Dresden
Sinclair McKay

Book cover image

Narrated By: Leighton Pugh

Duration: 13 hours and 49 minutes

What to expect

The Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller, brought to by Penguin and published for the 75th anniversary

'Powerful . . . there is rage in his ink. McKay's book grips by its passion and originality. Some 25,000 people perished in the firestorm that raged through the city. I have never seen it better described' Max Hastings, Sunday Times

In February 1945 the Allies obliterated Dresden, the 'Florence of the Elbe'. Bombs weighing over 1,000 lbs fell every seven and a half seconds and an estimated 25,000 people were killed. Was Dresden a legitimate military target or was the bombing a last act of atavistic mass murder in a war already won?

From the history of the city to the attack itself, conveyed in a minute-by-minute account from the first of the flares to the flames reaching almost a mile high - the wind so searingly hot that the lungs of those in its path were instantly scorched - through the eerie period of reconstruction, bestselling author Sinclair McKay creates a vast canvas and brings it alive with touching human detail.

Along the way we encounter, among many others across the city, an elderly air-raid warden and his wife vainly striving to keep order amid devouring flames, a doctor who carried on operating while his home was in ruins, novelist Kurt Vonnegut who never thought that his own side might want to unleash the roaring fire, and fifteen-year-old Winfried Bielss, who, having spent the evening ushering refugees, wanted to get home to his stamp collection.

Impeccably researched and deeply moving, McKay uses never-before-seen sources to relate the untold stories of civilians and vividly conveys the texture of contemporary life. Dresden is invoked as a byword for the illimitable cruelties of war, but with the distance of time, it is now possible to approach this subject with a much clearer gaze, and with a keener interest in the sorts of lives that ordinary people lived and lost, or tried to rebuild.

Writing with warmth and colour about morality in war, the instinct for survival, the gravity of mass destruction and the importance of memory, this is a master historian at work.

'Churchill said that if bombing cities was justified, it was always repugnant. Sinclair McKay has written a shrewd, humane and balanced account of this most controversial target of the Anglo-American strategic bombing campaign, the ferocious consequence of the scourge of Nazism' Allan Mallinson, author of Fight to the Finish

'Beautifully-crafted, elegiac, compelling - Dresden delivers with a dark intensity and incisive compassion rarely equalled. Authentic and authoritative, a masterpiece of its genre' Damien Lewis, author of Zero Six Bravo

'Compelling . . . Sinclair McKay brings a dark subject vividly to life' Keith Lowe, author of Savage Continent

'This is a brilliantly clear, and fair, account of one of the most notorious and destructive raids in the history aerial warfare. From planning to execution, the story is told by crucial participants - and the victims who suffered so cruelly on the ground from the attack itself and its aftermath' Robert Fox, author of We Were There


© Sinclair McKay 2020 (P) Penguin Audio 2020

Genre

Second World War, Other warfare & defence issues, European history

Listen to a sample

A carefully researched, finely written and moving account of one of the great tragedies of 20th-century history

Daily Telegraph

Accomplished

Prospect

A passionate and original account of the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945, one of the most controversial evens of the Second World War

Best Books of 2020: our favourites so far

Rich and colourful . . . [there is] a vividness and poignancy that other accounts have lacked

Financial Times

Painstakingly researched and fascinating

Daily Mail on The Secret Listeners

Masterful

Mail on Sunday

Compelling . . . Sinclair McKay brings a dark subject vividly to life

Keith Lowe, author of Savage Continent

A weighty and considered investigation of events . . . an excellent book . . . providing a reliable, engaging, informative and, above all, sober narrative of events. The book will enable readers to make up their own minds - should they so desire - on the rights and wrongs of the matter. It is highly recommended

BBC History Magazine

McKay recounts the story of Dresden's destruction through the recollections of those who miraculously survived, creating a kaleidoscope of experience . . . His prose, even when describing gruesome destruction, is often breathtakingly beautiful. This superbly rendered story allows the reader entry into the soul of an extraordinary city

The Times

One of my favourite historians

History Hit

Powerful . . . there is rage in his ink. McKay's book grips by its passion and originality. Some 25,000 people perished in the firestorm that raged through the city. I have never seen it better described

Sunday Times

This is a brilliantly clear, and fair, account of one of the most notorious and destructive raids in the history aerial warfare. From planning to execution, the story is told by crucial participants - and the victims who suffered so cruelly on the ground from the attack itself and its aftermath

Robert Fox, author of We Were There

It's a wonderful book, so absorbing, thoughtful and thought provoking, I didn't want it to end

Extraordinary . . . a remarkably faithful account

Guardian on The Secret Life of Bletchley Park

McKay's rich narrative and descriptive gifts provide us with an elegant yet unflinching account of that terrible night . . . a very readable and finely crafted addition to the literature on one of modern history's most morally fraught military operations

Wall Street Journal

Beautifully-crafted, elegiac, compelling - Dresden delivers with a dark intensity and incisive compassion rarely equalled. Authentic and authoritative, a masterpiece of its genre

Damien Lewis, author of Zero Six Bravo

Along with much affecting human detail, I particularly like the way it contextualises the city's obliteration with scenes from Dresden's rich history

Bookseller

Fascinating, riveting, unsettling, and wonderfully rich in period detail

Mail on Sunday on Mile End Murder

Churchill said that if bombing cities was justified, it was always repugnant. Sinclair McKay has written a shrewd, humane and balanced account of this most controversial target of the Anglo-American strategic bombing campaign, the ferocious consequence of the scourge of Nazism

Allan Mallinson, author of Fight to the Finish

This minute-by-minute retelling tackles the big questions, but also - by drawing on the letters and diaries from the Dresden City Archive - never loosed sight of the experiences of people who witnessed, and suffered, the attach first-hand

BBC History Revealed, Book of the Month

McKay brings that time vividly alive but he's also alive to the moral ambiguities

Daily Mirror

McKay's book is better than narrative history. It is biography, but of place, rather than person. He makes Dresden come alive, before, during, and after the infernal 13th

Daily Express, *****

There have been many books on the bombing of Dresden (not least Kurt Vonnegut's novel, "Slaughterhouse Five"), but Sinclair McKay's account is a worthy addition. McKay's purpose is neither to condemn nor condone, but to record what happened and why. Above all, he rejoices in the modern city's resurrection

Economist

Lucid, well-researched and rich in detail