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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The great terror, 10 Mar. 2013
By 
Michael Jenkins (glasgow United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Hardcover)
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A book worthy of five and more stars although the "fictitious first chapter" nearly put me off reading any further. But after completing the book I realised that the analogy of the first chapter was most important to the overall structure of the book, and the totally kafkaesque nature of the times of the great terror.

A book worthy of reading and dipping into, although it did take me quite some time to complete it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shedding light where darkness previously reigned, 17 Jun. 2014
By 
Lost John (Devon, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Paperback)
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This is a huge book. With its 558 text pages, plus another 100 plus pages of preliminaries, notes, bibliography and index, even in paperback it weighs more than a kilogram. Karl Schlögel takes Herodotus' view of how to relate a history - throw everything in; 'there is no set of sources, no genre and no perspective that might not enable us to shed light where previously darkness had reigned. The available sources might include decrees, diaries, newspaper articles and town plans; exhibition guides might be as illuminating as reports of arrests or records of executions.'

You have been warned. That warning having been given, in practice the experience of reading the book is only that of a big book, not one that is tremendously large. And the red light that might have blinked on when noting Schlögel's predilection even for exhibition guides need not be paid too much attention. We are not left to sift the entire harvest ourselves; Schlögel does in fact exercise considerable discrimination in his selection of what to lay before us, and there is a very definite order in which he presents it - roughly adhering to the progression of the months of 1937.

He does find it impossible, though, to stick entirely to 1937. The first of three Moscow show trials extensively covered in the book, that of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre, took place in August 1937, the last, the Trial of the Twenty-one, in March 1938. Only the Trial of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyist Centre actually took place during 1937. But the first trial undoubtedly reverberated into 1937, and the last had been a year in preparation. Even outside those trials, lists of arrests, shootings and suicides of the fearful frequently extend into 1938.

The German novelist and playwright, Lion Feuchtwanger, provided an excellent account of the trial of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyist Centre. Schlögel draws on it extensively. The title of the book Feuchtwanger published following a ten week visit to Moscow in 1936-37 was Moscow 1937, so Schlögel is indebted to him for his own book title too. Feuchtwanger has been accused of being too naïve and uncritical of what he saw and heard, but other witnesses, including the US Ambassador, Joseph Davies, also remarked on the amazingly relaxed demeanour of the accused in court and the apparent sincerity of their confessions. After the first trial, a delegation of British lawyers, led by D N Pritt, KC, had certified that legal procedures had been correctly followed. Although not personally present, Feuchtwanger did at least conclude from what he was able to discover that the conduct of the first trial was 'monstrous'.

Feuchtwanger also provides something of an alternative view of Stalin:- Contrary to the impression given by portraits, Stalin is small and slightly built. He speaks in slow, considered sentences, walking up and down whilst speaking, then suddenly approaches you, pointing a finger of his beautiful hand, expounding, didactic. He can express complicated thoughts simply, and quote names, dates and facts accurately and without hesitation.

Feuchtwanger's meeting with Stalin and the second show trial were in January. The many events yet to come included the centenary of the death of Pushkin, the opening of the Moscow-Volga Canal, the anniversary of the October 1917 Revolution, a celebration (in the Bolshoi Theatre!) of 20 years of the NKVD, and much, much more. Along the way, we learn about the building boom that was going on in Moscow at the time - nevertheless overwhelmed by inward migration, conditions in Muscovite's homes, at work and in the shops and, again, much, much more. Which brings us to the perhaps surprising first chapter - an appreciation of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Schlögel clearly esteems the novel as literature, but his principal objective is to demonstrate its value as a source of accurate information on Moscow, its inhabitants and their conditions of life in the mid to late 1930s. So his point, and that of Herodotus, is made; there is no set of sources, no genre and no perspective that might not enable us to shed light where darkness previously reigned. One can only imagine that Bulgakov would have been delighted - and Bulgakov's wife Elena too, to whose diary entries Schlögel frequently refers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A slow car crash of events in a one way mirror, 1 Jun. 2014
By 
Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles "FIST" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Hardcover)
A book which flings you into a car crash of events and places the reader squirmly within a human catastrophe separated only by a one way mirror which allows you to watch but not intervene.

Begins with the analogy of Bulgarov's "The Master and Margarita" because history is not about imbibing dates and remembering facts but feeling the aura of a time that has long gone. To travel back from the safety of the present entails leaving the current sense of safety to live within something that was just composed of pure brutal surrealism where all that was solid melted into the air. Society was being refashioned within the paranoid delusions of a central totem who sent down orders that everything previously was to melt. Instead the new world was going to be recomposed within his guided fictions. For those who clung to the belief systems it meant they could not face the truth.

The ambiguous nature of the Soviet regime enacted by Stalin - its defeat of Nazism - and its black and white monotone nature after 1945 is here revealed as much nastier. Kafka had an inkling, a premonition of what was to come with "The Trial" as the Weberian bureaucratic machine operated devoid of emotion to obliterate history, people, places, events and everything else associated with it. Into the void tumbled 2 million people, many of them adherents to the revolution who could never fathom why they had been chosen.

Stalin destroyed everything that did not fit into his paranoia. This book is the archaeology of the era to bring about some form of closure and to think through why the Communist experiment collapsed. As Landauer and Muhsam detailed firstly it requires work on the self, simply firing guns at others is not going to bring about utopia. It requires a new consciousness. Stalin was the equivalent of Ivan the Terrible, a man devoid of any empathy - the worst type of man to be in charge of anything.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart of darkness, 16 Jan. 2013
By 
Withnail67 (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Hardcover)
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This is a magisterial evocation of a key place and time in the dark history of the 20th century. Moscow 1937 uses the technique the author calls `total history' where a substantial number of short chapters, covering a range of political, social, geographical and cultural aspects of life in Stalin's capital during the Purges, built to give an account of formidable scope.
I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the opening of the grand metro stations, the enthusiasm for jazz on Soviet radio, and the account of New Deal America given by a pair of journalists whose account of US democracy led to decades in the Gulag. Particularly chilling is the Moscow phone book edited with swathes of black to mark the disappeared. Lovers of Bulgakov will enjoy the many references to the setting of Master and the Margarita.

I was expecting a book like Artemis Cooper's Cairo in the War or Roger Moorhouse's book on Hitler's Berlin. This book is simultaneously more sustained, and more academic, and a little less keyed to the general reader. I have to confess finding the tone of the translation a little stiff, but the power and depth of the material drove it forward.

On balance, this is a demanding, rich and authoritative read, with more than a little sense of being a memorial to the blank spaces in this dark period of Russian history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and enthralling history of the Great Terror, 31 May 2014
By 
J. Aitken (Glasgow Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Paperback)
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In the west the crimes against of humanity of the Nazi regime are ever present in our recent history. The great terror of Joseph Stalin, which claimed over a million lives in 1937 is less well documented partly because during the battle against Hitler, Russia was the West's ally. It is timely then, to welcome this vivid and enthralling history of that time in Russian history where almost every family lost or new someone who disappeared during the purge. Eminent historian Karl Schlogel paints a detailed picture of the events which led up to the great terror and produces facts and figures sometimes appalling in their enormity of this terrible time.

Those interested in Russia's recent history will find much to enthrall in this exhaustive and eminently readable account of one of the great humanitarian crimes of the 20th century.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, and thought provoking, 13 Jan. 2013
By 
D. Richards (South Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Hardcover)
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Moscow 1937 deals with the events puges of Stalin set in and during the title of the book. It has used lots of soviet documents delassified in the late 1980s to explain how and why Stalin conducted these purges as well as examining the effects of them, and presenting the reader with a good idea of the atmoshphere that surrounded Moscow during this time.

The narritive form of the book may put some historians off, but I personally found it to be enagaing, well written and also informative. The constant show trials, executions, and reconstruction of the city make for very interesting reading indeed. However, the size of the book (aprox 650 pages!) may be another factor that puts people off this book. While most of the content here has purpose and illistrates the horror taking place in the city, I do feel that it could so with some trimming down in certain parts in order to present ideas and moral arguments more concisley and effectively.

Overall, this is an excellent book and one that I would recommend to anyone who has an interest in Soviet-era history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended for the professional historian, 27 April 2014
By 
Ms. C. R. Stillman-lowe "Cathy SL" (Reading Berks) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Paperback)
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S.is Professor of East European History at The University of Viadrina in Frankfurt and has written a mammoth book on the Great Purge. In a contest for who was responsible for the most deaths in the 20th century the short list is Stalin, Mao and Hitler. These men were not necessarily the most evil but had the most power. The book is the definitive work and has attracted many favourable reviews but it is intended for the professional historian and one with a strong stomach. At 650 pages of small print and because of the grim subject matter the average reader should be warned that it is not for them although it does also deal with contemporanious events as well as the purges.

Rating 5 out of 5.
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4.0 out of 5 stars City of the Walking Dead, 4 May 2014
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Paperback)
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Soviet Russia in 1937 was the place where two million people were arrested, some 700,000 were murdered and 1.3. million deported to camps and labour colonies. It represented a quantum leap in manufactured death, 'an excess piled on excess'. However, numbers alone do not tell the real tragedy. Few of those persecuted and killed knew why they had been singled out. 'The allegations and accusations were incredible and fantastic and even more fantastic was the fact that the accused repeated and reproduced them in their confessions' which led sycophants like D H Pritt to opine that this was the Russian way of cleansing a man's soul. In double quick time the participants in the murderous process became the next set of victims in the same manner as the Sonderkommando in Nazi death camps. Schlogel argues that while attention has been paid to the trials of the 'old guard' new documents reveal 'that the Great Terror was directed primarily against ordinary people who did not belong to the Party but who were singled out on the basis of social and ethnic criteria and systematically butchered'. He bases his thesis on the idea of 'total history' which he portrays as 'synchronous history'.

Whether this is a suitable form in which to present the past is moot primarily because Stalinism was based on fear and the abuse of power to remove anyone or anything that would or could threaten the monopoly of the Communist Party. 'Preparations for 'universal, free, direct and secret elections' went hand in hand with the organised mass killings'. There is an argument which claims that what appeared to be the expression of omnipotent state power was in reality the desperate actions of an impotent state. There had been widespread unrest during the 1930's which was contained with some difficulty. In this reviewer's opinion hindsight in this instance is not a wonderful thing but a misleading analysis of the past. In particular the notion that the ruling elite was cobbled together as an alliance that could be unraveled at any moment appears to be wishful thinking too far removed from the reality of life under Stalin. Schlogel sets 1937 in the context of the reconstruction of Moscow which involved the removal of symbols of pre-Communist existence, such as churches and the expulsion of social groups for the benefit of the Bolshevik Party and its rule of terror.

There were many social groups reflecting the complexity of urban life, all of which the ruling Party, at Stalin's behest, intended to discipline, level down and make uniform. Schlogel provides a list of Party members including Ivan Kraval a statistician whose census figures for 1937 did not meet with the approval of the Party and the state. In particular it showed the population was considerably lower than expected, a fact which demonstrated Stalin's removal of millions of people he considered were a threat to his position. Kraval was dubbed an 'enemy of the people', arrested and shot. The Show Trials were designed to create an atmosphere of imminent threat from the 'forces of Fascism' by allowing a 'pseudo court' to operate with due process of terror rather than due process of law. The charges were fantastic, unbelievable and intellectually insulting. Pritt swallowed it all, Gide did not but his protestations when the charade was transferred to Barcelona were ignored as the Communists betrayed the Spanish cause and emptied Spain's gold reserves.

Many party members chose suicide including Evgenia Yezhova who was persuaded by her husband Nokolai Yezhov to kill herself to save him from death. It didn't work. Six days later Yezhov was replaced by Beria and in 1940 was executed. Nikolai Ustrialov returned from exile in 1935 only to be executed two years later. Georgii Ordzhonikidze's death was attributed to heart failure, a claim disproved by the bullet hole where he shot himself. The doctors who signed his death certificate were sentenced to death soon afterwards. To regard this as a Party at its wits' end is an error. Stalin's removal of all enemies, including those who were figments of his imagination, produced a party which knew of, but lacked any moral character to oppose, the Soviet dictator. The idea that the Party believed the nonsensical propaganda it churned out ignores the ideological straight-jacket in which Party members had imprisoned themselves. Nazi Germany was in a similar state of denial.

Such ideological imprisonment had a major impact of foreign communists residing in Moscow. These included Germans, Japanese, Mexicans, Bulgarians, Spanish, Dutch, American, British and Hungarian. Stalin's policy was to replace those who had sought exile in Moscow with foreign communists completely obedient to the Party line. The rest were simply foreign agents. The Belorussian, West Ukrainian and Polish Communist Party's were dissolved. The Comintern shrank in size between January 1936 and 1 April 1938 from 394 members to 223, became dependent on the Soviet Communist Party and was dissolved in 1943. Such destructive action reflected Stalinist control which was expressed in the deletion of portraits from the public media and the transformation of known people into non-persons. In terms of power Stalin had replaced an entire generation with younger people who were completely beholden to him.

Butovo was one of a number of places of execution in Moscow and the Moscow Region Between August 1937 and October 1938, 20764 were killed there, a relatively small number compared to the 1.5 million murdered in 'mass operations'. The name of Butovo was relatively unknown until the Soviet Union collapsed and not until 1997 was the site excavated. Schlogel lists the variety of groups found there, including a group of 830 invalids. Fictitious enemies were created to justify the murders. The NKVD's chief executioner Vasili Blokhin continued in his role until Stalin's death and once removed was judged to be insane. In 1938 Bukharin claimed 'World history is a world court of justice'. It is and he was found wanting. An over-long book, reference only, four stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Baedeker Guide to Hell, 20 Mar. 2015
By 
tolkein (Chelmsford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Hardcover)
This is fantastic. Translated from the German, the prose can be a bit clunky, but I really enjoyed the episodic way it described the Moscow of 1937 and the gangster regime that controlled Russia and the other peoples imprisoned in that Gulag of nations. There are sections on the use of culture to shore up the regime - eg Pushkin, sections on the building of Moscow, on the shooting range, on the census, the workforce in the Stalin Car Factories, architecture and destruction, in a multidimensional physically situated book. There is a map of Moscow, so the physical reality of the locus of Soviet power and its actions seems more concrete and horrible.

Fully deserving of the awards and accolades. I was reading it when on a business trip to Luxembourg. I discovered that one night it was 2am and I was still engrossed, that's how good it is.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good, 14 May 2014
By 
IWFIcon - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moscow, 1937 (Paperback)
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I always enjoyed "history" at school even if when exam results came around that enjoyment didn't always equal great grades. As the blurb says, this book looks at the ‘Great Terror’ of the year in the title, during which 1,500,00 million human beings lost their lives.

It's written well, not being too dry and "academic" but not stinting on the facts and the horror of what was involved either.

It's a hefty tome, clocking in at 650 pages, but little seems extraneous and if you are interested in this kind of thing you well never find reading it a chore.
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Moscow, 1937
Moscow, 1937 by Karl Schlögel (Hardcover - 12 Oct. 2012)
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