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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Amazingly well-researched. Quite fascinating. Well written...and sad. Good to learn so much about an ancestor! No wonder I'm a dedicated socialist.
Published 1 month ago by Jef Harris

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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Warts and all
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...
Published on 7 Dec 2010 by Enthusiast


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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Warts and all, 7 Dec 2010
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This review is from: Trotsky: A Biography (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. After ditching one of his mistresses and while attempting to reopen relations with Natalya, he wrote her - or at least Service claims that he wrote her - a frankly pornographic note reproduced on page 450 of the book (the language makes it inappropriate for repetition here). In fact, it seems that he was a self-centred, priapic old goat.

Irrespective of all that, he was a great man with a lasting influence. Oddly enough, Service reveals that the contemporary politician with whom Trotsky had the closest resemblance in many ways was - Winston Churchill!

While this may seem a potty assertion, it is not quite as daft as it sounds. Both men were highly intelligent political mavericks, who were much smarter than their party colleagues and unafraid to go their own way without fear or favour. They both supported themselves by writing books (highly articulate and well written books by any standards, and quite exceptional by the standard of books written by politicians). They both had an obsession with a cause (the Nazi threat in Churchill's case, international revolution in Trotsky's). They both suffered eclipse after great early success and promise. They both showed exceptional physical bravery on the field of battle, and the ability to take sometimes brutal decisions under stress. They both inspired a remarkable level of loyalty, amounting to hero-worship, in the people they led and inspired. Trotsky of course never lived to emulate Churchill in making a spectacular come-back.

Yes, Service does mention Trotsky's Jewish background rather a lot, but this may be because it was important in his development. This background provided Trotsky with a properous, loving and supportive family, and a first rate education by the standards of the time (though it stopped short of university, a lack which did not seem to hamper Trotsky in his later life). It is also significant that Trotsky faced anti-semitism himself, and to this extent his Jewishness must be taken into consideration, however little it meant to Trotsky himself.

Stanton Carlisle seems to have looked on this book as an exercise in character assassination. This was not how it appeared to me. Trotsky comes across as a far more likeable character in this book, than in hagiographical accounts that attempt to portray him as superhuman. I think it rather endearing for instance that Trotsky was an expert croquet player! Imagine, say, Stalin playing croquet. You can't. Trotsky was a warm human being with a sense of humour and perhaps the most brilliant polemicist of his generation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars PROPHETLESS, 20 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Trotsky (Kindle Edition)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 14 Mar 2014
By 
Jef Harris "wise old fart" (Lanzarote) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Trotsky (Kindle Edition)
Amazingly well-researched. Quite fascinating. Well written...and sad. Good to learn so much about an ancestor! No wonder I'm a dedicated socialist.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History, not hagiography, 13 Oct 2012
This review is from: Trotsky: A Biography (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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20 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Biography, 5 Oct 2010
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XTR (Yorkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Trotsky: A Biography (Paperback)
An even-handed biography on Trotsky was always going to be difficult and a long-time coming, and I think Robert Service does very well here.

Being exiled from the Soviet Union before the horrors of Stalin's rule, plus the fact that Trotsky was then free to criticize the approach taken by the leaders after he left (without having to deal with the practicalities himself) as well as being an excellent writer himself, means that Trotsky has definitely been viewed with rose-tinted spectacles in the West (while demonised in the USSR, which only added to his reputation elsewhere).

This biography brings out his strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side were the way he ran the Red Army during the civil war and his key role (equal in many ways with Lenin) in making the revolution happen. This was all done with a selfless commitment which mean that it never seems to have occurred to him to shape the Red Army to be an instrument to allow him to take personal control, or to build a serious faction in the party. The flip side was that he was careless in the way he dealt with others, making cutting criticisms without realising that he was creating enemies. Also he was every bit as ruthless as Stalin and Lenin, e.g. during the Civil War Trotsky was willing to use savage repression to consolidate Bolshevik rule.

The difference this book shows between him and Stalin is that Stalin was very much the organizational player, patiently building up a network of support against Trotsky until he could be edged out, then doing the same with Bukharin, until eventually Stalin was unchallenged as ruler.

So this book left me feeling I had a much better overall understanding of Trotsky, and why he was able to achieve his successes but then suffered his downfall.

It's also fascinating to read some of the negative reviews here and to see that there are still some who find any criticism of Trotsky unacceptable. Ignore them and if you have an open mind and are interested in the Russian Revolution, this is well worth reading.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for trotskyists, 16 Jan 2014
This review is from: Trotsky: A Biography (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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20 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rabid anti-communist bile, 17 Dec 2011
By 
Tom Somerville "tommy" (londonh) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Trotsky: A Biography (Paperback)
Anyone who has a level of knowledge beyond GCSE History and whom is not rabidly committed to an ideologically driven attack on all things Russian/Bolshevik/Communist will find Service's book surprisingly damning in its assessment of Trotsky. However, much of the population has very little knowledge of the Russian revolution beyond the widely known facts; Service's book is directly aimed at this 90% and is an endless river of anti-communist/Bolshevik bile suitable for the McCarthy era.

Leading German historian Hermann Weber described Service's book as dealing "in lies, falsifications of history, dubious references and even anti-Semitic prejudices. Such pamphlets should not have a place in an academic publishing house with a liberal tradition". Weber was among a number of leading German and Austrian historians who signed a letter sent to the German publishers of Service's appalling 'history' strongly objecting to its publication on the basis that is full of mistakes and purposeful, knowing misrepresentation and anti-semitic bias.

Weber is not alone; the American Historical Review (hardly a bastion of communism!)review says "Service commits numerous distortions of the historical record and outright errors of fact to the point that the intellectual integrity of the whole enterprise is open to question."

I do not have the time or energy to devote more time to my review, and would rather forget Service's insult to the word 'history'. But Weber's and the American History Journal's should go some way to opening people's eyes to the value of this book and ignoring the ridiculous praise heaped on it by the British press.
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104 of 166 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Appalling, 16 Dec 2009
This review is from: Trotsky: A Biography (Hardcover)
Where to begin? The agony of this reader in ploughing through this biography, so-called, of Trotsky by Robert Service is only matched by this reader's appalled wonder at the extraordinarily positive reviews it has received from the mainstream press (mostly rightwing commentators, it has to be said). Trotksy has had a very bad time recently; this is the third biography in recent years that seeks to destroy his reputation. It's easily the worst. Robert Service's widely lauded 'new' research is risible in its unoriginality and laziness and, in many instances, borders on sheer fiction and imagination. It seems Robert Service won't let the truth get in the way of a good story - after all he has royalties to earn! It's an astonishing fact that Robert Service is a Professor of St. Antony's College, Oxford and thereby, presumably, disseminating this kind of nonsense to the students studying there; and now, we the public are having to put up with him. Service's book is claimed to provide an illuminating portrait and to set the record straight. It does neither: it goes out of its way to warp not straighten Trotsky's legacy. Plodding, self-important, and exhibiting an almost pathological bias this book is strewn with errors: dates are wrong - he can't even get the date of the death of Trotsky's widow correct; facts are spectacularly wrong as when Service states that double agent Yevno Azef was murdered in 1909. No! Professor Service. Azef died in 1918 of natural causes - even Wikipedia gets that one right. The most disgraceful aspect, however, is a disturbing strain of anti-semitism that seems to run through the book and exposes - whether consciously or subconsciously, by accident or design - a distinctly unpleasant aspect to Service's personality.

Avoid this book like the plague, there are many far better books out there which provide a more balanced and more thoroughly researched perspective on Trotsky, and at the very least have the decency to be written well. You aren't able to award 'No Stars' in Amazon reviews, but believe me I would if I could.
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19 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Discredited 'study', 11 Feb 2012
This review is from: Trotsky: A Biography (Paperback)
As the glowing quotes on the Amazon 'product description' attest, Robert Service's biography of Trotsky was very well-received by the Tory press and right-wing ideologues who have an obvious interest in seeing Trotsky 'cut down to size' - particularly at a time of Capitalist crisis with a revival of interest in alternative (and specifically Marxist) world-views! However - and much more to the point - in the academic circles from which Service derives his own authority, the book has been increasingly discredited and condemned: as poorly-researched, poorly-edited, riddled with factual innacuracies and replete with assertions that are not supported by evidence, or backed up by relevant references. All that stands against it - even without dealing with the allegations of distortion, petty malice and hints of anti-semitism that have been directed at the book. One American academic, Bertrand Patenaude, himself no sympathizer of Trotsky, writing in the leading academic journal in the US, reckoned to have discovered more than TWO DOZEN factual errors in the book and called it 'a piece of hack-work...that fails to meet the basic standards of historical scholarship'. Given that there are a number of balanced, academically-robust Trotsky biographies available, one which contains demonstrable factual innacuracies can hardly be recommended either to serious students seeking a reliable work of reference, or the more casual readers seeking a balanced but accurate account of Trotsky and the events in which he participated.
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15 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An Utterly Discredited Biography., 23 Nov 2011
This review is from: Trotsky: A Biography (Hardcover)
For all the rave reviews and opinions that this is an even handed, objective assesment of Trotsky and his life, its nature and intent are best expressed by Service's comment, quoted in the Evening Standard 23rd October 2009

"There's life in the old guy Trotsky. If the ice pick didn't finish him off, I hope my book does."

Outside of the rave reviews given it by the establishment media, David North of the WSWS was the first to disect the book and reveal it for what it is.[...]

A 'Trotskyist' you might say, will naturally defend Trotsky. Of course. Yet his criticisms have been entirely endorsed by Bertrand Patenaude, writing for the American Historical Review. Patenaude asserts that Service's book fails to meet the basic standards of historical scholarship.

Now, as the book is up for publication in Germany, a group of European academics of various political views have written to the publisher-to-be. They endorse the above criticism, suggesting that the book has no place in that highly regarded house, urging Suhrkamp to reconsider.

I am not a supporter of the 'orthodox' Trotskyist WSWS or David North. Both are guilty of their own scurrilous lies and distortions. Because an organisation is dishonest once, however, does not mean that it always is. Each case must be examined on its own merits and here I find emphatically in favour of the argument put forward by North and the WSWS.

Service's book is a hatchet job in the tradition of Stalinist disinformation, distortion, anti-semitism and character assasination. While it will please the sensibilities of those who want their anti-communist view confirmed, I feel sorry for anyone who knows so little of history as to be hoodwinked into believing a word of it.
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Trotsky: A Biography
Trotsky: A Biography by Robert Service (Paperback - 16 April 2010)
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