, Volume 88, Number 2

David Wedgwood Benn

Orlando Figes’s book The Crimean War: a history, based on English, Russian, French and Turkish sources, throws a new light on the Crimean War in a number of ways. It shows that the conflict was far from being a small war, but a landmark event. It was the only example of a war between Britain and Russia - and it led to enormous casualties. It also represented a stage in medical history, since most of the casualties were caused by disease. In Britain, it marked a new advance in the power of the press, which did much to fuel anti-Russian sentiment. The war was also fuelled, on both sides, by religious and nationalist sentiment - but its most important cause related to the fate of the Ottoman Empire, then in decline, and fears that its collapse could result in a dangerous power vacuum.

The war still has a significance for the present day because the collapse of communism has failed to resolve the antagonism between Russia and the West. Here, the book throws an important light on the development of British and western attitudes towards Russia, many of which were shaped in the nineteenth century. The book deserves attention, both here and in Russia.

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