Customer Reviews


31 Reviews
5 star:
 (13)
4 star:
 (9)
3 star:
 (6)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE BALD TRUTH
Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was extremely difficult to write anything meaningful about the founder of the world's first Communist state. The archives were closed; and there was a stupefying conformity about Communist historiography, not confined to that which emanated from Moscow. The message given by most writers on the Left was 'Stalin, lousy...
Published on 21 Dec 2011 by Stephen Cooper

versus
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book Fails to Present the Big Picture
This biography is so focused on its subject that important events like the First World War, the Russian Civil War and the murder of the Romanovs barely feature. Some readers might feel that is how a biography should be but I believe a biography of a man who may well have single handedly toppled an Empire and imposed a political system that shattered the world consensus...
Published on 5 Mar 2010 by John Fitzpatrick


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book Fails to Present the Big Picture, 5 Mar 2010
By 
John Fitzpatrick (São Paulo, Brazil) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Paperback)
This biography is so focused on its subject that important events like the First World War, the Russian Civil War and the murder of the Romanovs barely feature. Some readers might feel that is how a biography should be but I believe a biography of a man who may well have single handedly toppled an Empire and imposed a political system that shattered the world consensus (and still reigns supreme in the world's up-and-coming superpower, China) needs to have a wide historical and social backdrop. Compare Service's narrow approach to Robert Massie's "Nicholas and Alexandra" or "Peter the Great" where you feel you are in the middle of Russia, a strange state which seems familiar and European on one hand yet strange and Asiatic on the other.

The book covers the basic facts - the names, dates and places - but uncovers little of the man himself. Perhaps this is because so much has been hidden or destroyed by the Communists who tried to turn Lenin into a secular saint or perhaps because a non-Russian simply does not have enough insight into Russian culture.

Lenin is portrayed as a bookworm steeped in Marx and Engels who is more concerned with scoring philosophical points at interminable meetings* than a man who became the dictator of Russia even though he had spent most of the previous 20 years in exile. Just how Lenin managed to achieve this prestige while he was wandering around France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and England, usually accompanied by his mother, sister and wife (believe it or not), is simply not explained.

The author blames most of Lenin's hatred for the Tsarist regime on the fact that his elder brother was hanged while a student for involvement in a plot to assassinate Emperor Alexander III. This might be true but he provides no proof. He also makes a lot of the ménage à trois Lenin seems to have had with his wife and another woman but, apart from a few notes and letters, does not provide any real proof that Lenin was passionate about the other woman.

Leading characters like Stalin and Trotsky make only minor appearances. For example, Trotsky's role in running the Red Guard, which defeated the wide variety of domestic and international forces which attacked the revolution, is skated over. Stalin's rise to power is virtually ignored. Nothing is made of the attempts to assassinate Lenin, one of which left two bullets in his body and hastened his death in his early 50s. We never learn who was behind these attempts or what happened to the would-be assassins. How something as important as this can be ignored is beyond me.

The conclusion of this work which is almost 500 pages long is feeble to say the least: "The future does not lie with Leninist Communism. But if the future lies anywhere, we do not know where exactly. Lenin was unexpected. At the very least, his extraordinary life and career prove the need for everyone to be vigilant. Not many historical personages have achieved this effect. Let thanks be given."

To sum up, this book is better as a rather plodding history text than a biography.

*My favorite is pure Monty Python: "...the Congress agreed to drop the slogan "All Power to the Soviets" After a lengthy debate about slogans, it was decided to replace it with "All Power to the Proletariat Supported by the Poorest Peasantry and the Revolutionary Democracy Organized into Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies"
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE BALD TRUTH, 21 Dec 2011
By 
Stephen Cooper (South Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Paperback)
Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was extremely difficult to write anything meaningful about the founder of the world's first Communist state. The archives were closed; and there was a stupefying conformity about Communist historiography, not confined to that which emanated from Moscow. The message given by most writers on the Left was 'Stalin, lousy guy, Lenin, good guy', to which the Trotskyites wanted to add 'Trotsky good guy too.' In fact, as this book shows, Lenin was just as murderous and dictatorial as Stalin, it was just that he had a much shorter time in which to show his proclivities, and the circumstances he operated under were more difficult.

Robert Service had the inestimable advantage that he could access the files, almost for the first time; and in addition, he did not approach his task with a closed mind. He shows what people on the Right have always known or long suspected: that Lenin was an arrogant pedant, who always thought he was right but was usually wrong about everything other than how to gain power, and who unfortunately got the opportunity to inflict his dogmatic views on millions of people.

As a young man, I used to think that the Soviet Union was a noble experiment, which had somehow gone wrong. I now realise that it was a monstrous tyranny from the start; and this book helps to explain why.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful examination of the man behind the myth, 12 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Kindle Edition)
This was an excellent book not only about Lenin, but also about the environment that created him. I would have liked to learn more about some of his colleagues and competitors, such as Lunacharsky and Bogdanov, but I believe they merit equally exhaustive biographies of their own! All in all, a tremendously satisfying read that brings to life, warts and all, one of the most important and charismatic individuals of the 20th century.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'Personal' Biography, 19 May 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Paperback)
I found this immensely valuable. Passions still run high about Lenin and it's an achievement to produce such a lively but balanced account. Having heard that the release of Russian archives twenty years ago painted a dire picture of Lenin I was expecting a more condemnatory view than we get here. In fact Service clearly likes Lenin, whilst frequently clucking at his 'love of terror'.

However many reviewers have mentioned that while Service is good on Lenin the man he is brief about the politics. No doubt, having written a three volume political history of Lenin he felt he had done that bit. However it is frustrating at times, and Service does not introduce chapter and verse to show us exactly in what degree Lenin orchestrated terror. All we get is a few anecdotes and a lot of quotes from his speeches which to be fair could have been mere politicking.

No doubt I'm supposed to read the three volumes.

Other points - relatively early in his career Lenin splits with Martov and the Bolshevik party is born. Service doesn't really explain what the dispute was about, but actually it was crucial to Lenin's political thinking, that the party should be made up of committed activists only. Later Lenin splits with Bogdanov who believed that what was important was to develop working class culture and bring about revolution that way. However Service doesn't really explain this until about a hundred pages later. I found myself searching on the internet to learn more about Bogdanov whose ideas have been rescued in recent decades by postmodernists.

Other reviewers have complained that little is said about Stalin and Trotsky.

In a way all this is fair enough. Service has written biographies of these men as well as general histories of the period. And what we do get is a top class biography of Lenin as an intellectual, a family man, and a real picture of how he was driven to introduce the first Communist state.

We see in particular how his leadership skills enabled him to hold his Marxism in one hand whilst surveying and weighing up the political exigencies of the present in the other, and constantly revising and shifting his position according to what he saw as necessary.

'Marxism-Leninism' was reified by Stalin into a creed to suit his purposes, says Service, but to Lenin it was something fairly fluid. Something not far perhaps from what Sartre though Marxism should be in his later writings, and quite different from the popular image of a dogmatist.

The book is very readable although it took me about a hundred pages to get used to Service's ruminative style. If you look at one of his paragraphs the sentences don't exactly follow on from one another but the paragraphs rather consist of a series of statements relating to a particular situation, just piled up on each other one after the other. Reading the book is like getting a balcony seat to Service's brain, thinking out loud.

However this does work because Service has worked very hard to work out his own views from all the available data and agree with it or not you get a coherent picture.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and readable, 27 July 2010
By 
Kate (Leeds, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Paperback)
An excellent biography of a difficult subject. Unlike most biographies, I felt this work really helped me to gain an understanding of who Lenin was, and why he acted as he did. This is really the only biography of Lenin you need to read. As others have pointed out, this is not a general history of the period, but focusses in on Lenin, his thoughts and his actions, rather like the man himself, who seems to have been self-centred to a remarkable degree.

Service writes with a very engaging, readable style, making even endless pages describing the inter-factional warfare of the Bolshevik party interesting. Although the Soviet era is not a particular interest of mine, I wanted to understand how far Lenin drove the revolution, and why he was such a crucial figure for Russia, and this biography certainly illustrated that for me. The only area where I would have liked to have known more was about Lenin's posthumous reputation, but since the book is already a door-stopper, I suppose Service needed to draw the line somewhere.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good, 17 Dec 2007
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Paperback)
Lenin by Robert Service is a very interesting and well-written book which deals with the life of the great revolutionary. Although it is perhaps not as detailed as some people would like it is very enjoyable and gives an insight into the life of this middle-class intellectual who became a working-class leader.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


69 of 102 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Robert Service on Lenin, 25 April 2004
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Paperback)
A book that tells us a lot more about Robert Service than it does aboutLenin. Despite the extensive research, it is packed with irritatingspeculation and blunt assertions and the events it describes are too oftenburied under Service's indignation. What are we to make of sentences suchas: "Lenin was not feeling in the best of sorts either physically oremotionally. And it served him right."?
We have endless speculation about what Lenin may have thought at any giventime. Among my favourites were: "It cannot be proved that Lenin held thetotal physical liquidation of the middle classes as a party objective" and"If Lenin dreamed of heading a European socialist federal regime, herefrained from giving vent to the notion". The Economist was right when itdescribed the book as: "... far more than a comprehensive summary of theestablished facts..."
In his haste to represent Lenin as a monster Service repeatedly confusesdictatorship by a class with dictatorship by an individual. Why couldn'the argue, if he thought it was true, that Lenin advocated the former butparticipated in a government controlled by a political elite? Why muddlethis point - "It was a fine dictatorship when the supreme leader wastreated contemptuously by his underlings!" It's nonsense and it appearsintentional.
Robert Service does not share Lenin's class-based view of history, whythen should he expect Lenin to share his moral scruples? To learn thatLenin's conduct might not be acceptable at a posh dinner party is about assurprising as finding out that Mozart didn't play heavy metal.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


17 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, but selective and biased, 21 Jun 2009
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Paperback)
Robert Service in 'Lenin' does not give an account that is satisfyingly representative of the man. Service, despite his obvious learning, seems totally ignorant of established Marxist and Leninist perspectives. There are several examples, but the one which irritated me the most was his dealing with Lenin's magnum opus The State and Revolution. Service seems to suggest that the concept forwarded in this of the 'withering away of the state' was a hollow and fake belief of Lenin's that had no sincerity behind it. This is anachronistic and false. Marx himself had spoken of exactly the same thing, and to suggest that Lenin did not share the belief in the state's eventual destruction is fallacy. Also, the supposed irreverence Lenin held for democracy is hollow. Lenin insists in his works on a CLASS dictatorship to replace the current class dictatorship of the bourgeosie with a proletarian one. Of course it can be argued that this led to a personal dictatorship when Lenin got into power, but simply because his understanding of democracy differed from Service's does not provoke the numerous attacks that Service launches on Lenin's policy.

Although Service provides an acurate account of events, his perspective on Lenin is marred by his unceasing anti-Communism. Anybody can understand why this exists, but the bias creates the impression of a propoganda piece.

This is ultimately not the best use of the previously-censored documents which Service was lucky enough to get hold of. I would recommend this only for its outline of events, but with a few more minutes of searching a superior biography of Lenin could be found. If an alternative perspective on the revolution is what you really want, then try Trotsky's A History of the Russian Revolution.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Grubby little book, 13 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Kindle Edition)
I expected this to be a serious book as the author is an Oxford professor. It reads more like a seedy celebrity biography from a tabloid journalist. Only the very naive and silly would fail to see through his obvious manipulations and propaganda. I did not find anything new in this book that couldn't be found in Trotsky's Young Lenin, History of the Russian revolution or My Life, or Krupskaya's memoirs. There 's always Lenin' s 22 volumes of collected works. You can get the story from the horses mouth rather than the other end. Shamefully this book exposes how sections of the UK 'intellectual elite' will debase themselves in protecting the status quo.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, avoids academic over-theorising and gives detail, 11 Sep 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Hardcover)
This is a rare thing; a biography of a major political figure by an academic which isn't dry as twigs. Rather than become pre-occupied with the various intellectual historical debates surrounding Lenin, Service cuts to the chase and talks about the man in immense detail such that you feel you've met the vile creature. The political stuff is all present and correct too, but it does not get in the way of telling the story of a life. Service is one of the few political biographers who knows that to separate the person from the history is folly - and lazy folly at that. Anyone can theorise; only good writers and biographers can tell a gripping yarn at the same time.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Lenin: A Biography
Lenin: A Biography by Robert Service
£4.49
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews