As part of my tour of the Most Depressing Books of All Time, I segued from Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder onto Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. A Jewish journalist who essentially was the first to report on the Holocaust from the unprecedented hell of a liberated Treblinka, he went on to write several spiraling meditations on the evils of the totalitarian 20th century. These of course were not limited just to Nazi Germany, but also to the Soviet Union, which ground up many more millions in its grinder than the fascist state. Grossman’s Life and Fate starts at Stalingrad, and then continues into the second half of the Stalinist terror.

From the outset it is brutal, beautiful and one of those books that’s cauterized clean of bullshit. Not edited particularly well – but then again, when you’re building a cathedral not every stone is going to be flush, and the stained glass may show some streaks in the sunlight.

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