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Trotsky: A Biography Paperback – 14 Sep 2015

3.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 648 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (14 Sept. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674062256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674062252
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.2 x 22.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,365,291 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.

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Review

'The best biography of Trotsky to date... it disregards all sentimental nonsense and gives us the facts.'
--George Walden, Standpoint

`an outstanding, fascinating biography of this dazzling titan. It is as compelling as an adventure story - the ultimate rise and fall - but also revelatory as the scholarly revision of a historical reputation.'
--The Sunday Telegraph

`Seldom has the pathology of the revolutionary type, and its murderous consequences, been more mercilessly exposed than in this exemplary biography.' --Sunday Times Culture

`Drawing on much previously unreleased material, this is a scholarly work, but one with a light touch.'
--Huddersfield Daily Examiner

'balanced and thoroughly researched life of Trotsky by Robert Service, a British scholar of Soviet communism. Service knows the period's personalities inside out: he has already trawled the archives to write well-received biographies of Stalin and Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet state...Service paints a perceptive portrait.' --Financial Times

'In this astonishingly comprehensive book- Robert Service has trawled almost every archive on the planet that has any reference to Trotsky...This is a superb work of scholarship, and above all leaves the reader in no doubt as to the evil of Trotsky, not just in politics but in his personal life...if you seek to know about this crucial figure in the history of Marxism-Leninism, this book will tell you everything.' --Daily Telegraph

'Masterful new life of Trotsky. Yet the book is much more than a dry critique of Trotsky's place in the Communist pantheon. It is a pacy, compelling account of one of the most magnetic and gifted leaders of the Russian revolution.' --Mail on Sunday

'Robert Service's Trotsky is, as the author points out, the first full biography to be written by a non-Trotskyist...Trotsky is the final part of a triptych, and you can sense the author's enjoyment as he completes his heroic task.'
--Times Literary Supplement

'a fascinating biography of the revolutionary who was driven out and finally murdered by Starlin.'
--New Statesman

'Outstanding' --The Tablet

'Magisterial... One of the strengths of Robert Service's superb biography is the way it effortlessly incorporates new material that sheds light on the private life of a public figure who was careful to shape his image in his autobiographical writings.'
--The Jewish Chronicle

'Robert Service has uncovered a mass of new information, some of which makes for a pretty unattractive view of the man. Trotsky A Biography is sparkling on his political and personal travails, and indeed his crimes and follies.' --The Independent

'gripping new biography.'
--Catholic Herald

'This magisterial biography may be taken as a tarring of Trotsky with the brush of Bolshevism or proof that the spectre of communism is still at large.'
--Times Higher Education Supplement

`a fascinating study which is bound to become the definitive biography.' --East Riding News --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A riveting new biography of Leon Trotsky from the critically acclaimed author of Lenin and Stalin --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I am, I must admit, a fan of Trotsky, his ideas and ideology were the best of any communist leader and his intellect and rhetorical skill unmatched by almost any other man of the period. Despite this I can, unlike some of my obtuse comrades, accept that he was not flawless. He was brilliant but we must accept that he was also arrogant and brutal. The Cold Warriors such as Deutscher were eager to praise him as the arch-enemy of Stalin and the Soviets however this is not history but hagiography. This has changed and historians, both sides of the Iron Curtain, are presenting him not as a deity but a man, talented but far from perfect.
Fabulously written and wonderfully informative.
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Format: Hardcover
I have now finished Service's book. Well, I have to agree with some of the critical comments above. It is written in a rather pedestrian style, and yes, Service does come across as snide in parts. He doesn't much like his subject, that's clear. As for the alleged errors of fact, I'm not qualified to pronounce on that, but in a book of 500 densely written pages (excluding notes and index) it would be surprising if there were no errors of fact in it. These complaints may be nit-picking. Readers like myself who know little of Trotsky the man are more interested in getting an overall picture of what made him tick, than in a catalogue of details.

The main thing I would look for in any book about a subject like Trotsky, who seems to inspire adulation and loathing in equal measure, is that the writer should attempt, however unsuccessfully, to present both sides of the picture. This is something that Service does, however grudgingly. His very dislike of Trotsky means that his praise of the man's achievements and personal qualities has to be taken seriously. Conversely, his criticisms are backed up with quotes which seem to go some way to prove the point. For example, here is Trotsky's son Leva: "Papa never recognizes when he's in the wrong. That's why he can't bear criticism. When something is said or written to him with which he disagrees he either ignores it entirely or gets back with a harsh reply". For another side of Trotsky which is not normally acknowledged by his disciples, Service reveals that he treated the women in his life between badly to abominably.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a good general account of Trotsky's life, making use of very extensive research. It lacks the sheer excitement of Deutscher and the in-depth study of Trotsky's ideas found in Knei-Pax, but it is well worth reading. Apart from reading Trotsky himself, and Service on Lenin and Stalin, a good further source would be the writings of Ian Thatcher.
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Format: Paperback
Trotsky has many many apologists in the Western political class, so for Service to produce a biography thats based on critical evaluation of the evidence and is not a gushing hagiography, has opened him up to savage attacks. This is an heroic and largely successful effort for which Service should be rightly praised.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Service's problem is that his biography has to be compared with perhaps the greatest political biography of the 20th Century,
Isaac Deutscher's three volume study - The Prophet Armed; The Prophet Unarmed and The Prophet Outcast He seems to concede in his introduction that he can't write with Deutscher's style and verve, but more importantly Service lacks any passion. Not even the passion of a thoroughgoing hatchet job. Perhaps this was his idea in the first place, but in the face of the flawed grandeur of Trotsky's life, he resorts to minor quibbles and reservations - even missing,, as in his account of Kronstadt revolt the chance to challenge Trotsky's own version of events. What he doesn't seem to realise is that you can admire Trotsky without being a revolutionary Socialists - after all Duetscher's biography is Tony Blair's favourite book!.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As with Professor Service's other biography on Lenin that I have read, it is not a biography from which the reader will emerge with any particularly intimate feel about the subject in any psychological sense. But from what is revealed about Trotsky's character in the book, even through what appears to be a wealth of intimate personal correspondence, you get the impression that Trotsky had too egotistical, insensitive and political a nature to be someone to inspire empathy or warmth of feeling, either from his own contemporaries or from those of us looking back at him historically. Exposing such flaws and failures in Trotsky's character - in his moral, political and human personae - was for me the strength of this book.

Professor Service acknowledges Trotsky's undoubted rhetorical brilliance and the literary flourish of his written work, but does not allow himself to be blinded by it as a quality that should in itself let him off the historical hook. This is particularly important given the sometimes hagiographic feel of other Trotsky biographies like that of Isaac Deutscher and the often lamentable analyses by some of his political admirers, of Trotsky as the civilised face of socialism and a tragic hero who but for that nasty and uncouth Stalin would have led a more humane Soviet regime. Service's account convincingly rebuts the plausibility of such arguments, showing Trotsky as someone not averse to using terror and indeed as a central player in creating the Soviet institutions that allowed and encouraged it.
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