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The Crimean War dominated the mid nineteenth century, killed at least 800,000 men and pitted Russia against a formidable coalition of Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire. It was a war for territory, provoked by fear that if the Ottoman Empire were to collapse then Russia could control a huge swathe of land from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf. But it was also a war of religion, driven by a fervent, populist and ever more ferocious belief held by the Tsar Nicholas I that this was a crusade, the fulfilment of Russia's destiny to rule all Orthodox Christians and control the Holy Land. And it was a war based on hatreds and hypocrisy, specifically the overwhelming Russophobia that swept much of Europe.
Crimea: The Last Crusade reimagines this extraordinary war, in which the stakes could not have been higher. It was both a recognizable modern conflict - the first to be extensively photographed, the first to employ the telegraph, the first 'newspaper war' - and a traditional one, with illiterate soldiers, amateur officers and huge casualties caused by disease.
There are many books in English on the Crimean War. But this is the first in any language to draw extensively from Russian, French and Ottoman as well as British sources to illuminate the geo-political, cultural and religious factors that shaped the involvement of each major power in the conflict.
The iconic features of the war - the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Siege of Sevastopol, the impact of Florence Nightingale - are all here, but there is also a rich sense of the entire region and of the many nationalities caught up in the fighting. The conflict engulfed the Danube principalities, the Baltic and the Caucasus as well as the Crimea, with the British creating vast if ultimately delusive plans for the partition of the Russian Empire.
Drawing on a vast range of primary sources, Crimea: The Last Crusade also gives the lived experience of the war, from the ordinary British soldier in his snow-filled trench to the haunted, gloomy, narrow figure of Tsar Nicholas himself, as he vows to take on the whole world in his hunt for religious salvation.