Mannerheim, Marshal of Finland

A Life in Geopolitics

May 2023 9781787389373 320pp, 8pp b&w illus
Available as an eBook
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Field marshal and statesman Gustaf Mannerheim (1867-1951) was the most acclaimed and the most hated Finn of the twentieth century. After three decades of loyal and distinguished service in the Russian Tsarist army, he returned to his homeland in 1917 to defend its new independence. This iconic figure led the Finnish forces as Commander-in-Chief during both World Wars, then ended his career as President of Finland.

This new critical biography sets Mannerheim’s entire life’s work, and his often nerve-wracking decisions as a Finnish leader on the world stage, against the backdrop of his elite upbringing and lifestyle, his adventurous imperial career, his outspoken anti-communism, and his keen instincts for great power politics. Painful details emerge about Mannerheim’s private life, and myths and rumours are scrutinised, as Henrik Meinander charts the complex legacy of this nationalist cosmopolitan who found himself fighting on the same side as Hitler.

Meinander paints his portrait with strong contrasts and bright colours. This is the story of a multicultural Russian empire, a newborn nation-state treading warily between Europe’s military titans, a front of the Second World War not easily reduced to moral binaries—and, above all, a shrewd political operator playing many a dangerous game.


‘Authoritative and accessible to general readers. . . . Finland does owe a great debt to Mannerheim. As with Churchill or de Gaulle, a proper assessment of his historical importance requires us to strip away the myths and focus on the facts of his career — a task Meinander fulfils admirably.’ — Financial Times

‘A sensible and readable summary … [Meinander] has succeeded handsomely. Mannerheim oozes good sense and generosity to its predecessors and deserves to become the new standard popular book on its subject.’ — The Times

‘Meinander’s biography is riveting… [and] especially timely.’ — Diplomatic Courier

‘Meinander’s biography provides a clear overview of… [Mannerheim’s] exceptionally intriguing life.’ — Traces of War

‘Marshal Mannerheim was an intriguing character, a titan of Finnish history, but a person I did not understand well. This book is a compelling biography, and a much-needed one as Finland joins NATO.’ — Dan Kaszeta, author of Toxic and The Forest Brotherhood

‘Impeccably researched and elegantly written, this biography of Marshal Mannerheim tells the story of one of the most remarkable lives and careers of any twentieth-century leader: a life around which so much appeared to turn. Highly recommended.’ — Roger Moorhouse, historian, researcher and author of The First to Fight: The Polish War 1939 and The Devils’ Allliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin

‘A powerful biography of an oft misunderstood man who stood at the heart of Finland’s history as one of its most important and complex leaders of the twentieth century. Meinander’s epic biography deserves high praise.’ — Helen Fry, author of Churchill’s German Army and The Walls Have Ears: The Greatest Intelligence Operation of WWII

‘Henrik Meinander’s eminently readable biography of Gustaf Mannerheim is a very well-rounded take on the life of this major figure of Finnish and European history. More still, it tells the epic story of Finland at a time of great upheavals.’ — Mart Kuldkepp, Associate Professor of Scandinavian History and Politics, University College London

‘A rich and balanced insight into the eventful life of Marshal Mannerheim. Meinander has brilliantly managed to construct a rigorously critical but empathetic portrait of his research subject.’ — Tiina Lintunen, Head of the Department of Contemporary History, University of Turku

‘Henrik Meinander’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in Marshal Mannerheim’s extraordinary biography, as well as those who want to understand the history and the present of geopolitics in the Baltic and Nordic countries.’ — Tuomas Tepora, Senior Research Fellow, Tampere University


Henrik Meinander is Professor of History at the University of Helsinki, formerly curator of Helsinki's Mannerheim Museum and head of the Finnish Institute in Stockholm. His many books on Finnish and Nordic history include A History of Finland, which has been translated into sixteen languages, and Mannerheim, Marshal of Finland, which was award-winning in the Nordic original.

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