Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History


Honorable Mention

The War Within: Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad

Honorable Mention: Alexis Peri
Title: The War Within: Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad (Harvard University Press)

Alexis Peri offers a fresh and poignant examination of one of the most eulogized and mythologized episodes of Soviet history: the Leningrad Siege of 1941-3. Peri has unearthed a remarkable body of sources—diaries of 125 Leningraders trapped in the city and coming to terms with the intense challenges of daily life. Peri’s analysis combines the deft touch of an excellent scholar with the empathy of a faraway observer who can hardly imagine the tragedies experienced in the USSR’s second city. Amid horror, and all-too-rare periods of calm, relief or even happiness, diary writers constructed selves that were “unstable, fragmented, and often unknown, even to them.” Peri sees confusion and chaos but also a degree of personal control among these authors, whose loyalty to friends, family and country did not necessarily equate to acquiescence or approval of Communist rule. We see how the effects of immense physical and psychological damage at once test the human spirit to its limits and allow the simple written word to become a personal triumph and a testament to history.

Winner: Lynne Viola