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My Past and Thoughts: The Memoirs of Alexander Herzen Paperback – 1 Jul 1992

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Product details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New edition edition (1 July 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520042107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520042100
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3.2 x 21 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 999,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Herzen is the Culmination of Russian Romantic Thought 2 Feb 2002
By Kenneth S. Cargill - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the years before Lenin and the harsh, bleak application of socialist thought to autocracy there existed a group of philosophers who believed in the beauty of the commune and its cooperation with a Republican government. Britain had Robert Owen and his factory town, the French had Fourier (the phalanstery) and Proudhon among others, and the Russians had Herzen. Here existed a time where the leading academics saw folly in violent revolution, and Herzen was by no means a demogogue willing to mobilize the Russian peasants in a siege of Moscow like a simple Pugachev or a Decembrist.
This perhaps explains Herzen's stern dislike of Marx and Engels, for he saw too much of the Robespierre in them and their ideas.
Herzen believed in democracy almost in a modern American sense. Indeed, much of the work is laced with arguments in disfavor to the flowering of socialism in Europe, citing particularly the cruelty of the police in France during 1848: "The Latin world does not like freedom, it only likes to sue for it." Certainly the tendencies of the Germans were no more progressive either. Instead at one point in the text the author suggests that those who "can put off from himself the old Adam of Europe and be born again a new Jonathan had better take the first steamer to some place in Wisconsin or Kansas."
The selections and abridgement of the text emphasize Herzen's basic belief about reform: revolution is gradual. One has to breed engrained stupidity out of the ruling class and make laws that better everyone, like the English and Americans. Laws make a better society, not people: "The Englishman's liberty is more in his institutions than in himself or his conscience. His freedom is the 'common law.'"
The text covers the demise of Herzen, culminating in his rejection on his deathbed by the new revolutionary ("terrorist") camps in Russia, headed ideologically by Chernyshevsky and best seen in the widespread incendiary and murderous practices of Sergei Nechaev. These are all topics of the years after Herzen's death, the tragic history of the latter half of the nineteenth century and the prelude to the pall of 1917.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Some Observations 27 Jan 2007
By Frederick D. Friedman - Published on
Format: Paperback
One finds oneself drawn to Herzen. He comes off as urbane, generous, strong, empathetic to those suffering under the Tsar (and all tyrannies), dedicated to the cause of bringing freedom to his homeland and a wonderful writer. He seems to have known, or at least bumped into, all the luminaries of the Russia and the Europe of his time.

This abridgement by Dwight McDonald, dating I believe from 1968, is of its time. The editor tells us that he excised those portions of the narrative dealing with Herzen's marriage, his wife's affair with a close friend of Herzen's, the loss of his mother and son in the sinking of a passenger boat and the death of his wife shortly thereafter. I wish that material had been included. I suppose an abridgement done in 2007 might include only those portions and nothing else, as we have less high seriousness and more interest in scandal and tragedy. In any case, I would have loved to read Herzen on these more personal topics.

I should add that it may be my spotty background in 19th Century European history but I was lost any number of times as I read. Herzen is telling us about contemporary men, events, controversies and schools of thought. There are numerous footnotes identifying the people he refers to but I needed more--no doubt the references would have been understood by any educated reader at the time but that was then.

That said, I'm glad I made the effort and I wish I could have met him.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Herzen in Brief 10 Oct 2007
By Philip Brantingham - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is no question that it is good to have this edition of Alexander Herzen's autobiography, "My Past and Thoughts," though it is considerably abridged. The work is deservedly praised as one of the great autobiographies of the West. Well written and colorful, it acquaints us with the mind and spirit of one of the most important political figures of the nineteenth century. Herzen, darling of radicals and nemesis of conservatives (wrongly, I believe), is a seminal thinker and activist of his time.
Herzen, a Russian by birth but an internationalist in spirit, knew most of the radicals of the era, Bakunin, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Louis Blanc. Yet he was in a way not one of them. He was too hardheaded and too reasonable--he knew what worked and what didn't. Raised in autocratic Russia, he had experienced prison, exile--and fame as a writer.
This edition has been abridged by Dwight MacDonald, unfortunately leaving out some crucial parts, for example his relations with his wife, Natalie, and other more domestic issues. However, the original appeared in five volumes, and something had to be excised to make this edition manageable. Those who wish to read the complete autobiography should look up the Knopf four-volume edition of 1968. Nonetheless, this edition will do for most of us. It's a gem.

Philip Brantingham
Chicago, IL
21 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Another great writer than Americans never get exposed to.... 19 Oct 2000
By J. Michael Showalter - Published on
Format: Paperback
Herzen is one of the many authors whom Americans never are exposed to and rightfully should be. He was a great thinker; he writes lucidly (although tending toward personal speculation.... you've got to remember-- he was living at a similar time to Tolstoy who does the same thing....) and CAN BE surprisingly contemporary for someone so long dead....
It's understandable why Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Solzenitzen (sp?) are much more widely read than he is: they are better novellists and never got cursed by the fact that they were socialists (such a dirty word in the US!) BUT, Herzen is definately someone whom anyone trying to pawn themselves off as a psuedo-intellectual should read.
One problem with this book: some of his best stuff is obviously just not in here (as it is his memoirs....) His philosophy is brilliant; some of his letters to his son are as moving as any I can think of (excepting perhaps Rilke's to the young poet...)
His memoirs are a definate must-read.... for whomever is reading this review.... Just buy the book!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant, overlooked book 24 Mar 2011
By Geoff Puterbaugh - Published on
Format: Paperback
Alexander Herzen was truly one of a kind, a splendid and amazingly well-informed conversationalist, one of the leaders of the radical Russian forces (from exile in London), and a very compelling writer.

Yet virtually nobody (!) in the U.S. has even heard of him. They confuse him with Herzl or Hertz (the guy with the cycles). I'm surely as "guilty" as anyone; I only stumbled across this book in Joseph Frank's biography of Dostoevsky --- one of the many gifts of that biography.

If nothing else, these memoirs of the immensely wealthy family Herzen was born into will make you understand two things with utter clarity: (1) How to be miserable though rich --- Herzen's father was one of the most miserable and bitter creatures on earth, God knows why (2) Why social conditions in Russia had to change. Herzen includes an unforgettable story about how his father literally destroyed the life of one of his serfs, and having done so, proceeded to "free" the broken man in his will --- which only amounted to getting rid of him, since the broken man shuffled off and was never heard from again.

This is a brilliant, moving, wonderful book. It's a great pity that it's out of print. It almost makes me want to go look for the four-volume unabridged translation by Constance Garnett!
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