Reading inspires my painting and my painting inspires my reading. Below is a list of books I've read related to the content of this blog.

Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus - Carlotta Gall & Thomas de Waal

Although this book only covers the First Chechen War this is probably the book I recommend most for a general overview. The description of the 1994/1995 New Year's Eve Grozny attack in here is thrilling. The book's coverage of the Kizlyar-Pervomayskoye hostage crisis is equally good.

Chechnya Diary: A War Correspondent's Story of Surviving the War in Chechnya - Thomas Goltz

This is the first book I read about the Chechen Wars. I'm a big fan of Goltz's style and after reading other books I appreciate this book's non-Grozny focus more.

To Catch a Tartar: Notes from the Caucasus - Chris Bird

Similar to Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus, but not as good. As a Dad I appreciated his descriptions of being a war correspondent while at the same time hauling his family around.

Allah's Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya - Sebastian Smith

Although supposedly updated, the writing of the book was concluded sometime around 1998. It has a lot of information on the Circassians and other Caucasian peoples besides Chechens. The First Chechen War is not addressed until about half way through the book. Smith's coverage of the war is a bit spotty. All is covered, but he definitely decided to concentrate on the occurrences that he reported firsthand on. The book is well written and reads quickly.

The Chechen Struggle: Independence Won and Lost - Ilyas Akhmadov

The book is not exactly a biography or memoir although it does cover the Chechen struggle from 1994 until 2010 according to one well placed participant. Ilyas Akhmadov held two different posts under Maskhadov, elected president in 1997, and was a long-time friend of Shamil Basayev, revered/reviled rebel commander. He served in the Soviet army and during the First Chechen War he participated in some fighting, but for the most part he was not a fighter, but an adviser to Chechen politicians, serving first as a public affairs officer at the staff headquarters of Maskhadov during the First Chechen War, advising Shamil Basayev during the inter-war period and then in the Second War he served as Foreign Minister. I found the book especially enlightening when describing the situation between the wars and the relationship between the leaders of Chechnya. His coverage of the war and specific events is spotty and brief. The death of his Shamil Basayev, for instance, isn't discussed at all (Maskhadov's death warrants its own chapter) and neither is the raid in Nazran. Ilyas mentions historic events to introduce his observations and theories about the relationships he witnessed. He doesn't attempt to chronicle the wars. Overall I'm a bit skeptical about some of his observations as no other book that I've read describes the first battle for Grozny as he does (a surprising turn of events by poorly armed, mostly inexperienced, unevenly led rebel militia) and his opinion of Basayev is generously nuanced. It's a rare look inside of the Chechen government by a moderate who actually knew some of the key participants and so despite my reservations I did enjoy the book.

Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1 - Timothy Philips

The Tragedy of School No 1. is the first book I've read about this event. The author, Timothy Philips, is a BBC translator and was involved in the production of a documentary about the incident. For the most part the book's chapter alternate between background information and a narrative of the event. I found this back-and-forth thing annoying. Some of the background information was very interesting (I didn't know too much about the North Ossetia/Ingushetia divide), but an equal amount seemed only moderately relevant. The narration follows multiple hostage's recollections (from numerous interviews presumably) and is very good, frequently very disturbing. I'm hoping some other books that are out there contain more details about the negotiations and the storming of the building.

Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya - Vanora Bennett

Bennett's book on Chechnya uses her experience as a reporter in Moscow and Chechnya in the 1990's to help readers understand the background of the conflict. It has very little to say about actual battles. Instead it focuses on how Russians (in Moscow, Grozny and elsewhere) and Chechens experienced the war and the Russian politics of the time period. I learned a lot reading this book as she covers the intrigue between Yeltsin and his inner circle in great (but readable!) depth. Unlike some other books her book has at least the appearance of balance as she is quite critical at times of the Chechen resistance. She is definitely not fan of Dudayev, the first Chechen president. As a bonus the first couple hundred pages contain information on the post-Soviet situation in Georgia and Ingushetia. Bennett is great at describing people and the environment in which she met them. If one wants to learn the why about the Chechen Wars and likes reading about political personalities, especially the first war, this one's for you.

A Dirty War - Anna Politkovskaya

A collection of dispatches (articles) Politkovskaya wrote from July 1999 to January 2001. The articles concern all manner of topics related to Chechnya during this time period, but focus on the plight of the Chechen people, especially the refugee crisis, the unending corruption, the senseless violence and the despair. I particularly enjoyed reading her interviews with Russian military personnel and a pair of Chechen fighters. Her style of writing, however, took some getting used to. This book is not a good example of objective journalism. Politkovskaya definitely has a point to make with every dispatch. Her interview questions are not the "softballs" American audiences are used to. But despite those complaints I consider the book essential reading for understanding the 2nd Chechen War.

A Small Corner of Hell:Dispatches from Chechnya - Anna Politkovskaya

Like Dirty War this book is composed of material originally written for the Russian newspaper for whom she worked at the time. Unlike Dirty War, however, this book is less disjointed. The book roughly details the chaos of early Second Chechen War (especially the frequent purges), how this chaos has spread, how corrupt the war has become, why many participants in the war want it to continue and finally whose really fighting the war and whose leading those men. I enjoyed reading about the relationships between Maskhadov and the Chechen field commanders. Her interviews with the then president of Ingushetia and Maskhadov's ambassador were also enlightening. Until I read this book I didn't have a good sense of what was being fought for in the 2001-2003 period and did't understand how Maskahdov and his associates saw the future. To me Politkovskaya's first two books are essential reading for an understanding of the early insurgency period of the Second Chechen War, I just can't decide which I'd recommend more.

One Soldiers War - Arkady Babchenko

I think this might be the only Russian memoir from the Chechen Wars available in English (I sure wish there were more!). This book is a must. The author is great writer and participated in the First and Second wars. It gets a bit repetitious concerning the numerous beatings he endured from his fellow Russians, but other than that it was very interesting.

The Sky Wept Fire: My Life as a Chechen Freedom Fighter - Mikail Eldin

This is the only memoir I've found by a Chechen fighter. It is good read, especially for his descriptions of the daily slog of being an insurgent and his imprisonment. Strangely, he left out all descriptions of actual combat!

The Hunter, The Hammer, and Heaven: Journeys to Three Worlds Gone Mad - Robert Young Pelton

Robert Young Pelton is a danger seeking freelance reporter who's been just about everywhere that's been at war in the past few decades and is frequently seen on TV. This book, written ~2001, covers three war-torn areas in three parts: The Hunter, Sierra Leone; The Hammer, Chechnya; and Heaven; Bougainville. His quick overview of the wars up until December 1999 is lacking, but after this his description of his journey from Georgia thru the mountains and into Grozny at the beginning of the Second Chechen War is great, at times thrilling. In particular I enjoyed reading about his meeting with Aslan Maskhadov.

The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire - Khassan Baiev

This is one of the better books I've read on the Chechen Wars and probably the only one I've read so far that has broader appeal. The author really lays himself bare and lets you into his mind. With this book you get a really good sense of Khassan's motivations and failings. I especially enjoyed learning about his upbringing, what his Chechen heritage and Muslim faith meant to him and how his family interacted with each other in Chechen (not Russian) ways. Khassan was the only operating Chechen surgeon during the First Chechen War and the beginning of the Second Chechen War. He operated in the crudest conditions one can imagine; used a carpenter's saw and drill, worked by kerosene lamps, made his own salves and encouraged patients to clean their wounds with their own urine. His patients included civilians and fithers, both Chechen and Russian. Helping anyone who came to his "hospital" made him many friends and enemies. The book is full of many near escapes with death. It also includes many run ins with famous individuals including Shamil Basayev (coincidentally a schoolyard acquaintance) as it is Khassan who amputated his leg during a marathon 48 hour session of treating 300 persons injured during the Chechen escape from Grozny, including 67 amputations! Highly recommended.

57 Hours: A Survivor's Account of the Moscow Hostage Drama - Vesselin Nedkov and Paul Wilson

A telling of Vesselin Nedkov's first hand account of the hostage event that happened in October 2002 in Moscow. Some 850 hostages were taken by ~40 Chechen terrorists during a performance of the family musical Nord-Ost at the Dubrovka Theater. Vesselin, a Hungarian, wrote this book soon after the event took place. His recollection and those of others were combined to create a relatively accurate timeline of the event. The descriptions of the atmosphere in the theater and the mindset of the hostages was first class. Relatively little background information about the terrorists themselves is contained in the book and even less coverage is given to the Russian response. Most likely this because little is known; no trial occurred; no public investigation was conducted. Perhaps a later book would provide more information, but at this point this is the only book I have found on this event.

Free Fall: A Sniper's Story - Nicolai Lilin

A fictional memoir. Supposedly, Nicolai Lilin was born in Moldova (now Transnistria) in 1980 and was drafted into the Russian armed services around the time of Second Chechen War. He served with their special forces, the saboteurs, as a sniper. His book briefly describes his training, but primarily concerns the brutal missions he and his small group participated in. The missions are richly described with an almost cinematic flair. In the introduction Nicolai states that in order to protect the privacy of his fellow soldiers he purposely changed names and omitted references to dates and places. The war is described in a very Russian fashion, the rebel fighters are composed of many Arabs and paid foreign snipers, for example (Chechen accounts downplay the first and deny the latter). A quick and thrilling read.

Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya - Anne Nivat

The story of French female reporter traveling through war torn Chechnya during the early part of the second war (late 1999 to late 2000). Nivat was able to remain undetected for almost a year, crossing the border with Ingushetia numerous times, by posing as a Chechen civilian. The book details her encounters with many Chechen civilians and some Russian soldiers. Nivat shows journalism at its best - she describes the most salient parts of her meetings and although she went to great (dangerous) lengths to do her reporting she doesn't dwell on her own heroics one bit. Fortuitously she is located in Alkhan-Kala when a large body of Chechen fighters passes through after their breakout from Grozny. She even walks in on Khassan Baiev (the famous Chechen surgeon and author) amputating Shamil Basayev's leg! When Nivat is eventually rounded up and kicked out of Chechnya her treatment by the Russians is surprisingly gentle. The epilogue briefly describes two return visits, one officially with Russian soldiers and the other incognito in which she interviews Aslan Maskhadov. The books is definitely worth checking out.

Fangs of the Lone Wolf: Chechen Tactics in the Russian-Chechen Wars 1994-2009 - Dodge Billingsley

This book is great. It is full of maps and tactics (very low level) from a Chechen point of view. My only wish is there was a companion book that covered Russian tactics.

Russia's Chechen Wars: 1994-2000: Lessons from Urban Combat - Olga Oliker

This small book is OK, but completely non-essential. Other books such as Fangs of the Wolf cover much of the same material better.

RAIDS Special: Tchetchenie: L'Armee Russe Au Combat

This another book (or magazine special) I bought. It was very pricey because I had to buy it directly from the French publisher. It is in French (which I don't speak) and contains many photographs of Russian troops in the 2nd Chechen War. There are a couple of photographs of the Chechen forces included as well. Perhaps if I could read the text I'd find it more useful and at this point I've found all the photographs elsewhere so I don't use it much.

Camouflage Uniforms of the Soviet Union and Russia: 1937 to the Present - Dennis Desmond

There aren't any Osprey books on uniforms worn in the Chechen Wars so I sought this one out. In a very comprehensive manner, but dry manner it covers only camouflage uniforms of the Soviet/Russian forces up until about 1999. It helped me begin to understand the many camouflage schemes used by Russian forces in the 1990's, but the book is by no means essential for what I'm doing. My book reeks of cigarette smoke. Yuck!

Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces since 1991 - Mark Galeotti

Hopefully this is the last Osprey book about Modern Wars I buy. There are some references to the Chechen Wars that are useful, but the information contained is no better than Wikipedia and similar pictures (sometimes better, certainly more) can be found online.

Georgia Diary: A Chronicle of War and Political Chaos in the Post-Soviet Caucasus - Thomas Goltz

So far this is the only book I've read about the Georgian Civil War. Before I read this I read Goltz's book on Chechnya and I liked his travel-history style of writing so I was excited to read this. I wasn't disappointed. I wish there more books about this war out there.

War Junkie: One Man's Addiction to the Worst Places on Earth - Jonathan Steele

A first hand account of a news cameraman's job reporting on the War in Abkhazia, the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, the Georgian Civil War, the genocide in Rwanda and the siege of Sarajevo. In between his work he struggles with depression, drug abuse and missing the excitement of his job. Steele describes all of his faults, especially his failed marriage. His telling of the fall of Sukhumi and the crisis in Moscow were thrilling. His graphic description of the situation in Rwanda was tough to read and was somewhat repetitive. Somehow Steele recovers from a dramatic psychological collapse at an airport and continues to film other conflicts. Sadly, the book does not describe his work in Chechnya.

Conflict in the Caucasus: Abkhazia, Georgia and the Russian Shadow - Svetlana Chervonnaya

Covers the run-up to the war and then pads the rest of the book with a chronology of the entire war and some memorandums. Chervonnaya's coverage of the pre-conflict is an odd read, at times the book is academically analytical and at other times the author is extremely opinionated. I found it worthwhile to read because there is dearth of books out there covering this topic. The book introduces some interesting characters, especially Vladislav Ardzinba the leader of Abkhazian separatist movement, and describes the motivations of the participants (at least from a pro-Georgian view point). About twenty pages are devoted to discussing all of the propaganda put into Russian and Georgian newspapers concerning the run-up. Additionally the book assumes the reader has a lot of prior knowledge about Soviet/Russian politics.

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War - Thomas de Waal

This is the first book I've read about the Armenian-Azerbaijan War. For good reason it is widely regarded as the go-to book on this topic. It is very well written, seems fair and is now up-to-date.

My Brother's Road: An American's Fateful Journey to Armenia - Markar Melkonian

A biography of Monte Melkonian. Melkonian (1957-1993) an American Armenian traveled to Beirut after graduation and became a leader in the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, a terrorist group. Monte participated in several assassinations of Turkish diplomats as well as several bombings in Europe. In 1989 he became involved in the Karabakh independence movement. Despite his dogmatism and foreign birth he became a successful Lieutenant Colonel in the Armenian forces. Upon his death in 1993 and afterwards he became a national hero. A bit overly apologetic of his brother's terrorism, but that aside from that really enjoyable.

The Caucasus: An Introduction - Thomas de Waal

Covers the southern Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) in ~200 pages and contains quite a bit of good information in it. The history of Armenia and Azerbaijan is better covered in his more famous book Black Garden, but until this book Waal had not written a book on Georgia. His description of the start of the Georgian civil war with Abkhazia is far different that that of Svetlana Chervonnaya's Caucasus: Abkhazia, Georgia and the Russian Shadow. De Waal's take is far less forgiving of Georgia. Includes a handful of interesting "sidebars", covering topics like Stalin's personal history in the Caucasus, the Greek subculture in Abhkazia and the almost conflict of Ajara. The book closes out with 20-30 pages that discuss the recent history of Georgia (at least up until 2010). Like all of Waal's book I have to recommend this one, especially if one is just started to learn about the region.

Managing Conflict in the Former Soviet Union: Russian and American Perspectives - Arbatov, Chayes, Chayes and Olson

A bit "wonkish" and by no means intended for a general audience. The book introduces the conflicts; follows with multiple chapters written by differing scholars covering conflicts and near conflicts in the former Soviet Union followed by a short commentary on each; and concludes with chapters covering multiple policy recommendations. The wars and near-wars covered are North Ossetia/Ingushetia; The Crimean Republic; Moldova and Transnistria; Latvia; Kazakhstan; and Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Most of the conclusion seems dated (the volume is copyrighted 1997). The book contains a lot of good background information and descriptions of the peace processes (such as they were in 1997) for some obscure conflicts and near-conflicts. None of the chapters covers the military situation of these conflicts at all.

The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus - Christoph Zürcher

A short book that attempts to apply conflict theory to three Post-Soviet conflicts (Chechnya, Abkhazia/South Ossetia, and Armenia/Azerbaijan). In the introduction modern conflict theory is explained. This theory is then applied to three conflicts that occurred and two that didn't (Dagestan, Ajaria). Each of these chapters have a good summary of the preconditions for the war, a very brief synopsis of the war and then a conclusion. The book's conclusion examines how these conflicts support or don't support conflict theory. Not recommended for everyone, but if one's read a lot about such conflicts Zürcher's book could be an enjoyable start to a deeper understanding of the period.

Claws of the Crab: Georgia and Armenia in Crisis - Stephen Brook

The author was invited to Georgia and Armenia during the early 1990's in an attempt to increase Western business interest in these states. Coincidentally he happened to be based in Tbilisi, Georgia while Gamsakhurdia's presidency was falling apart and civil war loomed and traveling throughout Armenia while the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh was in full swing. Brook devotes the first have of his travelogue to Georgia. He is brought to different tourist sites, samples Georgian wine and food and somehow manages to get a press pass in Tbilisi. He details his encounters with pro-Gamsakhurdia and opposition leaders. His book is a great witness to prelude to 1991-1992 uprising in Tbilisi. Unfortunately, he leaves the state just before the street battle intensifies and culminates in the ouster of Gamsakhurdia. Brook then travels to Armenia to tour more sites, meet with businessmen and unsuccessfully try to meet with various politicians. His descriptions of the situation in Armenia, corruption, brain drain, inflation and hardship are satisfying, but slanted. At the end of the book Brook travels back to Georgia and describes the conclusion of the revolt (and somewhat predicts Georgia's future struggles). Finally, Brooks makes his way to Karabakh for a weekend and details the on the ground situation there.

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