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Comrades: Communism: A World History [Unabridged] [Paperback]

Robert Service
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 May 2008

Almost two decades have passed since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR. Robert Service, one of our finest historians of modern Russia, sets out to examine the history of communism throughout the world. His uncomfortable conclusion - and an important message for the twenty-first century – is that although communism in its original form is now dead or dying, the poverty and injustice that enabled its rise are still dangerously alive. Unsettling, compellingly written and brilliantly argued, this is a superb work of history and one that demands to be read.

‘Bears all the hallmarks of a classic work of historical literature … the true international legacy of communism [is] analysed to magisterial effect in this exhilarating work’ Hwyel Williams New Statesman

‘One of the best-ever studies of the subject … a remarkable accomplishment’ Economist

‘An outstanding book, written with grace and style’ Daily Telegraph

‘[A] brilliantly distilled world history of communism … Confronted by Service's amazing array of evidence to show that communism could only ever have flourished under conditions of extreme and all-pervasive oppression, only the determinedly softheaded would try to argue with him’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Unabridged edition (2 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330439685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330439688
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 163,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Service is a Fellow of the British Academy and of St Antony's College, Oxford. He has written several books, including the highly acclaimed Lenin: A Biography, Russia: Experiment with a People, Stalin: A Biography and Comrades: A History of World Communism, as well as many other books on Russia's past and present. His most recent book, Trotsky, has been shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize. Married with four children, he lives in London.

Product Description


'This hugely ambitious book attempts to piece together the great sweep of Communist world history...' -- Culture Sunday Times

'communism in classy canapé format: lively, accessible' -- Evening Standard

'this study of global communism makes for timely reading. Service's book has a dazzling range...'
-- Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Robert Service is the author of the highly acclaimed Lenin: A Biography, A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, Russia: Experiment with a People and Stalin: A Biography, as well as many other books on Russia’s past and present. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of St Antony’s College, Oxford. He is married with four children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
78 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The People's Book is deepest red 17 July 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For those historians who like to think big, and take the brave decision to write a book which tackles a very large concept, a long period of time or controversial idea, it is difficult not to fall in to a trap of excessive simplicity or letting the bigger picture slip away amidst a barrage of details. Few subjects are as complex, debatable or relevant as communism, and this is the story of an ideology that changed the world.

It is also a subject on which it is impossible to be neutral. Communism as a monstrous ideology which led to more deaths than Facism, a brutal system implemented by thuggish dictators? Or a utopian idea whose time was not right, or that was implemented in the wrong places? A brave attempt at challenging age old iniquities, or an concept with a foolish disregard for human weaknesses. With this in mind it is important to note that Robert Service does have a bias, but that all historians do, and he does his job as an academic historian well with a thorough grasp of the sources available.

Some have commented that Service does not come across as a fan of communism. To be fair this might be true, but then given the raft of evidence at hand of the excesses in the Soviet system this is unsurprising. What is more important is that as far as possible Service approaches the subject dispassionately and does not become a slave to an ideological dogma. Instead he is thorough in his research, and lets the evidence speak for itself.

Unsurprisingly he is an expert in the history of Russia, a fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford and was one of the first historians to gain access to the Soviet archives after the collapse of the USSR.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced history of an inspiring idea 28 Dec 2011
By Magic Lemur VINE VOICE
It is notoriously difficult to get a neutral view of communism. Read any review of Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto and you will frequently find them either awe-struck or militantly against.

Although some reviewers say this book in anti-Communist, I sincerely believe that it is one of the best and most balanced scholarly (see appendix) accounts of Communism I've read. Furthermore, it contains valuable insights into the merits and flaws of the theory through to how different leaders put them into practice.

As the most prominent example of the fairness of this book there is the final chapter. I was struck by how little Service sought to dance on the grave of communism, instead mentioning how there continue to be successful communist movements in Kerala (India) and pseudo-communism in the hills of Mexico.
Also for balance, Service goes through the various crimes of capitalism too and the overwhelming impression I got was that, despite the tyrannical excesses of Communism, there is still potential there and unfulfilled ends to accomplish.

Aside from issues of fairness, I found the book a compelling read; the type of book you read in a week and skip TV to read more of.
In addition his portrayals of leaders such as Castro, Tito and Mao are vivid and his judgements are sound. Crucially it gives you a good feeling of what Stalin's Russia or Mao's China was like and, unlike other books on the subject, doesn't dwell too much on issues of Good/Evil, Gulags, etc.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
With this book, Mr Service has performed the incredibly important task of trying to bring together a huge and wide-ranging subject, and I believe that he has performed this aim largely successfully. He records the various changes within the world communist movement, focusing primarily on the Soviet Union (which is unsurprising, considering that the USSR was the largest and most important communist state). However, this is by no means a perfect book, and I would argue that Service has made many, many mistakes which (in my eyes at least), have devalued him as a scholarly historian. Firstly, he focuses almost entirely on Marxism, which, fair enough, has been the most significant strain of communism, but this is at the detriment of the many non-Marxist and pre-Marxist forms of communism (the latter of which he skims over very lightly at the beginning). Secondly he places too much emphasis on certain relatively unimportant aspects of communism, for instance writing a whole chapter on American communism in the 1920s, something that simply wasn't warranted considering the relative unimportance of this small movement in what is supposedly a "world history". This is just one example of where he seems to have a very American-centric view of the world, presumably because this book is aimed at a western audience.

I am no communist myself, but I do believe in fair and unbiased accounts of history, and this is something where I believe Mr Service falls flat on his face. This book reads like propaganda. Consistently, on essentially every page of this work he has written about communist history in a very negative light, and it even pervades his use of language.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars More than just a world history
Robert Service has provided a decent, detailed, yet highly readable account of the world communist movement, that leaves no stone unturned. Read more
Published 14 months ago by A. J. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview of a vast topic
Like Communism itself, this text of this book is dominated by the history of the USSR from 1917 to 1991. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Sussex by the Sea
5.0 out of 5 stars Comrades
Comrades is probably the best one-volume summary of the rise and fall of Communism you will find. Certainly overshadowed in specific detail by books focusssing on certain leaders... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Paul Reynolds
5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced history of an inspiring idea
It is notoriously difficult to get a neutral view of communism. Read any review of Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto and you will frequently find them either awe-struck or... Read more
Published on 10 Jun 2011 by Magic Lemur
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative
A decent and quite well written run through of the history of communism and communists.
This is a huge subject and for me ,who is by no means an expert, the book was just the... Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2010 by The Emperor
5.0 out of 5 stars good reading
i have really enjoyed reading this book so it has opened up my mind a views thank you so very much
Published on 15 Oct 2009 by wolfie o'riordan
4.0 out of 5 stars Anti-Communist but fair history of Communism
Robert Service, well-known conservative historian of Russia, has undertaken a difficult task in attempting to write a concise and accessible history of Communism as a political... Read more
Published on 24 May 2009 by M. A. Krul
2.0 out of 5 stars This is history?
This book receives two stars for having a good contents, index and references for further reading and ease of access for students or readers wishing to make a quick reference. Read more
Published on 28 Sep 2008 by Lark
2.0 out of 5 stars Biased
I was really looking forward to 'Comrades' arriving but after reading the introduction was already beginning to feel a little disappointed. Read more
Published on 20 July 2008 by P. Duval
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