Named The Sunday Times' Best Travel Book of the Year in 2010 and now issued in paperback, Engineers has also been described by History Today as a "subtle mixture of history and literary criticism". It is quite an appropriate summary.
The description of "engineers" in the title extends to two contexts: one is connected to the physical manufacture of tangible structures, while the other covers the more discreet art of creating identities.
From the outset of Stalin's rule, these two concepts are shown to intertwine. As the power of the Soviet Union extends to breakneck construction, employing thousands in slave labour, it also casts a despotic shadow over the region's writers. Thus, a period of "realist" literature reigns, in which there is little room for the depiction of any suffering under this totalitarian regime.
Westerman sticks to his facts and findings, yet sets enough stock aside for some of his personal experiences to add some colour to the picture.