Book Review: The Lighthouse of Stalingrad - A Titanic Achievement of a History Book
Updated: Aug 1
Written by: Iain MacGregor
Published by: Constable
Historical Setting: World War 2
Recommended reading age: 14+
It is to my great shame that I remain pretty ignorant of the Second World War. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty read up on the key moments and events, yet I remain woefully clueless on the details. I’m putting that down to my work with Imagining History focusing on Ancient History (no complaints from me, I love me some Ancient History!), so when the opportunity comes up to read a history book focusing on World War 2, I am absolutely up for that. This is why I was absolutely delighted to have been set the enviable task of reading ‘The Lighthouse of Stalingrad’ by Iain MacGregor.
The first thing to make clear is, don’t worry if you, like me, have some massive gaps in your historical knowledge of WW2. ‘The Lighthouse of Stalingrad’ is extremely accessible to newbies. Clearly written and to the point, Iain Macgregor’s latest book is wonderfully devoid of pretentious overly-complicated waffle. Nor does it skimp on the detail, Iain achieves with seeming ease the ridiculously difficult task of ensuring his book is welcoming to those new to the period, yet also ensuring there’s plenty of meaty detail for well-read WW2 veterans to get their teeth into.
Marking the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, ‘The Lighthouse of Stalingrad’ focuses on one key moment from the conflict; the life-and-death struggle for Pavlov’s House, a key location at the centre of the city. Just to reassure those newbies: That’s not to say that there’s no information on the events leading to the battle and those that follow it, as there are.
You’ll know exactly why the battle was fought and what impact it had on the rest of the war by the end of the book. The pace is brisk and breezy - with not a wasted word in the sight of your eyeballs - taking the reader into the harrowing chaos, confusion, and violence that punctured the lives of both the Russian and German soldiers.
What really brings the book to life are the testimonials taken from those directly involved in the battle. Many of these are previously unpublished, and each provides a fascinating insight into the experiences of the fighters on both sides. These vary from big-picture to small. One moment that blew my mind was the half-joking message from Lieutenant Colonel Roske to the Luftwaffe Air Controller. Roske quipped that the planes could start dropping off sausages and chocolate. To which the put-upon air controller gruffly responded, ‘That’s all you can say and night to procure the bombs, drag them into place, flying all hours constantly and defending ourselves to the bone!’ Which just goes to show that text messages have proved a poor means of conveying humour for decades, not just since the advent of the mobile phone. Suffice to say, ‘The Lighthouse of Stalingrad’ is stuffed full of insightful knowledge nuggets like this, each one peeling away the layers of the past to make the people involved feel fresh, real, and fully formed.
‘The Lighthouse of Stalingrad’ is an essential read for those wishing to learn more about the historic battle. Skilfully written, eminently informative, and eye-opening, ‘The Lighthouse of Stalingrad' is amongst the best history books released in 2022.
A huge thank you to Constable for providing us with a review copy of 'The Lighthouse of Stalingrad'.
The Lighthouse of Stalingrad: The Hidden Truth at the Centre of WWII’s Greatest Battle by Iain MacGregor is available from 28 July (£25, Constable).
If you would like to find out more about the book, please click here to head to the Little, Brown website.