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Revolutionary Russia, 1891 - 1991: A History

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From the author of A People’s Tragedy, an original reading of the Russian Revolution, examining it not as a single event but as a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams In this elegant and incisive account, Orlando Figes offers an illuminating new perspective on the Russian Revolution. While other historians have focused their examinations on the catacl From the author of A People’s Tragedy, an original reading of the Russian Revolution, examining it not as a single event but as a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams In this elegant and incisive account, Orlando Figes offers an illuminating new perspective on the Russian Revolution. While other historians have focused their examinations on the cataclysmic years immediately before and after 1917, Figes shows how the revolution, while it changed in form and character, nevertheless retained the same idealistic goals throughout, from its origins in the famine crisis of 1891, until its end with the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991. Figes traces three generational phases: Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who set the pattern of destruction and renewal until their demise in the terror of the 1930s; the Stalinist generation, promoted from the lower classes, who created the lasting structures of the Soviet regime and consolidated its legitimacy through victory in war; and the generation of 1956, shaped by the revelations of Stalin’s crimes and committed to “making the Revolution work” to remedy economic decline and mass disaffection. Until the very end of the Soviet system, its leaders believed they were carrying out the revolution Lenin had begun. With the authority and distinctive style that have marked his magisterial histories, Figes delivers an accessible and paradigm-shifting reconsideration of one of the defining events of the twentieth century.


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From the author of A People’s Tragedy, an original reading of the Russian Revolution, examining it not as a single event but as a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams In this elegant and incisive account, Orlando Figes offers an illuminating new perspective on the Russian Revolution. While other historians have focused their examinations on the catacl From the author of A People’s Tragedy, an original reading of the Russian Revolution, examining it not as a single event but as a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams In this elegant and incisive account, Orlando Figes offers an illuminating new perspective on the Russian Revolution. While other historians have focused their examinations on the cataclysmic years immediately before and after 1917, Figes shows how the revolution, while it changed in form and character, nevertheless retained the same idealistic goals throughout, from its origins in the famine crisis of 1891, until its end with the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991. Figes traces three generational phases: Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who set the pattern of destruction and renewal until their demise in the terror of the 1930s; the Stalinist generation, promoted from the lower classes, who created the lasting structures of the Soviet regime and consolidated its legitimacy through victory in war; and the generation of 1956, shaped by the revelations of Stalin’s crimes and committed to “making the Revolution work” to remedy economic decline and mass disaffection. Until the very end of the Soviet system, its leaders believed they were carrying out the revolution Lenin had begun. With the authority and distinctive style that have marked his magisterial histories, Figes delivers an accessible and paradigm-shifting reconsideration of one of the defining events of the twentieth century.

30 review for Revolutionary Russia, 1891 - 1991: A History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ilse

    Even now the Cold War is over, history writing on the Russian revolution and 20th century Russian communism still is a tricky, slippery path and rises passions. Historians who tackle this inexhaustible subject and try to transcend the dry facts, are imminently classified as rightist of leftist, and their work treated correspondingly. Figes is a bestselling historian, and somehow controversial, both the man and his approach to writing history seem to inspire his fellow academics with some profess Even now the Cold War is over, history writing on the Russian revolution and 20th century Russian communism still is a tricky, slippery path and rises passions. Historians who tackle this inexhaustible subject and try to transcend the dry facts, are imminently classified as rightist of leftist, and their work treated correspondingly. Figes is a bestselling historian, and somehow controversial, both the man and his approach to writing history seem to inspire his fellow academics with some professional animosity. Is this merely jalousie de métier and petty criticism? Figes writes fluently and with outstanding clarity, which is a great quality when dealing with the complexity of history. He outlines the history of the Soviet Union as ”a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams” in twenty neatly short chapters– a very concise synthesis, predominantly political and narrative in structure, packed in 336 pages. This lucid style incites to take his observations at face value, at the risk of selling sand to an arab: he does not bother to insert many statements and assertions which cannot be adequately verified due to the very sparse references and footnotes in the book. Evidently, this adds to the readability of the book, as Figes aims to write for a general, broad audience, but that is not a decisive argument, as readers can easily skip the notes while reading if they want to. Looking for more information on the way he depicts Lenin’s personality on the basis of the Beethoven’s Appassionata anecdote in the beginning of the book, I soon got the impression the selective use of his sources was on the brink and I felt manipulated. Law and history have common grounds in digging for evidence in support of one’s assertions, but I am not too fond of this kind of dirty lawyers’ tricks in court, let alone as a method in historiography. Evidently, the Russian revolution continues to be a great challenging “case” to historians analyzing what are the driving forces of History. Is this the individual, the great leader or are it the masses? Certain odd events? Or structural processes? Figes does not pin himself down on one explanation, using several historiographical paradigms to make his point: primarly a generational approach, intermingling with a “great man” discourse and Mosca’s conflicting elites approach. Figes focuses on what he calls 3 generations of revolutionaries: the old Bolsheviks (from Lenin to Stalin), the bureaucrats that survived the Stalinist purges (Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov) and then Gorbachev, the last Bolshevik before the Soviet empire collapsed. This is all very interesting, but I wonder if it this analysis is really that new – not that it would be a problem to me if it is not. Again, it adds to its readability, including something for everyone. With aplomb Figes states that ‘the real test of a successful revolution is whether it replaces the political elites’. I humbly think this a rather diffident vision on the essence of what a revolution means (which also implies systemic and idea changes and changes in social structures, not merely a political change in leadership), as Figes rather succeeds in proving that the foremost solicitude of the Bolsheviks after their seizure of power, was to hold on to it with all means, instead of demonstrating the permanent existence of revolutionary momentum. As I read the anarchist Pjotr Kropotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist a month ago, covering the 1842-1886 period, I thought it would seamlessly be dovetailed by Figes’s book (1891-1991). However I was slightly surprised by Figes’s choice to situate the start of the decline of the tsarist regime with the famines of 1891, as Russia was already in a serious state of social ferment before (the Decembrist revolt in 1825, the multiple attacks on tsar Alexander II till his final assassination in 1881). But of course, a hundred year cycle is a valid way of looking to Russia’s revolutionary history as well, and the round number is a nice bonus in the presentation of the book. I expected Figes would draw some analogies with the French Revolution (like Trotsky did, to whom Figes often refers) or parallels between the tsarist and Bolshevik autocratic regimes (and Putin) as is often done, but he does not elaborate on these themes, although there was a fine occasion when he quotes and old soviet joke: A Bolshevik is explaining to an old woman what Communism will be like. ’There will be plenty of everything’ he said. ‘Food, clothing. Every kind of merchandise. You will be able to travel abroad.’ ‘Oh’, she said, ‘Like under the Tsar!’ However compellingly written (the description of the October Revolution as some kind of harmless comic operetta, the soviet jokes), what really repels me is Figes’s inappropriately denigratory, almost mocking undertone towards the common Russian people (e.g. their meek soviet nostalgia at the end of the book). While he documented thoroughly the suffering of the Russian people in the 20th century, I fail to understand this lack of compassion and empathy. Bearing in mind what was taught at university on the Revolution, I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point on the Russian Revolution, however one gets the outlines of it quickly by reading this. I would rather try to embark on a broader scoped work on Russian history first. A more extended view on the period preceding the Revolution (covering the autocratic tsarist regime, the abolition of serfdom) could be very helpful to better understand the events in the 20th century and to expound some of Figes’s assertions. His surely is an interesting voice, but it shouldn’t be the only bell you hear on this, as Figes’ anticommunism is quite obvious. (Sergei Ivanov, The Massacre (1905)) After I had read Figes in 2015, there seemed new reading inspiration aplenty, as in the wake of the centenary of the Russian Revolution a whole bunch of new books on the revolution was published in 2017, of which so far I read Catherine’s Merridale Lenin on the Train, the quite interesting compilation of Tony Brenton Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution and Victor Sebestyen's biography Lenin the Dictator. Now I’ll look for what the local library hopefully will continue to purchase on the subject, most looking forward to read Sean McMeekin's The Russian Revolution: A New History, Dominic Lieven's The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution, China Miéville's October: The Story of the Russian Revolution and maybe Tariq Ali’s The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution – it seems necessary to me to hear different voices on the subject of the Russian Revolution. To learn more on contemporary Russia, in 2016 I read Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich, whose contrasting approach to Figes’s was a most welcome antidote to the lack of empathy Figes’s book suffered from. I see no other option but to continue reading on Russian history. I have a doorstopper of Geoffreoy Hosking (Russia and the Russians: A History) waiting at home, I could reread J.W. Bezemer's Een geschiedenis van Rusland: Van Rurik tot Gorbatsjov...L'embarras du choix.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maciek

    Orlando Figes has written a very readable history of Russia, beginning with the slow decay of the Empire which brought upon the famine of 1891 and the first kindling of fire which would spark the Russian Revolution in the late 19th century, and ending with the revolutions of 1989 and the final dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This isn't a definitive work on this fascinating and tumultuous period of Russian history - it has just 336 pages to cover a whole century, while Figes's own book o Orlando Figes has written a very readable history of Russia, beginning with the slow decay of the Empire which brought upon the famine of 1891 and the first kindling of fire which would spark the Russian Revolution in the late 19th century, and ending with the revolutions of 1989 and the final dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This isn't a definitive work on this fascinating and tumultuous period of Russian history - it has just 336 pages to cover a whole century, while Figes's own book on the Revolution alone is over 800 pages - but is a good, concise overview of the period and can be a great starting point for those who wish to begin their studies of Russia, and events which changed the world. Russia is, like Winston Churchill famously said, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The largest country on earth, it covers one eight of the planet's surface, spans 12 time zones and completely dominates the world map - nothing even comes close to its enormous physical size. Russia begins in Europe on the Baltic beaches of Kaliningrad, a small exclave lodged between Poland and Lithuania, stretching onto Asia towards the Pacific shores of Primorsky Krai, bordered by China and North Korea, across which lies Japan. Chukotka, the most northeasterly part of Russia, is located partially in the Western Hempisphere and borders the U.S. state of Alaska (which the Americans purchased from the Russians in 1867) across the Bering Strait. The total landmass of Russia is larger than Pluto. Churchill's quote echoes in our minds when we try to understand Russia, a strange country which is both familiarly European and Slavic at one side, but distant and Asiatic on the other. Russia achieved its gargantuan size through conquest and expansionism, which turned the medieval Kievan Rus - already one of the largest and most prosperous states in Europe at the time - into one of the largest empires in history, rivaled only by the British and Mongol empires. At the height of its power the Russian Empire stretched over three continents, from Poland in Europe to Alaska in North America. This imperial expansion gave Russia it multi-national character; although ethnic Russians continue to dominate population statistics, Russia is home to more than 185 ethnic groups with unique history, culture and language, who live in the country's many republics - such as the Tatars in Tatarstan, the Chechens in Chechnya or the Bashkirs in Bashkortostan. This enormous and complex country was also the site of the defining event of the 20th century - a revolution which would bring down the Tsar and his autocracy and through a bloody civil war give power to the Bolsheviks. Unlike the French, who in their own revolution deposed the monarch and established a republic under the slogan of freedom, equality and brotherhood, the Bolsheviks were not satisfied with simply removing the Tsar and abolishing hierarchy - their revolution was to give the power to people's councils, establishing the world's first communist state and worker's utopia. Figes's book is interesting in that it poses a new thesis -that the Revolution was not limited to 1917, but instead had its origin in the famine of 1891 which reawakened Russian populism and interest in Marxism, and continued throughout almost to the end of the next century, long after February and October. This is certainly a very interesting perspective - The Bolsheviks rose to power during a genuine social revolution, and the people's councils (the soviets) were not their invention. Figes covers the political chaos of the civil war and the establishment and consolidation of Soviet power and early Soviet terror under Lenin - creation of the Cheka, the first Soviet state security apparatus led by the infamous Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Polish aristocrat turned communist. The Cheka became instrumental in carrying out the Red Terror, a time of mass killings, imprisonment and brutal torture of "counter-revolutionaries" and "enemies of the people". The next stage of the Revolution is the rise of Joseph Stalin, an the change he brought to the Soviet system - most importantly the denunciation of Lenin' New Economic Policy - which allowed for private individuals to own small enterprises, while the state controlled banks, foreign trade and larger industries. Stalin abolished Lenin's state capitalism in 1928 and introduced massive collectivization - most notably the collectivization of agriculture, which abolished private farms and introduced collective ones, the Kolkhozes. Stalin's policy was the final nail in the coffin of traditional Russian way of life - he saw Russia as a backward, peasant country which needed rapid industrialization to be able to survive in an eventual confrontation against the West. His reforms resulted in famines which took millions of lives - most notably in what is now Ukraine - but did increase the country's industrial output several times. Were they truly necessary, as many Soviet historians claimed? Figest argues that they were not, and that if Lenin's NEP remained implemented it might have been very successful and modernized Russia at a far lesser cost in human life. Historians continue to debate the question whether Stalin was a natural heir to Lenin and the system he put in place, or an aberration to his views and policies. Stalin wanted no national delimitation of the Soviet state and argued for a single Soviet Russian Republic; Lenin accused Stalin of the "Great Russian Chauvinism" (even though Stalin was Georgian) which was characteristic of the Tsars, and enforced his vision of republicanism - the right of each nation to self-determinate and pursue their own paths to communism in a multinational Soviet state composed of separate national republics. Lenin believed that a world revolution was necessary for the victory of communism; after the failure of numerous revolutions in Western countries Stalin adopted the policy of "Socialism in One Country", effectively isolating Soviet socialism and putting an end to Lenin's revolutionary goals. While it's certainly true that Lenin saw terror as a necessary tool of removing the "bandits" and preserving the revolution's ideals and goals, he would not murder his colleagues for different political opinions - the Congress of Soviets was probably the only place in Soviet history where a debate could be had at government level. After Lenin's death Stalin introduced the personality cult - first of Lenin, then of himself - and purged the Old Bolsheviks and those who opposed him. Stalin allowed no room for any dissent, beginning an era of Great Purges of the members of the Communist Party, leadership of the Red Army and repression of the peasants who refused to handle over their livestock and submit to collectivization - the kulaks. He famously uttered: Who's going to remember all this riff-raff in ten or twenty years time? No one. Who remembers the names now of the boyars Ivan the Terrible got rid of? No one. The last stage of the Revolution comes after Stalin' death, with Nikita Khrushchev's secret speech which he delivered at the the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956. Khrushchev denounced Stalin's purges and cult of personality, seeking to bring the Soviet Union closer to its Leninist principles - and to consolidate control over the party and government in struggle for power with Stalin loyalists. This period became known as the Khrushchev Thaw - and the start of a deliberate policy of de-Stalinization, which lessened censorship and reversed mass repressions, with millions of Soviet political prisoners released from labor camps, along with liberalization of society and opening it to the West. Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalinism loosened the iron grip established by him on the country, which was the first step in Soviet Union's own undoing - with massive demonstrations and revolutions happening in the Soviet sphere of influence almost immediately. Demonstrations for independence in Georgian SSR have been squashed, as was the Hungarian Revolution - but the grip on the population was loosened, and not even the stone-cold Leonid Brezhnev could restore it. Brezhnev ousted Khrushchev from power and introduced a doctrine allowed the Soviet Union to enter and use military force in any country in the former Eastern Bloc, if its socialist system was threatened by capitalist insurgency - which almost happened in Poland during Martial Law, which was imposed precisely because of it. Still, even Brezhnev couldn't undo what Khrushchev had started. Although revolutionary slogans and propaganda was still plastered all over the USSR, the population has long lost its revolutionary spirit and the belief in revolutionary slogans and even began to joke about them - giving rise to many jokes about the Soviet system ("What is the difference between capitalism and socialism? In capitalism man exploits man, and in socialism it's the opposite"). Khrushchev's era gave rise to the generation of "Sixtiers" - Soviet inteligentsia which believed in communist principles, but shared anti-totalitarian and liberal views. Among them was young Mikhail Gorbachev, who later became the last General Secretary of the USSR - and who wanted to continue Khrushchev's vision of the Soviet Union and bring it closer to its Leninist ideals through a series of reforms which became known as Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (openness). Gorbachev's era saw the drastic liberalization of the Soviet Union, eased censorship and allowed for much more freedom of information. These reforms provoked reaction far beyond what Gorbachev had intended - by exposing many Soviet atrocities and drastically undermining the public faith in the leadership, they provoked a sharp rise of nationalism and demands for independence from the union republics. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was not unavoidable - even through long years of stagnation, to the population the state was as solid and unbreakable as ever. It is highly probable that the Soviet Union would continue to exist to this day, albeit in a different form. Gorbachev envisioned a Union of Sovereign States, which would be the answer to the question for greater autonomy for the Soviet republics - but with a single army, president and foreign policy remaining in place. Gorbachev even carried out a referendum across the USSR - the only one in the history of the country - which showed that the majority of the population supported this project (some republics, such as the Baltic states, refused to participate and demanded outright independence - which was granted). Gorbachev's vision was shattered by a coup carried by communist hardliners, who saw his proposal as treacherous, and wanted to preserve the old system; the coup did nothing more but accelerate its collapse. It is why Gorbachev was the last revolutionary - his period finally broke the once iron grip of power over people, and the Soviet state ceased to exist in 1991. But what happened afterwards? This is another interesting question which is not asked often enough. After World War 2, Germany and Austria underwent a long process of denazification - removing any remnants of Nazi ideology from culture, politics and economy. There was no desovietization in the former Soviet Union - Soviet state symbols are still largely present in modern Russia; one has to just take a short ride on the Moscow Metro, or take a look at the hammer and sickle on the Moscow City Duma. Many Russians remain conflicted on their past, with large percentage of the surveyed expressed positive views on Stalin's leadership and even said that they would welcome his return - can we imagine most modern Germans or Austrians sharing the same view on Adolf Hitler, or admiring swastikas on the Brandenburg Gate and the Bundestag? While Revolutionary Russia has to paint many of these issues with broad strokes, it is nonetheless very readable account of contemporary Russian history and a good introduction to more detailed and throughout reading on the subject. Hopefully it'll provoke a deeper interest on the period and issues that it discusses. Recommended! Also worth reading: Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Michael Dobbs - a personal account of the Revolutions of 1989 as seen by the author, who was a journalist reporting from the Eastern Bloc at the time, accompanied with appropriate historical perspective. Great and engaging reading.

  3. 5 out of 5

    El

    This review is of a book won from Goodreads First Reads Giveaway program. In college I took a history course by this young professor straight out of professor-school whose specialty, if I remember correctly, was Russian history. He was on loan from the university in town, which is something that happened occasionally at my school because we were small and didn't always have someone to teach certain courses. I do not remember his name (because that's how my stupid brain works), but I do remember w This review is of a book won from Goodreads First Reads Giveaway program. In college I took a history course by this young professor straight out of professor-school whose specialty, if I remember correctly, was Russian history. He was on loan from the university in town, which is something that happened occasionally at my school because we were small and didn't always have someone to teach certain courses. I do not remember his name (because that's how my stupid brain works), but I do remember we spent an extensive amount of time talking about Tsar Nicholas II and the February Revolution of 1917. It's where my interest in the topic started and I thought, "Wow, someday I hope to know as much as this guy." I still don't know shit. But this was a good place to pick up some of the forgotten bits of information and also to pick up where I left off. I have spent a lot of time reading Russian literature, but there's only so much that one can pick up this way. There's a lot of history, and I realize that no matter how much I read, I'll never fully understand. Figes has made some of the more complicated matters a little clearer for me. Most historians (and history courses) focus on individual circumstances and pieces of Russian history, Figes takes it in a slightly different direction - his theory is that the Russian Revolution is a century-long history, a fluid timeline from 1891 to 1991, that the inherent goals remained the same throughout no matter who was in charge. This was not a quick read for me. I felt at times, as a pedestrian reader, that I needed even more background information before reading this, but that says more about me than it does about the book itself. Figes writes clearly and concisely and manages to fit a lot of information in less than 300 pages, from the famine crisis of 1891 to the end of the Soviet regime in 1991. Russia is still making history, for better or worse. With the Olympics in Sochi and their issues with homosexuality and, apparently, dogs, to Putin and Pussy Riot, our eyes are still on Russia, making Figes's book actually quite timely. Recommended for anyone interested in Russian history, or for anyone who wants to understand the history behind some of their favorite Russian novels.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Titus Hjelm

    I am not an expert in the field, but I find it curious that the (mainstream) history of revolutionary Russia has been completely monopolised by right wing historians. Although in a different generation from Cold War warriors such as Richard Pipes and Robert Service, Figes is squarely in the same bracket politically. The beginning of his ‘long view’ on the revolution, from 1891 to the consolidation of Stalin’s power, is basically one big lament about the missed opportunities of the 1% aristocrat- I am not an expert in the field, but I find it curious that the (mainstream) history of revolutionary Russia has been completely monopolised by right wing historians. Although in a different generation from Cold War warriors such as Richard Pipes and Robert Service, Figes is squarely in the same bracket politically. The beginning of his ‘long view’ on the revolution, from 1891 to the consolidation of Stalin’s power, is basically one big lament about the missed opportunities of the 1% aristocrat-led liberal ‘revolution’. The author’s sadness over the events in 1917 is tangible and almost makes one sympathise with his view. But then the imbalanced treatment of the Bolsheviks starts to annoy too much for much sympathy. If Figes spent even a tenth of his energies speculating on how the Soviet Union might have been different had some events had a different outcome—like he continuously does with the fate of the liberals—then one could have thought of the book as fair, if skewed. As usual in right wing versions of the history, details of Bolshevik torture during the civil war is provided, whereas not even a word is said of White terror. Even when speaking of contemporary events, his bias is obvious: democracy becomes ‘democracy’ in scare quotes when it involves a reformed Communist party in the 1990s. Apparently democracy is not about the right to represent all political views, but the right to represent the right (liberal) views. If you doubt the author’s politics, just fast forward to the last page where the author tells the reader that it will take a long time for Russians to be ‘cured’ of their Communist past. Being ‘fair’ is not about justifying the horrible things the peoples of the USSR suffered under Communism, but it is about trying to understand them. Like many others before him, Figes goes over competing explanations of the revolution. Systemic or social explanations are ruled out of hand. The counterrevolution or the Bolshevik’s perception of it (fair until Stalin’s paranoia) didn’t have anything to do with it. Perhaps surprisingly, neither did ideology. Apparently no one in the party beyond Lenin had any idea of Marxism or, later, Marxism-Leninism. The only explanation left for the recurrent violence is what could be referred to as the ‘monster theory’: the leaders of the revolution were simply inhuman monsters that couldn’t care less. Here Figes treads ground well prepared by Service. While easy to apply to Stalin, I wonder if the monster theory is broad enough to explain all of the revolution. Perhaps this is a function of Figes’ great man history approach, where the USSR really equals its leader(s). For the author of ‘The People’s Tragedy’, the people are curiously absent. In sum, a well-written and easy to read narrative if taken with a spadeful of salt.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    IRONIC TRIVIA Before the revolution in Russia, Lenin held the Second Party Congress in London at the Communist Club at 107 Charlotte Street in August 1903, which is now the headquarters of the global advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. MORE TRIVIA, LESS IRONIC Dig this. Mikhail Gorbachev was the first leader since Lenin with a university degree.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    Terrifying, horrifying, and just fantastic. A masterful history book, compulsively readable. This book covers a really long period (it says 1891-1991 but actually goes all the way to Putin), and given its length it is by necessity more of an introduction to the subject. I'm hooked, though. Figes isn't just a brilliant historian, but also a brilliant writer, and it's not everyone who can say that! I will definitely be reading his much longer "A People's Tragedy", and many books from the excellent Terrifying, horrifying, and just fantastic. A masterful history book, compulsively readable. This book covers a really long period (it says 1891-1991 but actually goes all the way to Putin), and given its length it is by necessity more of an introduction to the subject. I'm hooked, though. Figes isn't just a brilliant historian, but also a brilliant writer, and it's not everyone who can say that! I will definitely be reading his much longer "A People's Tragedy", and many books from the excellent reading list he compiled at the end.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    Orlando Figes succeeds in presenting a short political history of Russia 1891-1991. He shows the political changes, social upheaval and economic catastrophe but does not flesh out his thesis that Russia was been in a 100 year revolutionary cycle. On P. 286 he says "the real test of a successful revolution is whether it replaces the political elites". This is followed by an analysis of who remained in power after the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union showing that this restructuring was not revo Orlando Figes succeeds in presenting a short political history of Russia 1891-1991. He shows the political changes, social upheaval and economic catastrophe but does not flesh out his thesis that Russia was been in a 100 year revolutionary cycle. On P. 286 he says "the real test of a successful revolution is whether it replaces the political elites". This is followed by an analysis of who remained in power after the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union showing that this restructuring was not revolutionary. The book's thesis would have been better presented if it such an analysis had followed the successive phases. For those who know Soviet history this is a refresher summary with some insight and items of interest. For instance, I did not know about Stalin's public show of grief (real or show?) over his wife's death, nor was I clear on the sequence of events leading to the dissolution of the union. There is good insight into what Gorbachev and Yeltsin did and did not achieve. The best insight is on the generational changes in values. Figes shows how the generation that toppled the monarchy and fought World War I was better educated than its parents; how it responded to the incompetence of the noble leaders, saw better living conditions in Europe and was motivated by and willing to sacrifice for the ideal of a better Russia. The next generation was career oriented and was motivated by perks and the next by fear. As with any history of Russia, there are statistics documenting the scale and size of the purges, the imprisonments and the overall suffering. There are illustrations of how Russian literature forms the foundation of social movements and some very funny Russian jokes. While the thesis isn't clearly followed, the history is. Figes' work is helpful for the general reader as readable and well presented sweep of modern Russian history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Boudewijn

    It is always nice when an subject expert as Orlando Figes - who is known as an expert on Russian history and has written a substantial number of books - offers the average reader a great introduction on the Russian history. Starting with the famine of 1891 and ending 100 years later with the end of the USSR in 1991, Orlando Figes succeeds in creating a readable, high level overview of the Russian revolution and its subsequent demise. Easy to read, and with a useful further reading section, it's It is always nice when an subject expert as Orlando Figes - who is known as an expert on Russian history and has written a substantial number of books - offers the average reader a great introduction on the Russian history. Starting with the famine of 1891 and ending 100 years later with the end of the USSR in 1991, Orlando Figes succeeds in creating a readable, high level overview of the Russian revolution and its subsequent demise. Easy to read, and with a useful further reading section, it's a great place to start exploring this epoch. Read in Dutch

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I don't fault a guy for trying to make a buck. Hey, I'd like to make a buck, too, off my writing. Let's face it though, friends, I'm lucky enough to have you reading these words free of charge. Hasn't this story been told and retold and retold again? Maybe it serves some value for those high school students in need of a short, readable history of Russia? One critical point, Mr. Figes offers up many observations, which may in fact be true, without providing supporting data. Russia is a big countr I don't fault a guy for trying to make a buck. Hey, I'd like to make a buck, too, off my writing. Let's face it though, friends, I'm lucky enough to have you reading these words free of charge. Hasn't this story been told and retold and retold again? Maybe it serves some value for those high school students in need of a short, readable history of Russia? One critical point, Mr. Figes offers up many observations, which may in fact be true, without providing supporting data. Russia is a big country, in both land area and population, synthesizing that diversity too narrowly, often defaulting to the history of a small cadre, risks academic integrity.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dez Van Der Voort

    Writing: 5/5 Knowledge Gained: 5/5 Enjoyment: 4/5 Orlando is quite knowledgeable in Russian history, and for those unfamiliar, this is a great summary of the past 100 years, and gets you up-to-date, so you can soak in "waiting for hitler". Writing: 5/5 Knowledge Gained: 5/5 Enjoyment: 4/5 Orlando is quite knowledgeable in Russian history, and for those unfamiliar, this is a great summary of the past 100 years, and gets you up-to-date, so you can soak in "waiting for hitler".

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    GOODREADS FIRST READS REVIEW The popular historical view of the Russian Revolution is the Bolshevik coup of October 1917 launching the world’s first Communist state; however Orlando Figes offers a new perspective on the Revolution not as a single but a continuous event covering a century of Russian history. In relating this new perspective Figes reveals how three generations viewed and lived the Russian Revolution before it and the Soviet Union collapsed. Beginning with the famine of 1891, Figes d GOODREADS FIRST READS REVIEW The popular historical view of the Russian Revolution is the Bolshevik coup of October 1917 launching the world’s first Communist state; however Orlando Figes offers a new perspective on the Revolution not as a single but a continuous event covering a century of Russian history. In relating this new perspective Figes reveals how three generations viewed and lived the Russian Revolution before it and the Soviet Union collapsed. Beginning with the famine of 1891, Figes describes how the catastrophe brought about the call for social change without a political outlet due to the autocratic rule of the Tsarist regime. In this climate revolutionaries abounded without a moderate counterweight that not even the political changes of 1905 could alleviate. These conditions resulted in the rise of the Lenin and the Bolsheviks espousing the vanguard party theory. Figes recounts the breakdown of the Tsarist regime allowing first the Revolution of February 1917 and the following political chaos that allowed for the October Revolution. And then how the Soviet system was created in the ensuing Civil War. The next stage was the Stalinist period away as the founding generation of the Revolution was replaced by their heirs. Figes relates how Josef Stalin rose to power using the growing bureaucracy that typified the Communist-rule state then purged the country not only of anything appearing capitalist, but also his real and perceived rivals or ‘enemies to the state’. The terror and paranoia that entered Russian life during Stalin’s nearly 30 year rule, Figes shows reverberates to this day. However, in spite of the atrocities that have been given historical light Stalin is held in high regard by the Russian populace today. In Figes view the final stage of the Revolution began in 1956 with Khrushchev’s “secret” speech denouncing Stalin. The speech energized the post-war generation then coming of age in the Soviet Union to steer the Revolution back to the policies of Lenin, however it also resulted in undermining the legitimacy of the ruling elite who had been loyal functionaries of Stalin. After Khrushchev’s downfall, the ‘generation of 1956’ slowly rose through the bureaucracy of the Brezhnev era until Gorbachev assumption of power. Figes then relates how Gorbachev in trying to bring reform, brought about the collapse of the Soviet system and Communist party. Figes concludes on how the aftereffects of the collapse still affect Russian psychology today as well as its view of the Revolution. Figes makes a persuasive case that the Revolution was a century long historical event, his detailing of Russian society and government, both under the Tsarist and Communist regimes, is both concise and detailed. In relating a century-long historical epoch in around 300 pages, Figes carefully balanced when to go into detail and when to view things in broad strokes. Revolutionary Russia is a well-written and researched look at a defining historical event in the 20th century and a highly recommended read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    A concise but illuminating history of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union. I found the book to be eminently readable, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Russian history or 20th century history.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Noumaan Anwer

    Orlando Figes reputation as one of the finest social historians of modern Russian/Soviet history is only bolstered by the simple but forceful expositions he makes in Revolutionary Russia. Drawing upon a wide range of first hand sources, Figes expertly utilizes humourous, painful, and illuminating insertions from public discourse to highlight the reception of the furious changes that shook the territories of the Soviet Union in the seven and a half decades of its existence as the world's largest Orlando Figes reputation as one of the finest social historians of modern Russian/Soviet history is only bolstered by the simple but forceful expositions he makes in Revolutionary Russia. Drawing upon a wide range of first hand sources, Figes expertly utilizes humourous, painful, and illuminating insertions from public discourse to highlight the reception of the furious changes that shook the territories of the Soviet Union in the seven and a half decades of its existence as the world's largest proto-socialist state. Making the understanding of what are generally perceived to be complex, dexterous historical processes a far more lucid exercise than it has been before, his amalgamation of social, cultural and at times, anthropological perspectives with traditionally dominant economic and political tropes makes his narrative stand out, towering above older canonical historiography of the Bolshevik tenure in its accessibility and multifaceted engagement. It wouldn't be incorrect, therefore, to argue that he succeeds, largely, in achieving the objective of painting a well-shaded landscape of the intensely variant trials and tribulations of the multifarious classes of people affected by the Soviet regime. His suitably paced illustrations of the heart-wrenching traumas of the Stalinist period - forced collectivization, (almost sickeningly) rapid industrialization, crackdowns on dissidence within the Bolshevik party, and the creation of a culture and environment of suspicion and fear through terroristic purges - provide a ideal foil to truly understand the transient nature of identity and consciousness formation that the peoples of the USSR forcibly underwent, during this tenuous period in world history. Not even as a war historian does Figes warrant overt criticism. His chapters on the Civil war of 1918-20 and the Great Patriotic War provide further evidence of his ability to intertwine the overt visibility and normalization of violence, and the confrontational ethos of the Bolshevik leadership on both internal and external fronts, with the ways in which the masses understood their past, present and future, are of significant appeal. The trope directly aforementioned - people's understandings of the microcosmic nature of their own milieus apropos the larger historic forces that played out following the October Revolution - is one that he commits significant wordage to. This establishes in the reader's mind, a genuine commitment to outlining the impact of vicious fluctuations in Soviet policy on the aspirations of entire generations of people; a concern, in that sense, for the primary stakeholders, who under the negligent, megalomania-driven Party leadership, were repeatedly sidelined and deprioritized throughout the regime's existence. In that sense, Figes' insistence on departing from the party-centric approach of prior historiography is a celebration-worthy epistemological break. What is also commendable about Revolutionary Russia , is it's author's argument for seeing the extent of the Bolshevik Revolution in terms of a longue durée . The book's closing sections, dealing with Gorbachev's reversion to the practice of appealing directly to Leninist ideals, and extracting from within them, supposedly make-believe ideas of humanism, democracy, and plurality - are all part of a greater edifice he Figes attempts to construct. He manages, with significant guile, to weave in reasons as to why he believes the Revolution of October 1917 did not pull shut it's bloody curtains, until the Last Bolshevik - Gorbachev - was removed from the echelons of power. For this, he makes the reader note the need to see the endurance of the ideals, values, and aspirations of the earlier Bolsheviks as a prime factor in the Union's lengthy survival - regardless of the dystopia it eventually became, for its people. In that light, his arguments on why a restructuring of public opinion on the Soviet Period in the decades post-1991, especially under Putin; as well as his exposition on why Russia has maintained its authoritarian traditionalism even after the deep-seeded experience of trauma in the previous century, make rather complete sense. While Gorbachev managed to bring the USSR to the brink of tectonic change because of the differences in perspective of his generation - the third, of Soviet-born daughters and sons, the post-1991 failure to do so has been illustrated, in stellar fashion, as a result of a crisis of identity - of a failure to concretely formulate how the legacy of seven and a half decades was to be remembered and judged. Figes brings this out perfectly when he quotes Alexander Yakovlev: We are trying not the party, but ourselves. But every historian does have his biases, and while one cannot accuse Figes of utterly neglecting self-reflexivity, his tendency to make judgements economic and social processes from the perspective of Western democratic liberalism can be somewhat frustrating at times. His attribution of adjectives such as 'absurd', 'disastrous', and 'myopic' to undertakings that must be seen in terms of context, is in my opinion, a misleading activity. When it comes to the origins of the overt hostility of the Cold War, he is quick to recognize the destabilizing impact of the US' reprehensible atomic bombings of Japan, he seems to forget this foundational role that the Western bloc played when he criticizes, scathingly, the USSR's temperament in international affairs under Krushchev and Brezhnev. His blaming of the failure of democracy in post-Soviet Russia on the latent authoritarian traditionalism of the state in its long historical development, rather than on the unsurmountable contradictions of the liberal system, or the simultaneous economic greed and political ignorance of the Western powers responsible for assisting with restructuring, can be seen as a convenient, and ideologically motivated strategem. It seems to me that Figes is content in basking in the sun of Soviet collapse, just as the Western World was, caring little for the outcome of the peoples left behind by it, regardless of his resonance with their plight when Soviet tyranny was underway. If that's not criticism enough, then his negligence of exploring the details of the post-Stalin period represent a tendency to focus on the most violent parts of the regime's history - in an attempt to most easily categorize the Union's larger legacy as one of terrorism and purges, and therefore further the triumphant arrogance of itself-tattered Western Democratic liberalism. Figes' model could be used as inspiration in the future, to construct histories of the USSR's emergence, existence, and downfall that judge the union's failure without ideological leanings, or perhaps from other points on the spectrum. But to end with, one must take a look at his ability to bring to our understanding of one of the objectively defined, pragmatically unravelled forms of social organization in human history, a metaphysical trope of utmost significance. This serves as a fitting testimony to his ability to bring in the unexpected, to understand the complexities of the Soviet past. This is perhaps why, Revolutionary Russia is a primer of unprecedented value - much like the more important works in Figes' oeuvre, it manages to being to light, what real, toiling, suffering, persecuted, and sometimes, purged individuals thought and felt, under the Soviet regime. It is therefore with Figes' take on how the Soviet Union altered it's people's perception of time, that this review ends: In Ideology and Utopia Karl Mannheim wrote about the tendency of Marxist revolutionaries to see time as a 'series of strategic points along a path to their revolution's end in a future paradise. Because this future is an active element of the present and defines the course of history, it gives meaning to everyday realities. PS: I would love it if someone could make available to me, a pack of belomorkanal cigarettes.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    More storytelling than analytical. Figes tends to forget his thesis frequently over the course of his work. While working through Revolutionary Russia one can see why Figes had the idea of a continuous revolution, but one gets the impression that there were either numerous revolutions unrelated to the ones that came directly before each new one, or, instead of, and more realistic, one revolution, there was evolution of what not only the events of 1917 meant but what Communism means. Figes could More storytelling than analytical. Figes tends to forget his thesis frequently over the course of his work. While working through Revolutionary Russia one can see why Figes had the idea of a continuous revolution, but one gets the impression that there were either numerous revolutions unrelated to the ones that came directly before each new one, or, instead of, and more realistic, one revolution, there was evolution of what not only the events of 1917 meant but what Communism means. Figes could have quite easily divided up the one revolution into more stages than just the three he identifies. Given the one hundred year time frame, Figes faced an uphill climb to show there was only one revolution and he loses his way early on, particularly when identifies that Stalin is out for himself and power and not Lenin's dream, that Stalin simply used the idea of Lenin to his (Stalin's) advantage. Additionally, very little of the book deals with post-Stalin Russia and this is perhaps because Figes knows he is stretching to try and support his thesis. Overall, this is a quaint and simple look at a significant event in world history and the impact on the people of Russia over the remainder of the twentieth century. It serves as a nice introduction for anyone just getting interested in the topic, especially when one considers what Putin et al are currently doing in Europe. The book actually serves as a good follow up to Alex Wood's short pamphlet The Origins of the Russian Revolution, 1861 - 1917 (Wood himself is influenced by a previous and more in-depth work of Figes' on the Russian Revolution called A People's Tragedy). An easy read with no new information and that does not quite live up to the task it sets for itself.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Samuel A. Tuohy

    Having been ignorant of Russia´s past for far too long, I made the decision to purchase Orlando Figes general overview of easily the most eventful and pernicious chunk of the country´s history. Generally, I do not read history books as the writer usually fails to draw me in - That is not, however, the historians fault most of the time, disregarding bombast for concise is actually desirable. However, Figes is a brilliant writer, entertaining and inocular who deserves utmost obeisance for this com Having been ignorant of Russia´s past for far too long, I made the decision to purchase Orlando Figes general overview of easily the most eventful and pernicious chunk of the country´s history. Generally, I do not read history books as the writer usually fails to draw me in - That is not, however, the historians fault most of the time, disregarding bombast for concise is actually desirable. However, Figes is a brilliant writer, entertaining and inocular who deserves utmost obeisance for this compact work. Although it deals with 100 years of history in 500 pages, the writer somehow does not make it feel rushed or brushed over. I have completed this reading with a solid, general understanding of Russian insurrections over the years. Figes has made me want to delve even deeper into the history of Russia - which is made easier by the author providing a helpful booklist at the reference section!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mikhail

    Just can't finish it. Stopped with about 50 pages left, utter tripe. At least it's light reading. I don't quite understand how this won so much praise. This book is incredibly biased, and there are so many sources missing. Oh, the NKVD boiled people's hands? How would that even work? Do you just hold them there or is there a mysterious contraption? And how about statements like "no aid was given to areas affected by famine [of the 30s]", which is just a blatant lie? There are often numbers provid Just can't finish it. Stopped with about 50 pages left, utter tripe. At least it's light reading. I don't quite understand how this won so much praise. This book is incredibly biased, and there are so many sources missing. Oh, the NKVD boiled people's hands? How would that even work? Do you just hold them there or is there a mysterious contraption? And how about statements like "no aid was given to areas affected by famine [of the 30s]", which is just a blatant lie? There are often numbers provided (for example NKVD informers in cities), but no sources on those numbers. There are many examples like that. Very very few sources (and the ones that are given only cover quotes that are often times unrelated and are only inserted to prove the author's assumption or a point he is making). Sources provided are unreliable (Trotsky or Khruschev, both of whom had hatreds for Stalin for personal reasons, are not valid sources of information when it comes to Stalin's personality or achievements). And the feeling of "socialism bad capitalism good" is prevalent throughout the whole book. When Figes talks about USSR industrialising and living conditions improving, that is somehow "socialism in retreat". When he analyses overall impact of the era, he claims that "seventy centuries of communism ruined russia", although it's precisely the collapse of communism that ruined it. To sum it up in two words (and pardon my ideological lingo) - bourgeoise propaganda. A good history book should not be the author's interpretation of events.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Vikas Datta

    Economic distress, political repression, revolution... A wonderfully incisive analysis of a century of Russian history and politics, which establishes the continuity among Russian rulers - the Romanovs, the communists and the others - and how this proud and great land has lived - and often suffered - under various ideologies of the Right and the Left , absolute monarchist, communist, Jacobin and great powerist.... A must read for anyone interested in this topic as Figes encapsulates the broad tr Economic distress, political repression, revolution... A wonderfully incisive analysis of a century of Russian history and politics, which establishes the continuity among Russian rulers - the Romanovs, the communists and the others - and how this proud and great land has lived - and often suffered - under various ideologies of the Right and the Left , absolute monarchist, communist, Jacobin and great powerist.... A must read for anyone interested in this topic as Figes encapsulates the broad trends in robust prose

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anh Le

    Wonderful introductory text with a broad synthesis and an argument in place written by one of the leading historians of the Soviet Union.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gene

    A great introduction to the events and figures of the time period, and a good entry point to Figes' more established works. A great introduction to the events and figures of the time period, and a good entry point to Figes' more established works.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    This book is a great introduction to the political history of the Soviet Union. Orlando Figes has written in depth on the history of Russia and the Soviet Union for many years, and has drawn on that corpus of work to write an up-to-date narrative of the birth, life and death of the Russian revolutionary experiment. Figes, using apposite quotes, anecdotes and even jokes ("Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Socialism is the opposite."), describes in a series of short chapters the pre-rev This book is a great introduction to the political history of the Soviet Union. Orlando Figes has written in depth on the history of Russia and the Soviet Union for many years, and has drawn on that corpus of work to write an up-to-date narrative of the birth, life and death of the Russian revolutionary experiment. Figes, using apposite quotes, anecdotes and even jokes ("Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Socialism is the opposite."), describes in a series of short chapters the pre-revolutionary ferment in Russia, the 1905 revolution, both revolutions in 1917, the evolution of the Revolution through the Civil War, NEP, Stalinism, The Great Patriotic War, Kruschev and on until the final collapse in 1991. From the view of the present day, the history of Soviet Russia reads like a tragedy. The ruthlessness of the early revolutionaries, Trotsky in particular, at least had the "excuse" of the Civil War on which to hang their crimes. No such "excuse" can cover the crimes of Stalin, who was little more than a gangster, suspicious of everyone and prepared to kill millions to ensure his power. His paranoia was the source of The Great Terror in the 1930s, and was a major reason Russia was so unprepared for war with Germany when it came. There is no doubt that Stalin ranks highly in the pantheon of monsters of human history. The ideological problems of the Revolution are sketched out in this book quite well. The Bolsheviks always had a problem with the fact that it was not the urban proletariat that drove the revolution (according to Marx's formula), and they had a problematic relationship with the peasant class. The peasants were always seen as potentially reactionary, and the Bolsheviks feared the hold that class had over the agricultural output of the nation. These fears drove the thinking behind the disastrous collectivization policies, which not only destroyed Russian agriculture, but also Russian peasant culture. The failure of collectivization is demonstrated by Figes with the following fact: by the end of the 1970s peasant's own small garden plots, which they were allowed to tend when not working on the collective farm, were producing 40% of the Soviet Union's pork and poultry, 42% of its fruit and over 50% of its potatoes - from only 4% of the country's agricultural land. Allying the above statistics with one other - that by the early 1980s the Soviet Union was spending 15% of its budget on defence, clearly shows that the country was economically unsustainable. Figes could have written more on the economics of Soviet Communism, but he does show that it was in an effort to improve economic output that Gorbachev loosened the shackles of political expression and opened government archives during the period of perestroika and glasnost. However, once the floodgates were opened. the CPSU was consumed in the deluge that followed. Revolutionary Russia is a great introductory history of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. Easy to read, and with a useful further reading section, it's a great place to start exploring this epoch. Check out my other reviews at http://aviewoverthebell.blogspot.com.au/

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    The workmanlike prose of this book serves well the epic narrative it tells. Capturing one hundred years of impossibly fraught history in under three hundred pages obviously requires a terrific synthesis of sources, events, personages, periods and so forth - and to my novice mind Figes nails it. (Though of course those more knowledgeable about Russian history might prefer a more detailed or thorough analysis of certain aspects of it.) Wafts of nasty, ghastly Trumpism pervade the knuckleheaded tota The workmanlike prose of this book serves well the epic narrative it tells. Capturing one hundred years of impossibly fraught history in under three hundred pages obviously requires a terrific synthesis of sources, events, personages, periods and so forth - and to my novice mind Figes nails it. (Though of course those more knowledgeable about Russian history might prefer a more detailed or thorough analysis of certain aspects of it.) Wafts of nasty, ghastly Trumpism pervade the knuckleheaded totalitarianism recounted in this narrative: Stalin—a narcissist perpetually paranoid about his intellectual inferiority—is described as a rude, crude, vengeful man preoccupied with petty slights who can only bully his way into power; Lenin states, ‘I suggest that the comrades think about a way to remove Stalin from the post and replace him with someone who has...greater tolerance, greater loyalty, greater courtesy, and consideration to comrades, less capriciousness, etc.’ Ugh. It gets worse. With a verbatim precursor to our American moron’s words to the U.N. about North Korea, Hitler vows that Moscow will be ‘totally destroyed.’ We also hear with sinking hearts what a dangerous and ignorant leader breeds: violent fathers, oppressive husbands, despotic bosses, these ‘little Stalins found in every sphere of Soviet life.’ Anastas Mikoyan, one of Stalin’s closest statesman, sums up the ‘leadership’ of the period best when he admits that ‘it was clear that the country was not being run by a legal government, but by a group of gangsters.’ And as a sort of astonishing corroboration of this truth we learn in a parenthetical aside that Gorbachev was the ‘first leader since Lenin with a University degree.’ The good news? Literature. Amid all the blood and corruption and suffering and lies and and lost lives of the Soviet era, Figes charts the crucial, cathartic, revelatory power that the written word had on and for the beleaguered citizens, ‘In no other country did literature attain as much authority—as the voice and conscience of the people—as it did in Soviet Russia.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Francisco

    When tackling books about recent history, particularly history laden with ideological context and where the worldview of the author really makes a difference on how historical events are portrayed and judged, there is always a need to be cautious. Figes clearly doesn't like Communism or even Socialism, and although I can't really fault him in what comes to the simple enumeration of historical events, there is a clear western capitalist slant to the way he writes. He refuses to engage with what h When tackling books about recent history, particularly history laden with ideological context and where the worldview of the author really makes a difference on how historical events are portrayed and judged, there is always a need to be cautious. Figes clearly doesn't like Communism or even Socialism, and although I can't really fault him in what comes to the simple enumeration of historical events, there is a clear western capitalist slant to the way he writes. He refuses to engage with what he calls "revisionist historians", makes very judgemental asides and goes so far as quoting jokes about Soviet Russia as a way to gauge the people's sentiment towards the regime. That's the height of anecdotal evidence. but ok. If you are aware of these things when reading the book, however, you do get a blow by blow of the events of 100 years from the start of the revolutionary process to the fall of the union. It is therefore a useful overview of events, and you have to take his "opinions" with a grain of salt.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ben Thurley

    It's a sturdily written and relatively compact overview of 100 years of Russian history, 1891-1991 (although the first 50 years of this period get roughly two-thirds of the book's word count). The marketing hype of the work as An original reading of the Russian Revolution, examining it not as a single event but as a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams both oversells the work (it's a fairly textbook history) and indicates something of the reductionist approach Figes takes It's a sturdily written and relatively compact overview of 100 years of Russian history, 1891-1991 (although the first 50 years of this period get roughly two-thirds of the book's word count). The marketing hype of the work as An original reading of the Russian Revolution, examining it not as a single event but as a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams both oversells the work (it's a fairly textbook history) and indicates something of the reductionist approach Figes takes to some of his material (a cycle of violence). Helpful. But not revolutionary.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hope

    This was a good introduction to the Russian Revolution. But it had its faults. It’s a short book with short chapters that give the basic of the history so in that regard, it was easy to read. However, there were moments when I would squint my eyes at some things Figes would say. When he would make certain wild claims about someone’s actual thoughts without any references to where it was said. Instead of making it known that he’s speculating on someone’s true motives, he would just write it out li This was a good introduction to the Russian Revolution. But it had its faults. It’s a short book with short chapters that give the basic of the history so in that regard, it was easy to read. However, there were moments when I would squint my eyes at some things Figes would say. When he would make certain wild claims about someone’s actual thoughts without any references to where it was said. Instead of making it known that he’s speculating on someone’s true motives, he would just write it out like it’s a fact. That rubbed me the wrong way. Although this took me a while to read, I really enjoyed it and it got me interested in reading more on certain topics, in particular about Stalin.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Grant

    I am not an expert on Revolutionary Russia but I find it rather interesting to read and learn about, which is why I picked this book up (that and it was $10 for a hardcover). I did have some prior knowledge with the content from learning about Russian Revs in high school. That being said it was especially informative. Although, my only critic is that it did not have any in-text citations. And when reading about factual evidence I want to see those damn citations. All in all, it was an enjoyable I am not an expert on Revolutionary Russia but I find it rather interesting to read and learn about, which is why I picked this book up (that and it was $10 for a hardcover). I did have some prior knowledge with the content from learning about Russian Revs in high school. That being said it was especially informative. Although, my only critic is that it did not have any in-text citations. And when reading about factual evidence I want to see those damn citations. All in all, it was an enjoyable read and would give it a 4.5 stars (5 if not for my one critic).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Piker7977

    Figes provides a good narrative from the birth of Bolshevism through the fall of Communism. The thesis doesn't add up as it does not appear to be one continuous (or perpetual maybe?) revolution. For me, Lenin's revolution was the birth and Stalin set it in stone. The events after don't seem to fit as part of the initial events, but rather as the regime's coda. Is the American Revolution still happening? I don't think so. Revolutions create new governments or experiments. Those are the entities t Figes provides a good narrative from the birth of Bolshevism through the fall of Communism. The thesis doesn't add up as it does not appear to be one continuous (or perpetual maybe?) revolution. For me, Lenin's revolution was the birth and Stalin set it in stone. The events after don't seem to fit as part of the initial events, but rather as the regime's coda. Is the American Revolution still happening? I don't think so. Revolutions create new governments or experiments. Those are the entities that follow revolutionary birth pangs.

  27. 4 out of 5

    فلاح رحيم

    This is a new history of the Russian Revolution, written from a conservative point of view. The narrative line and the richness of the details make it thrilling read. The insights into the 100 years of revolutionary Russia covered (1891-1991) are quite necessary for the left in its attempt to save the critical sense in an age of mass populism. One of the major themes in the book: political legitimacy comes before social justice. How? Read it, it is quite convincing.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Olive Pierre

    Very good balance of informative detail and brevity that gives you a broad understanding of what happened in 100 years in 300 odd pages. Some familiarity with the period would help but isn't necessary - there's nothing you can't Google in a minute. More information about controversies like the holodomor would've been good but again, it's short for a history book and accessible too so I recommend it Very good balance of informative detail and brevity that gives you a broad understanding of what happened in 100 years in 300 odd pages. Some familiarity with the period would help but isn't necessary - there's nothing you can't Google in a minute. More information about controversies like the holodomor would've been good but again, it's short for a history book and accessible too so I recommend it

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrés Canella

    A straightforward, sometimes dry, retelling of the Soviet revolution from its origins to its eventual demise. Figes spends an inordinate amount of time on the Lenin and Stalin years and very little on the post-Stalin to 1991 era. As such, it feels a bit incomplete or selective in its focus. It could also do with a few maps and a glossary of terms for the tens of different assemblies and organizations in Tsarist and Revolutionary periods.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    3.5 stars I throughly enjoyed this book, it reads very well and is as informative as a book spanning 100 years of history can be in 400 pages! Was a lovely interlude book while I read other novels alongside. My only qualm is the overall lack of reference, various opinions Figes introduces into the prose, almost from the perspective of what seems to be a moderate right-wing viewpoint. If approached with some skepticism, this book is just what was needed as an introduction to the subject, from whi 3.5 stars I throughly enjoyed this book, it reads very well and is as informative as a book spanning 100 years of history can be in 400 pages! Was a lovely interlude book while I read other novels alongside. My only qualm is the overall lack of reference, various opinions Figes introduces into the prose, almost from the perspective of what seems to be a moderate right-wing viewpoint. If approached with some skepticism, this book is just what was needed as an introduction to the subject, from which I hope to explore more of in due course.

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