Sources: Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond

Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond. Edited by Timothy C. Dowling. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2014. 2 vols. Acid free $189 (ISBN: 978-1-59884-947-9). Ebook available (978-1-59884-948-6), call for pricing.

This work joins a growing number of “country at war” titles from the same publisher, including China, Germany, Japan, and Mexico. Dowling, professor of history at Virginia Military Institute and published military history author, has assembled a large international group of authoritative contributors. The encyclopedia “fulfills two important functions: it explicitly serves as a reference for the Russian and Soviet martial past, and it implicitly serves as entrée to a non-English-speaking military culture” (xxxvii). The two volumes contain more than six hundred signed entries. Most average 1–3 pages, although a few run to 10 pages or more. There are numerous black-and-white photos and other illustrations, as well as thirty-thre maps distributed throughout the volumes. A brief further-reading list follows each entry, along with “see also” references as needed. The arrangement is well designed. The straight A–Z order is supplemented by an entry title list with page numbers for quick lookups, followed by a guide to related topics that breaks out the contents by broad categories, including “Individuals,” “Events,” “Ideas, Movements, and Policies,” “Organizations,” and several others. Closing out volume 2 are a chronology, an extensive bibliography, list of contributors, and detailed index. The bibliography is arranged by historical period, subdivided into major themes (plus general works) under each.

This encyclopedia’s chief strength is the breadth of coverage and editorial policies. Time coverage extends from the thirteenth century to the present, and the content encompasses numerous topics beyond military history in the narrow sense. Strategic and geopolitical aspects are well covered, and the articles focusing on individuals treat governmental and political leaders as well as military leaders. Considerable emphasis is placed on cultural factors—both within the Russian/Soviet military and more generally—and how these help to explain the strengths and weaknesses in the armed services that have persisted over time. This is all explained very well in the lengthy forward by Bruce Menning, whose erudite discussion of the main themes lends great insight to readers seeking context for topics of interest. The broad subject coverage cited above does not unduly sacrifice depth, since although the articles are not lengthy, they manage to convey the most important material while referring those who want more information to the bibliography and further-reading lists.

This reviewer could locate no comparable works. Ray Bonds’ The Soviet War Machine: An Encyclopedia of Russian Military Equipment and Strategy (Hamlyn, 1977) is a one-volume, heavily illustrated encyclopedia that, although it does have accompanying explanatory text, mostly focuses on detailed description of hardware and equipment. A very similar work (having some overlapping content with the Bonds title) is Stewart Menauo’s The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Strategy, Tactics, and Weapons of Russian Military Power (St. Martin’s, 1980). Both are just short of 250 pages. Beyond being badly outdated, the cultural, historical, and political aspects covered in the Dowling work are only treated in passing. A much more ambitious reference work is found in David R. Jones’ The Military-Naval Encyclopedia of Russia and the Soviet Union (Academic International, 1978–). Its eight volumes feature extensive, in-depth articles, some of which are more than one hundred pages. It is thus deeper but narrower in scope compared to Dowling. Unfortunately, despite taking twenty years (1978–98) to complete the volumes published thus far, no additional volumes seem to have come out since 1998, and that eighth volume had not yet completed the “A” alphabetic entries.

Russia at War sets an example for other publishers and editors to emulate. Strongly recommended for all libraries.—Michael L. Nelson, Collection Development Librarian, University of Wyoming Libraries, Laramie, Wyoming


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