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Lenin: A Biography Paperback – 16 Apr 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (16 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330518380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330518383
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 12.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Few political reputations have collapsed quite as quickly as that of Lenin, the ideological guru of Russian Communism, the hero of the revolution of October 1917, and the first leader of the Soviet Union. Just as the Berlin Wall was pulled to the ground, so were thousands of statues of Lenin toppled across Eastern Europe and the new Russia in the early 1990s. But now that the dust has settled, and the Cold War is over, historians can be more objective about the life and achievements of Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov (Lenin was his adopted revolutionary name). Robert Service's book is the first major biography of Lenin for several decades and it benefits from the thaw that has opened up previously inaccessible material, particularly on Lenin's family and his medical history. Born into a wealthy family of landowners, lawyers and government officials, Lenin's revolutionary path was marked out when his elder brother was executed for his part in an assassination plot on the Tsar. From that point on, aided by his sisters, his wife and a loyal but argumentative band of Bolshevik followers, Lenin committed himself to the overthrow of the Tsarist regime, enduring exile, prison and ostracism in the process. This compelling and action-packed book brings Lenin and Leninism to life in a way that no previous account has managed to do. --Miles Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

'Immensely scholarly but also vivid and readable. This is a splendid book, much the best that I have ever read about Lenin...I was overwhelmed by the power and vividness of this portrait.' Dominic Lieven, Sunday Telegraph; 'He has managed skilfully to depict the surreal life of an obsessive, brilliant and stubborn individual' Guardian; 'Lenin's life was politics, but Service has succeeded in keeping Lenin the man in focus throughout... This book deserves a place among the best studies of one of the most fascinating figures in modern history' Harold Shukman, The Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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I'm gonna defend Robert Service here as I know he's had his critics. I applaud him for his tryptich of Russian history. No mean feat given the subject matter. After reading this I was left with the impression that Lenin was a bastard and he groomed people like Stalin. He was at odds with Trotsky while Stalin looked on. It should come as no surprise that Stalin was the eventual victory in control for power rather than Trotsky. Unfortunately for him his dealings with Lenin did him no favours.
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Excellently researched and excellently written book. This history of Lenin is a fascinating read and one that I felt I had to do after reading two thomes on Stalin. Sometimes a trifle dry when trying to assimilate the many twists and turns of the numerous groups and committees in the early days of The October Revolution, it is, nevertheless, a book well worth buying.
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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.
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By conjunction TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 19 May 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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