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The Hungarian Revolution 1956

Osprey Publishing

443 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016

Military histories generally read somewhat differently than mainstream accounts. The traditional historian might relate all events equally or talk about the societal reasons leading up to a war or the societal effects afterward, but military histories are viewing the war itself as the thing to be studied. The twists and turns of individual battles are related, and most likely, the war being discussed is put into the context of other wars, previous and yet to come.

Osprey Publishing is a publisher of military histories, and their book The Hungarian Revolution 1956 is a wonderful example of a military history made accessible to a non-military buff.

A short volume (64 pages, from front flap to index), it's nevertheless full of historical background information about Hungary after World War II, details about the establishment of Communist rule, and, finally, the events of 1956 and the Revolution. The narrative is easy to read, although there is an assumption that the reader is at least on nodding terms with the general history of World War II.

One of the benefits of reading about the lesser-known revolutions and battles of history is the perspective that they give for the major events. Everyone can tell you about World War II's atrocities and who the "winners" were . . . but what caused it? How did the conditions afterward contribute to the next big battle? How did we go from being allied with Russia to engaging in a Cold War with them?

Understanding Communism, putting the current Eastern Europe into context . . . these are reasons to take at least a cursory glance at the Hungarian Revolution. This book is a great way to familiarize a high school student with some post-World War II history (I wouldn't suggest it for students any younger, unless they're truly interested), and learn a little yourself, if you aren't familiar with the time or place.

And even if you're only moderately interested in the details of what battalion was stationed where and who was in command, there's another reason to take a look at this book: the pictures.

The pages are jam-packed with incredibly detailed full-color plates, as well as several photographs, ranging from pictures of a Soviet conscript's uniform to sobering images of young people fighting a war. Remarkably, some of the individuals discussed are featured in these photographs; you learn from a caption under a picture of Belane Havrilla, shown armed and smiling at her female companion, that she escaped from Hungary after being wounded, only to return and be arrested and sentenced to death in 1958. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and she was freed in 1970 and awarded the Grand Cross of the Hungarian Republic twenty years later.

Learning about war is never pleasant, but the perspective it gives to understanding the whole of history is valuable. Resources like The Hungarian Revolution 1956 do a great job of making the history come alive.

Product review by Jill Hardy, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, January 2007

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