The Stuff of Soldiers uses everyday objects to tell the story of the Great Patriotic War as never before. Brandon Schechter attends to a diverse array of things—from spoons to tanks—to show how a wide array of citizens became soldiers, and how the provisioning of material goods separated soldiers from civilians.
Through a fascinating examination of leaflets, proclamations, newspapers, manuals, letters to and from the front, diaries, and interviews, The Stuff of Soldiers reveals how the use of everyday items made it possible to wage war. The dazzling range of documents showcases ethnic diversity, women's particular problems at the front, and vivid descriptions of violence and looting.
Each chapter features a series of related objects: weapons, uniforms, rations, and even the knick-knacks in a soldier's rucksack. These objects narrate the experience of people at war, illuminating the changes taking place in Soviet society over the course of the most destructive conflict in recorded history. Schechter argues that spoons, shovels, belts, and watches held as much meaning to the waging of war as guns and tanks. In The Stuff of Soldiers, he describes the transformative potential of material things to create a modern culture, citizen, and soldier during World War II.
"One of the best books about Soviet military life to appear in a long time. Among its many remarkable features is the way the author introduces non-Russian and women's voices to his story. The Stuff of Soldiers is beautifully written, with often cinematic scope, and hard to put down."
Mark von Hagen, author of Soldiers in the Proletarian Dictatorship
"The Stuff of Soldiers is the most important recent contribution, in any language, to the history of the Red Army in World War II. I read it in one sitting and was consistently engaged. Highly recommended!"
Mark Edele, author of Stalin's Defectors
"Based on prodigious research in the Soviet archives, The Stuff of Soldiers interrogates dozens of objects within soldiers' grasp – from headgear to underwear, and spoons to tobacco – for their uses and meanings. The result is a fascinating retelling of how the Red Army fared in the Great Patriotic War."
Lewis Siegelbaum, co-editor of Empire and Belonging in the Eurasian Borderlands