Stalin's War by Sean McMeekin review – a revisionist take on the second world war

An impressive study of the conflict’s major players contends that the Soviet despot was the dominant force

“It is necessary to deprive the German command of all initiative, forestall the adversary, and to attack the German army when it is still in the deployment stage and has no time to organise the distribution of forces at the front,” wrote the Soviet commanders to Joseph Stalin. The day on which they did so is by far the most surprising part of the document: 15 May 1941, one month and one week before Hitler attacked the USSR. In the spring of 1941, the Soviets considered attacking the Germans first, writes Sean McMeekin in his latest book, Stalin’s War.

The volume is impressive even by the standard of histories of the second world war. It is more than 800 pages long, including a 20-page list of archival collections and files consulted. The list of source publications and literature is even longer, while the notes, often limited to citations, occupy more than 90 pages. The book is well researched and very well written. It puts forward new ideas and revives some old ones to challenge current mainstream interpretations of the conflict.

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