On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. What he unleashed that day became one of the most deadly human endeavors in history. These three books explore Hitler’s reasons for invading, the Russian resolve in resisting, and the sheer magnitude of the Eastern Front in World War II.

1 OSTKRIEG : Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East, by Stephen G. Fritz (Univ. of Kentucky, $39.95). Hitler had grand designs for a “Greater Germany” that required the domination of the Eastern races and the crushing of a “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy,” which he believed would otherwise infect Nazism like a cancer. Tens of millions died as a result of his decisions. In this gritty book, Stephen G. Fritz, a professor of history at East Tennessee State University, shows the Eastern Front from the German perspective.

2 LENINGRAD : The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 by Anna Reid (Walker, $30). By September 1941, Hitler’s Wehrmacht seemed unstoppable. In little more than three months, German forces had pushed to the gates of Leningrad, the old tsarist capital known as St. Petersburg. Surely Leningrad would fall, or the invaders would be decisively pushed back. Few expected what actually happened: a two-and-a-half-year siege. Reid walks us through horrible winters, streets filled with near-starved residents and mortuaries filled to capacity. Through it all we see an indomitable Russian spirit that did not buckle.

Standing in the backyard of an abandoned house in the outskirts of the besieged city of Leningrad, a rifleman of the Red Army aims and fires his machine gun at German positions, on December 16, 1942. (AP Photo) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

3 THE BATTLE OF THE TANKS: Kursk, 1943 , by Lloyd Clark (Atlantic Monthly, $30). By July 1943, Russia had repulsed German forces from Stalingrad and pushed them almost to the Ukrainian border. His campaign in the East crumbling, Hitler called for a massive offensive to halt the Russian advance. For 18 days, the two sides clashed outside Kursk, in what became the largest armored engagement in history. By the end of the battle, 360,000 men were dead, an average of 20,000 per day. Hitler’s forces were roundly defeated, and Russia never lost the initiative in the East, finally overrunning Berlin in 1945.

Timothy R. Smith