Ponting’s book is an all-inclusive summary of the Crimean War aimed at explaining what really happened throughout the conflict. He begins by addressing what is typically accounted in historiography for example the work of Nightingale to the charge of the Light Brigade. His nineteen chapters then follow a chronological path starting with the reasons why the war broke out in the introductory chapter, focusing on the famous battles of Alma, Balaklava and Inkerman, in chapters six to eight, then addressing the latter stages of the war in chapters twelve to eighteen. His final chapter looks at the impact of war and this is where he solidifies his argument.
The subtitle of the book provides an obvious explanation of why Ponting wrote the book; to address the debate as to what truly happened in the war and what is simply myth. He investigates accounts written at the time by numerous observers and soldiers, including William H. Russell, Henry Clifford and Roger Fenton, in order to dispel these myths of the war. Ponting explains that whilst some would assume Russell as an impartial recorder of the events, he reveals that, along with many of Russell’s contemporaries, he was in fact anti-Ottoman and anti-French. When accounting for some battles, it was hard to tell from Russell’s accounts whether the French had any impact whatsoever; even though they contributed significant numbers and won many battles.
Ponting’s critique of such primary accounts is one of the book’s most convincing strengths. He explains how it was the duty of such journalists to show the middle-class population of Britain what they wanted to read and hear. The image of Victorian ideals such as heroism in the field and the loathing of the barbarous Russians, were what the people wanted to read. He uses an abundance of primary accounts within every chapter, each braking down myths or reassuring truths about what really occurred in battle, in camp and in hospitals. The book also has its share of weaknesses. While the book claims to show the truth behind the myths surrounding the conflict, it does not say much to cover often overlooked areas of the war. It addresses the more commonly known areas such as the battles, yet provides less on other important areas of discussion like that of technology. Whilst Ponting uses a lot of primary accounts, he avoids the use of Russian, French or Ottoman accounts, which would have helped solidify his argument.