The horror and scale of the Eastern Front were unspeakable – 27 million soldiers and civilians died on the Russian side, 30,000 Jews murdered at Babi Yar on a single day – but Jones has elicited astonishing accounts from both sides.
We learn the transforming effects of war. Women became adroit snipers (Lyudmila Pavchenko "amassed 309 kills") while Vladimir Hotenkov, who could not kill a chicken before the war, dug himself out of a collapsed trench and destroyed a tank with two Molotov cocktails.
Despite becoming inured to carnage, the discovery of the death factory at Auschwitz shook the Russians: "Some were sobbing; others stood ... silent, rigid with shock." Terse, colloquial, unrelenting, this book is an epic depiction of "a tarnished victory".