Review: “The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad” – Harrison E. Salisbury

“The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad” by Harrison E. Salisbury…SUCKS! This book really, really sucks, and is a terrible, terrible book.

The title of the book is extremely misleading; indeed, only slightly more than half the total number of pages (54%) in the book actually have anything to do with the siege of Leningrad. It is not until page 307 — that’s right, THREE-HUNDRED SEVEN — that the siege of Leningrad even starts!

What’s the first 307 pages about, you ask? Good question. The first 307 pages of the book offer very little besides anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet claims juxtaposed with some poetic and colourful descriptions of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Most of Salisbury’s anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet claims are frankly absurd, outrageous, and completely ahistorical.

Page after page, for example, Salisbury criticizes Stalin and Soviet bureaucracy for lack of preparedness for the Nazi offensive; but when the Soviet’s did take actions to defend Leningrad, Salisbury criticizes those actions as being “extraordinary dictatorial”?! What does Salisbury expect?! Is there some kind of military-style democracy I am unaware of in the armed forces of other states? Did the U.S. or British militaries have some kind of secret ballot referendum about WWII that I have somehow missed?! Were the Japanese in Canada consulted before being stripped of all their assets and thrown in concentration camps?!

Salisbury’s outrageous, sometimes contradictory, and almost always uncited, accusations don’t end there. Like all anti-Soviet writers, Salisbury loves to describe Stalin as paranoid. He criticizes Stalin’s “suspiciousness” and refusal to heed the warnings of a possible Nazi invasion by the British (p. 77), as if Stalin’s suspicions of the British weren’t historically justified. Salisbury seems totally unaware of the fact of British involvement in the Allied intervention in the Soviet Union (1918-25), British policy of appeasement with Hitler throughout the 1930s and the willingness of the British to sacrifice Czechoslovakia at Munich, and the desire of leading British statement for war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, the essence of which was captured by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s comments in 1936: “We all know the German desire, and he has come out with it in his book [i.e., Hitler’s Mein Kampf], to move east, and if he should move East I should not break my heart…There is one danger, of course, which has probably been in all your minds — supposing the Russians and Germans got fighting and the French went in as allies of Russia owing to that appalling pact they made, you would not feel you were obliged to go and help France, would you? If there is any fighting in Europe to be done, I should like to see the Bolshies and the Nazis doing it” (p. 33 of “1939: The Alliance that Never Was and the Coming of World War II” by Michael Jabara Carley). Other outrageous and uncited accusations Salisbury makes include Stalin’s alleged pathological disdain for Leningrad and Leningraders (p. 126-29), Stalin’s willingness to execute someone “because he wore a funny hat” (p. 171), the execution of those whom “meticulously carried out” Stalin’s own orders (p. 182), etc.

Probably the worst book of 2021 so far. Yuck!

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