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A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 [Paperback]

Orlando Figes
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 July 1997
Vast in scope, based on exhaustive original research, and written with passion, narrative skill and human sympathy, A People's Tragedy is the definitive account of the Russian Revolution for a new generation. It has won the Wolfson History Prize, the W. H. Smith Literary Award, and the Longman/History Today Book of the Year Award.

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A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 + Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia + The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
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Product details

  • Paperback: 960 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New Ed edition (31 July 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071267327X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712673273
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 15.7 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 93,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. His books include The Whisperers, A People's Tragedy and Natasha's Dance. He lives in Cambridge.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Written in a narrative style that captures both the scope and detail of the Russian revolution, Orlando Figes' history is certain to become one of the most important contemporary studies of Russia as it was at the beginning of the 20th century. With an almost cinematic eye, Figes captures the broad movements of war and revolution, never losing sight of the individuals whose lives make up his subject. He makes use of personal papers and personal histories to illustrate the effects the revolution wrought on a human scale, while providing a convincing and detailed understanding of the role of workers, peasants, and soldiers in the revolution. He moves deftly from topics such as the grand social forces and mass movements that made up the revolution to profiles of key personalities and representative characters.

Figes' themes of the Russian revolution as a tragedy for the Russian people as a whole and for the millions of individuals who lost their lives to the brutal forces it unleashed make sense of events for a new generation of students of Russian history. Sympathy for the charismatic leaders and ideological theorising regarding Hegelian dialectics and Marxist economics--two hallmarks of much earlier writing on the Russian revolution--are banished from these clear-eyed, fair-minded pages of A People's Tragedy. The author's sympathy is squarely with the Russian people. That commitment, together with the benefit of historical hindsight, provides a standpoint Figes can take full advantage of in this masterful history.


"A memorably good book... A People's Tragedy combines dramatic power, absorbing narrative and magisterial scholarship - a magnificent tour de force." (Christopher Andrew Sunday Telegraph)

"I doubt if there is anyone in the world who knows the revolution as well as he does." (Norman Stone Sunday Times)

"Written with verve and enlivened by anecdote, this is a comprehensive, fair minded account... Figes' main objective is to put the masses back in their rightful place, and this he has triumphantly done... Profoundly researched, brilliantly written, full of wit, wisdom and humanity. It is by far the best history of the Russian Revolution I have ever read" (Frank McLynn Glasgow Herald)

"This books is not just a history; it is an item of history... Orlando Figes has taken the chance to display the very experience of revolution as it affected millions of ordinary Russians." (Neal Ascherson Independent on Sunday)

"It balances big ideas with vivid personal histories and must be the most moving account of the Russian Revolution since Doctor Zhivago." (Lucasta Miller Independent)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars long, tough but fascinating! 7 May 2012
By john
this was a long and sometimes tough read but also a fascinating one. what Figes has done here is give the world a complete account of a very long and complicated event in human history that is still misunderstood today. the russian revolution was a huge event in the 20th century, one whose legacy we still live with today. standing apart from other authors Figes has gone an extra mile here in not just writing about 1917 but does an entire history of russia from 1891 to 1924 in giving a total story of how the ideals of the revolution built and how the desire for change began. his writing style in engaging (and very witty in some parts) with there rearly being any dry moments as he tells an incredible story of human suffering, endurance and ultimately tragedy. if anyone here ever wishes to learn anything on russian history then this book is mandatory reading as it not only tells the story of the revolution but also of russians in general. be cautious as well because in parts this is a quite shocking book with many hideous stories of torture, cannibalism and human degradation that will shock any reader as we see just how cruel and animalistic we are capable of becoming. Figes has shown that if we are to ever learn from the revolution we must come to terms with what happened and that still has not happened as he says in the final sentence of his work
"the ghosts of 1917 have still not been laid to rest"
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes 22 Sep 2009
I've always wanted to make some sense of the chaos of Russian History in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and this book comes as close to this as it is humanly possible. In addition to providing a rich and detailed view of the events in the period under consideration Orlando Figes manages to answer convincingly such questions as "Who is the main villain behind the disasters that befell Russia in this period", and "Why, for all their failings, did the Bolsheviks ultimately prevail". One comes away from this book with the distinct feeling that history is not the product of random forces, but the result of follies and miscalculations of some of the actors of history as well as insights and audacity of others.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions 12 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Whoever reads this account of the Russian revolution will surely feel that after the tercentenary celebrations of Romanov rule in 1913 there was nothing actually carved in stone on the wall of fate. It is with hindsight that we can mouth the still prevailing Marxist perception of history where feudalism had to make way for capitalism with imperial aspirations which in turn must bow out when the workers of the world unite. In actual fact in 1913 we have a scenario where "the side" that makes the least mistakes is the side that must eventually prevail. Time and again it is shown that there were opportunities missed that could have changed the course of history.

Orlando Figes admits it took him six years to write his physically unwieldy 900 page tome which covers the social history of the period 1891-1924 as much as the political events that shaped it. It might have benefitted being conceived as two volumes, but either way it must be granted that Figes is not dry or dull and where he occasionally gives way to a narrative account his book becomes highly entertaining. For non-historians it is possible to get a bit confused after the October Revolution with all the balooning buraucratic changes that the Bolsheviks bring about in order to consolidate the Leninist position : apart from the trades unions and the Soviets where the grass-roots of the Party lay, there were the staff of the Central Committee, with nine departments, together with a Party Secretariat and a special organization bureau (Orgburo), the Cheka - or secret police - often somewhat independent of the Party itself, and Sovnarkom, the Council of the People's Commissars.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece in Narrative History 3 July 2011
By Antonis
There are few books on history that stand out in the way Orlando Figes' book does. A People's Tragedy is in simple words a masterpiece of narrative history. Figes takes the reader from the peasant communes of late 19th century Russia to Lenin's deathbed in 1924, in such a flawless, detailed analysis that one wonders if he is reading a book on history or a great work of literature.

And in a sense, A People's Tragedy is both. Orlando Figes is not only a distinguished researcher on the history of Russia, but also a master of narrative history. Reading this book, one can "see" the coronation of Nicholas II, the frustrated crowds filling the squares in 1905 and 1917, and the Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace in October. The detail and the extracts from primary sources which Figes uses throughout the book, bring the Russia of the early 20th century back to life. I could read pages and pages without getting tired - I found the book to have an excellent flow from one point to the next.

Orlando Figes combines both social history and individualist history in his analysis. Thus he addresses both the factors connected with the Russian society at large (culture, class divisions etc), and the factors that are connected with individual historical figures (Nicholas II, Lenin, Kerensky and so on).
Figes also uses the new Soviet archives that were at last opened for historians after the regime's collapase in 1991, shedding light in previously unresolved or debated historical issues. Furthermore, Figes addresses various historical controversies concerning specific events of the Russian Revolution, providing the views of left or right wing historians throughout the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, but highly readable, account of one of the greatest...
It’s a good time to re-visit the Russian Revolution, as we creep closer to the 100th anniversary, and with the distance of 20 years since the fall of Soviet Communism, better able... Read more
Published 6 hours ago by Julian Le Vay
5.0 out of 5 stars Study of the Tragedy of the Russian Revolution
Detailed study of the Revolution shows the Russian people to also be victims. Millions died in the upheavel and the responsibility rests with the criminals who planned, instigated... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nicodemus
4.0 out of 5 stars A huge and bloody book.
The Russian Revolution was a mess, according to this book and almost everything else I've heard about it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by R. Court
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed & fascinating study of this period
A comprehensive insight into this period of Russian history explaining the complexity and diversity of the Russian people which lead to the difficulty of unifying a common strategy... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Keith F. Sargent
5.0 out of 5 stars Text for A-level History
My 6th-form son needed this for a-level history background reading. Its very dense, but he seems to find it helpful.
Published 6 months ago by Shawboys
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive
I bought this as the definitive one-volume guide to the Russian Revolution. It didn't disappoint. This is thorough and all-encompassing. Read more
Published 7 months ago by ibn Aiyub
5.0 out of 5 stars History at it's best! A must read for anyone studying the Russian...
By far the best account on the Russian Revolution I've ever read. Blows away the arguments of marxist apologists for the revolution - that the revolution was somehow 'betrayed' by... Read more
Published 8 months ago by S. Mahmood
2.0 out of 5 stars unknown!
This book has been reccomended to me due to previous reading on the subject eg:
Conspirator-Lenin in exile by Helen Rappaport, Ekaterinburg also by Helen Rappaport. Read more
Published 10 months ago by jonnyreb
5.0 out of 5 stars A People's Tragedy
This is a well researched, well written book by an informed academic, a most useful book. Brilliant for dipping in and out of.
Published 11 months ago by NaturalPenRose
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for coursework
This book by Orlando Figes has been incredibly useful for my A-Level Coursework. There is incredible detail and it is full of primary sources. I would definitely recommend it!
Published 13 months ago by Hannah
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