‘Let Everybody Die!’

The Crimean War
A History
Orlando Figes
Metropolitan, $35, 576 pp.

The Crimean War (1854–55), fought on a Russian peninsula in the Black Sea, began as a minor quarrel between French Catholics and Russian Orthodox over control of the Holy Places in Muslim-ruled Jerusalem. Britain, France, and Austria-Hungary joined Turkey in a war against Russia, and for the first time in history Europeans fought on the side of a Muslim power against another Christian country. The allies never quite decided whether their aim was to prevent Russia from expanding its empire in Central Asia, threatening India, occupying Constantinople, and seizing territories of the Ottoman Empire, or to destroy Russian power in the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Baltic, Finland, and Poland.

Orlando Figes writes that the war actually “began in 1853 between Ottoman and Russian forces in the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, the territory of today’s Romania, and spread to the Caucasus, where the Turks and the British encouraged and supported the struggle of the Muslim tribes against Russia, and from there to other areas of the Black Sea.” The Crimean was both the first “total war”—in which armies attacked civilians and perpetrated atrocities—and the first truly modern war, involving new industrial technologies, modern rifles, steamships, railroads, telegraphs, and innovations in military medicine. It was also the first war to be incited by the press and public opinion, though frontline reports and grisly photographs later revealed the horrific conditions...

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About the Author

Jeffrey Meyers, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, has published Hemingway: The Critical Heritage (1982), Hemingway: A Biography (1985), and Hemingway: Life and Art (2000), as well as Samuel Johnson: The Struggle (2008), The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe (2009), George Orwell: Life and Art (2010), and John Huston: Courage and Art (2011).