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A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 Paperback – 31 Jul 1997

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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: 15.6 x 5.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 83,314 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.

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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)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Nichols on 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Julian Le Vay on 23 April 2014
Format: Paperback
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 to see how much of it was ‘Russian’ rather than ‘Revolutionary’.

This account, which only takes us as far as Lenin’s death in 1924, is at over 800 pages, not a book for those with short attention spans (or weak wrists) and the detail of factional fighting is best understood by readers who already know the story in outline. But it’s certainly not a slog – Figes style is easier than that of many academic historians, the story is inherently a gripping one and is enlivened with deadpan episodes of low farce amongst the tragedy. My favourite is when loyalist soldiers fight their way to the Winter Palace to support Grand Duke Mikhail in a last effort to save the monarch - only to be turned away because their boots were too dirty and it was feared they might damage the floor.

This is old fashioned history in several ways. For one thing, Figes write unashamedly from a point of view – that the triumph of Communism was a tragedy. And he is surely right to so – one could not more write dispassionately about the outcome than about the Nazi seizure of power, two dictatorships with equal claim to be the greatest source of human suffering in all history.
Old fashioned too in assuming that what individual leaders do can shape history.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By john on 7 May 2012
Format: Paperback
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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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By bostjanv on 22 Sept. 2009
Format: Paperback
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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