I was not expecting something extraordinary, I know Sokolov’s reputation well enough, but this ‘biography’ is best described as disjointed, discursive, disorganized, and poorly sourced. Instead of a historical look at Malinovskii, Sokolov decided to meander his way through various primary, secondary, literary, and hearsay materials he has discovered in one archival source or another, or simply in a text he previously read, and try to weave it into a greater discussion of Malinovskii’s life. Unlike most trained historians, who would attempt to contextualize, summarize, and organize the material at their disposal for their readers, Sokolov decided to avoid reducing block quotes – ranging in length from a paragraph to 3 – 4 pages – and instead include them in full as readers scramble to figure out their significance. Moreover, often Sokolov will introduce two similar quotes from different periods that discuss similar events and/or people, which he could have summarized while pointing out differences that readers should note. The result is a first chapter of some 40 pages where Sokolov attempts to ascertain who Malinovskii’s real father was, which has little to no bearing on Malinovskii’s activities during the First World War, Civil War, Second World War, or his postwar career. An experienced historian could have discussed his early childhood in a dozen pages, at most. The follow chapter, another 40-50 pages, feature Sokolov stumbling about trying to recreate Malinovskii’s time in France and his activities during the Russian Revolution. Once again, the chapter is full of block quotes that go on for pages at a time, disconnected ideas, discussions, and arguments, and no substantial analysis of any significant event(s) that occurred in either France or Russia. The chapter on the Spanish Civil War overwhelmingly consists of circumstantial meetings with Malinovskii by various high-ranking Spanish commanders and foreign advisers, followed by Malinovskii’s discussion of various episodes and technical questions on military themes from a technical document written after his service in Spain. Yet, this is supposed to be a discussion of Malinovskii’s life, not block quotations detailing his thoughts on the weaknesses and strengths of the Republican effort and Soviet equipment during the Spanish Civil War.
Even when there is interesting material presented, as is the case with the Second World War, a lack of citations makes this study almost useless for researchers and academics. This text is the equivalent of a random collection of primary and secondary source material, with very limited commentary, that sometimes features Malinovskii rather than a biography of the man himself. Additionally, Sokolov has a rather large affinity for casualties sustained by Red Army forces. In previous publications, he has utilized recent research and attempted to present a compelling argument for why official figures are lacking and need to be refined. Reading this volume, however, the author produces random figures for casualties, both Soviet and German, without acknowledging any type of source(s) and at one point simply says all official Russian figures need to be multiplied by a factor of three – based on what study(ies)?
A final thought that needs to be emphasized is that Sokolov consistently emphasizes how after Red Army forces swept through previously occupied territory, those recently liberated, men and women, were regularly conscripted into the Red Army. Soviet forces were continually on the move, sustaining casualties, and in constant need of replacements. There is evidence that at times these conscripts received limited training (sometimes as little as two weeks). However, I find it rather absurd to believe, as the author posits, that these recent recruits received no training, no weapons (they were instructed to pick them up off the battlefield), and were often employed on the frontline with such speed that they even lacked Red Army uniforms, and that this was the norm rather than an exception. The author would have his readers believe that the Red Army, throughout 1943 and 1944, waged war against the Wehrmacht by employing soldiers with no weapons. This means everything written about German actions in the east need to be reconceptualized so that we can understand how an armed force lacking basic small arms figured out a strategy to defeat ‘the conquerors of Europe’ with all the modern technology then available at their disposal.