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Former People: The Destruction of the Russian Aristocracy Paperback – Unabridged, 9 May 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Unabridged edition (9 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330520296
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330520294
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 97,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"[An] excellent history . . . A sobering tale of the complexities of revolution, told with clarity and sympathy."--"The Independent" "Absorbing . . . How could one ever think that these people were monsters? They were gallant souls; and Smith's book memorialises them beautifully."--Mark Le Fanu, "Spear's" "Smith re-creates what [the Russian nobility] experienced with an intimacy that brings the whole history of these years vividly and grotesquely alive."--Robert Legvold, "Foreign Affairs" "Smith has performed a real service in drawing attention to this widely overlooked segment of the Russian population and the horrifying persecutions its members endured. His book inspires awe and pity in equal measure, and expands our understanding of a forgotten people. It's hard to believe that this it he first book of its kind devoted to the 10 percent of White Russians who remained in the society Union after the revolution and civil war and we can hope it will lead to others."--Michael Scammell, "The New York Review of Books""With urgency and precision, [Smith] chronicles the fate of the nobility from the dawn of the revolution . . . He is invested in their (former) cause, and narrates the events of their lives with passion . . . "Former People "is a thorough, extensively sourced history, and also something of a spiritual restitution."--Yelena Akhtiorskaya, "The New Republic""Although many of the aristocrats thought the end of their caste 'obvious and unavoidable, ' few foresaw the destruction of a way of life. Smith's engaging and, at times, heartbreaking account is an essential record of that loss."--"The New Yorker"""Former People" is ultimately an incredibly readable, vivid, emotional human story of survival, accommodation, and reconciliation."--Sean Guillory, "New Books Network""Engrossing . . . with richly detailed event and anecdote."--Liesl Schillinger, "The New York Times""An engaging and absorbing book."--Jennifer Siegel, "The Walle

Book Description

The last great untold story of the Russian Revolution

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Customer Reviews

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118 of 121 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 Nov. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Although I have read many books about Russian history and, in particular the Russian Revolution, this is a story that I don't think has ever been told before. The term 'Former People' was, rather chillingly, applied to members of the Russian Aristocracy after the revolution and this book tells of how the Russian elite was dispossesed and destroyed in the years between 1917 and WWII. The author has taken two major Russian families of this class - the Shevemetevs and the Golitsyns - to illustrate what happened to a whole group of people, allowing us to hear the very human stories of the catastrophe which overtook them.

The book begins in the years before the revolution, when a small educated elite were the rulers of a largely rural and feudal Russia. As the author calls them, they were "isolated islands of privilege in a sea of poverty and resentment." Many members of the nobility understood, and even sympathised, with the violence that erupted. Even members of the aristocracy who benefited from the system looked for restraint and ways to ease poverty and worried about the weakness of Tsar Nicholas II. When revolution eventually came, the aristocracy, alongside most of the population, blamed the Empress, and Rasputin, for the downfall. Count Sergei Shevemetev wrote, "the abnormal power of that woman (Alexandra) has led us precisely to that which any had foreseen." There were members of the aristocracy who welcomed the revolution and the abdication of the Tsar with relief - some who even tried to march in solidarity with the workers, but they were soon made aware that they were not welcome. Not only were they not welcome to support the revolution, they were, like it or not, enemies of it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By faun070 on 16 Mar. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is as noble as its subjects - just for giving their stories the attention they deserve. Following the 1917 revolution up to WWII, the fate of Russia's nobility as a group matches that horrid fate of a certain other people, but is less well-recorded. Thoroughly researched and ably written, this book zooms in on two noble families, the Golitsyns and the Sheremetievs (and the related Trubetskoys), both tremendously wealthy and influential during the Imperial days. The stories, anecdotes and events pertaining to each and every family member after said days, taunt your ideas of physical and psychological maltreatment possible to human beings. The book praises the resilience of the former people, as they came to be known during the bolshevik regime, and explains how cleverly that regime pulled the strings of the peasants and workers to have them help exterminate the nobility: promises of getting to keep stolen land and properties and facilitating that process doesn't bring out the best in people. True, from their days as serfs the lower class were exploited in the old regime (as they were again later) and the book describes how the troubled nobles, in spiritual fashion, appear to have acknowledged this, believing themselves to be the generation to settle ancestral accounts. One anecdote that haunts me is that of a grave robbery in a monastery, when the thieving Bolsheviks kept hearing ghostly singing and didn't dare to go back. So far the many assets of this book. The weak points come with the amount of stories there are to tell - and are told. Douglas Smith has delved into the Sheremetiev archives before, the result of which was wonderfully told in his book `The Pearl.Read more ›
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Lance Grundy TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 23 Nov. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In 1917, on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, there were nearly two million so-called 'nobles' living in Russia. A diverse group, they had essentially governed the country for over 500 years and their contribution to the nation was immense. Most of the country's artists, poets, musicians, writers and military leaders came from the noble class - as did many of the scientists and industrialists under whose tutelage Russia had experienced phenomenal levels of industrial growth [by 1914 Russia was experiencing greater industrial growth than Great Britain, Germany and the United States]. Paradoxically, the noble class also produced many of the revolutionary socialists who would bring about the upheaval which would ultimately destroy them. Indeed, Lenin himself was a noble who, according to the cousin of the Russian writer Nabokov, "spoke in the manner of upper-class, salon snobs".

When the Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution they declared a 'war on privilege' and legally abolished all classes of nobility. Making no distinction between 'good' or 'bad' nobles, between 1917 and 1941 they launched several successive waves of terror against anyone they considered to be "bourgeois" - including the so-called 'progressive' or left-wing nobles who had opposed Tsarism and supported reform. Publically vilified as "class enemies", "socially alien elements", "remnants of the old bourgeois world" or "former people", tens of thousands of them were killed. As the situation inside Russia began to deteriorate many "former people" managed to escape. Many more though did not. This book tells their story.
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