that Zhukov had become too glorified. Zhukov returned as minister of defense under Nikita Khrushchev, only to fall from grace once more, in 1958. Yet today, sanctified once again by Russia’s new leaders, his imposing statue now stands near the entrance to Red Square.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics From This Issue