With the amount of tumult in the world – Brexit, Trump and Islamic terror – looking at the roots of events has never been so important, with many excellent history books helping to satisfy our curiosity.

The title of Peter Conradi’s Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War (One World) asks a self explanatory and provocative question : did we, in the West, needlessly antagonise and isolate post Soviet Russia and drive into being the aggressive Putin-led neo-Imperial power that it is today? He argues that we have, and its hard to disagree. From rushing former Warsaw pact states in NATO to US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the West didn’t exactly ease the post-Soviet global transition.

However, Russian academic and gay activist Masha Gessen argues differently in The Future is History- How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (One World). Gessen assets that Russia was never a full democracy and this tendency was reinforced by Communism, and by lost opportunities after Communism collapsed.

Her compelling account, in an evocative lyrical style, weaves the personal stories of specific Russians with hard-hitting analysis and history. It should be said that Peter Conradi, in Who Lost Russia?, also describes the increasing authoritarian tendencies under the recent Russian Presidency. Both authors have very interesting perspectives on the Ukraine crisis, and the ineffectual response of the West, and especially the EU.

But a more benign view of Russian Communism and of the sacrifices made during the great struggle against the evils of Nazism (for which we should all be grateful) is contained in Soviet Women Snipers on the Eastern Front (1941-45) by young Lyuba Vinogradova (Quercus, hardback).

Vinogradova describes in powerful detail how hardened Soviet female soldiers became ruthless crack shots behind enemy lines on the bitter Eastern Front and this made a great leap forward for women’s position, at least in the barrier-breaking Communist society.

An interesting perspective on the rise of the Nazis and Second World war, which has so shaped our continent, is contained in Jürgen Tampke’s History: A Perfidious Distortion of History: The Versailles Peace Treaty and the Success of the Nazis, (Scribe).

The Australian historian challenges the received wisdom that Germany was too harshly punished after World War 1, which they were blamed for starting, and that in fact, in many ways, it got off lightly and almost immediately started re-arming for another conflict. Tampke does not make a totally convincing case, but it makes for a fascinating read and reminds of the often restive power of Germany at the heart of Europe.

The fact that today a defanged Germany has become a peaceful but powerful powerhouse is something we take for granted, but for many decades it was far from the case, and it is a tribute to subsequent Franco-German cooperation and then the European Community than this has become the case.

It is just a pity that the EU, and the West, could not have created as positive a relationship with the great power of Russia, and not allowed the tension and incipient conflict that now exists, and which is so vividly described by both Conradi and Gessen in the books cited above.

In terms of Irish History, my highlight would be …:


The Civil War in Dublin: the Fight for the Irish Capital 1922-1924 (Merrion Press). Torture, ambush and execution – the fratricidal conflict that followed the signing of the Anglo lrish Treaty in 1921 was a squalid and bloody struggle with long resonance.

After the self congratulation of the 1916 centenary last year, and the same for the focus on the War of Independence, the author John Dorney reminds of the difficult memories and legacies we still have to face with his excellent account. Full review here: