A Nasty Little War: The West’s Fight to Reverse the Russian Revolution by Anna Reid

A Nasty Little War: The West’s Fight to Reverse the Russian Revolution by Anna Reid looks at the military interventions by the Allied powers in the former Russian Empire after its revolutions in 1917, an often-forgotten part of the wider turmoil surrounding the end of the First World War. These actions involved over 100,000 soldiers and sailors from multiple countries - Britain, France, the United States, Japan, Serbia, Greece, Canada, and even Australia and New Zealand as well as Germans, former Czech and Slovak prisoners of war...it really keeps going. They were all over the former empire, from up north in the Arctic to Siberia, to Crimea, Ukraine and south Russia, to the Caucasus, and the Baltic.

A Nasty Little War

Anna Reid does a great job of showing in her book why these troops were there. What they were meant to be doing was never clear, and kept changing over time, from trying to secure war supplies sent to Russia from the Germans, to supporting the anti-Bolshevik White forces, to just trying to get them out without looking bad.

She uses her sources really well, pulling from letters, diaries, memoirs, reports back to governments at home. This creates a picture of the confusion those on the ground in Russia felt about what they were doing, trying to navigate quickly changing political situations and orders from back home, and sometimes the unrealistic expectations of what they might do with the forces they had. The sources are not just from people at the ‘top’, but also average soldiers and officers on the ground.

Towards the later part of the book, Anna makes an important point quite well – that the war helped unleashed antisemitic violence from all sides of the war, and in most cases foreign soldiers and officials stood by and did very little about it. The antisemitic violence the war and revolutions unleashed would unfortunately be seen again, and the participation of non-Germans in the Holocaust in the former empire was not something new or out of nowhere.

I really enjoyed this book and found it easy to read (not too dense for the non-expert!) and my only real criticisms are while the sources provide interesting details, but they are largely British and American (with a few French). Of course, you can only use what you have and can get access to, but it means the Japanese involvement is seen mostly through the eyes of others who aren’t favourable towards them. Reid also rushes the conclusion a bit and makes some big sweeping claims about the importance of understanding the Allied interventions and what they caused, but she doesn’t really explore them.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and it was a great insight into a complicated period of history, and a good lesson of why it really helps to have a plan before you do something and stick to it.


This isn’t the only book the library has on this topic. Try:

The Polar Bear Expedition

Churchill's Secret War With Lenin

If you’d like to learn more about the Russian Revolutions and Civil War:

A People's Tragedy

Russia in Flames


And Quiet Flows the Don

More history resources

New For You

I found this title on the March 2024 New For You: History and Current Events list. Each month our selectors (who order books for the library) select highlights in upcoming books.
See more New for You: History and Current events booklists