This is a STUPENDOUS book, one that I wish were more well-known. In a nutshell: a historian becomes obsessed with finding Admiral Kolchak’s lost gold and a series of interesting, oftentimes unfortunate, events ensues.
Who is Kolchak, you ask? History buffs, especially those who know twentieth-century Russian history, will recognize his name, but probably not many others. Admiral Alexander Kolchak was the doomed White Russian commander during the Russian Civil War who led the fight against the Reds in Siberia. He’s one of my favorite historical figures, which is how I found out about this book. A little Google search revealed it and I couldn’t resist getting a copy because I love all things Kolchak-related.
I’m quite impressed at the level of research the author was able to do. This book was written in 1973 (I think—regardless, I’m certain it was the early 1970s), when there wasn’t much decent scholarship available on the Russian Civil War and its participants, especially the Whites. (Honestly, there isn’t that much great scholarship available today in English, though admittedly there’s more now than there was in the 1970s.) The mediocre quality of scholarship available when the author wrote this book probably explains some of the inaccuracies and the sometimes unfair harshness with which he treats the White Movement. Admittedly, I must state my bias here: I’m usually quite pro-White in my views, plus I have the benefit of having read more favorable accounts than were available when this book was first written.
Thus, the reason why I docked one star from my review is not because of my criticism in the prior paragraph. The author did the best he could with the information he had and what I consider inaccuracies didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book. No, the reason why I’ve demoted the book by one star is because of the ending. I felt that the book was going along nicely, then became faster-paced as the stakes were upped, then suddenly everything came to a massive crashing halt and suddenly it was all over. I don’t mind ambiguous endings; I just feel this one was a bit abrupt.