Books that changed my life: Sir Antony Beevor

Caroline Hutton

Sir Antony Beevor is an award-winning military historian. His latest book, Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944 is out now, published by Viking

Fathers and Children

By Ivan Turgenev

I was in the army for five years but it was while spending time at a particularly boring camp in North Wales that I decided, with the innocent arrogance of youth, to become a writer like many of my family before me. This Russian novel provided the perfect lesson on how to write well. Turgenev’s economy of words—while managing to convey mood, smells, tension and even lethargy—is a masterclass.

 

The Face of Battle

By John Keegan

John Keegan taught military history during my time at Sandhurst. Some ten years later he published this book and it up-ended all that we were used to reading about warfare. Instead of seeing things from a staff officer’s point of view, Keegan provided a reconstruction of the ordinary soldiers’ experience at Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815) and The Battle of the Somme (1916). Smoke, confusion, mud and, above all, fear—this was the reality. It had a great influence on my own writing.

 

Life and Fate

By Vasily Grossman

Grossman, who spent 1,000 days as a war correspondent during the Second World War, makes a parallel between Nazism and Stalinism in this 1960 novel. The KGB confiscated the manuscripts but a single copy remained hidden in a friend’s dacha. In 1980 it was smuggled out of Russia and published in the West. When I was in Moscow, I came across the notebooks that Grossman kept during that terrible battle. Then, on reading Life and Fate, I was fascinated to see how many of the vivid descriptions were exactly as Grossman had reported in his personal accounts.