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Lenin on the Train Hardcover – 6 Oct 2016
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Twice I missed my stop on the Tube reading this book... this is a jewel among histories, taking a single episode from the penultimate year of the Great War, illuminating a continent, a revolution and a series of psychologies in a moment of cataclysm and doing it with wit, judgment and an eye for telling detail... Catherine Merridale, who won the Wolfson history prize for Red Fortress, her 2013 book about the Kremlin, is one of those historians whose work allows you to understand something more about the world we inhabit now. (David Aaronovitch The Times)
'A detailed look at the famous train journey... fascinatingly realist... [Merridale] is good at capturing the frankly dodgy atmosphere of high politics and low motives that swirled around post-abdication Russia... Merridale can bring humour into the most gruesome moments. (André Van Loon Spectator)
Catherine Merridale is one of the foremost foreign historians of Russia, combining wry insights with deep sympathy for the human beings suffering the tragedies she writes about... It combines diplomatic intrigue, spycraft, towering personalities, bureaucratic bungling, military history and ideology. Ms Merridale neatly unites background and foreground, and deftly evokes the atmosphere of the time... excellent (Economist)
Praise for RED FORTRESS: 'Magnificent ... [a] a superbly written book' Telegraph 'A zingy, razor-keen history of the Kremlin' Spectator Books of the Year 'Exhilarating' (Guardian)
A brisk and often witty overview for the lay reader of the circumstances leading up to the February and October revolutions. (Helen Rappaport The Sunday Times)
With a novelists' readability and a fertile imagination... Merridale retraces his week-long journey... At the same time, she skilfully weaves into the story the unfolding revolution (Observer Review)
With the 100th anniversary of the two Russian revolutions of 1917 around the corner... surely no author will give a better account than Merridale of how, in that fateful year, Lenin made his way with German help from exile in Switzerland to Russia. (Financial Times BOOKS OF THE YEAR)
Fills a lacuna in the canonical record of Soviet communism.... A superbly written narrative history that draws together and makes sense of scattered data, anecdotes, and minor episodes, affording us a bigger picture of events that we now understand to be transformative (Kirkus Reviews)
Merridale corrects factual errors made by predecessors and opens a fresh interpretive perspective. Personal reenactment of Lenin's eight-day train-and-ferry journey gives force to materials uncovered through assiduous research in newly opened archives as Merridale resolves perplexities long surrounding the political gambles, devious espionage, and shadowy financing that transport Lenin through Germany on a sealed train bound for a land tempestuously shedding its czarist past and desperate for a leader to guide it into an uncharted future. . . . History recovered as living drama (Booklist)
A colorful, suspenseful, and well-documented narrative (Publishers Weekly)
From the Inside Flap
By 1917 the European war seemed to be endless. Both sides in the fighting looked to new weapons, tactics and ideas to break the stalemate. In the German government a small group of men had a brilliant idea: why not sow further confusion in an increasingly chaotic Russia by arranging for Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the most notorious of revolutionary extremists, currently safely bottled up in neutral Switzerland, to go home?
Catherine Merridale's Lenin on the Train recreates Lenin's extraordinary journey from harmless exile in Zurich, across a Germany falling to pieces from the war's deprivations, and northwards to the edge of Lapland to his eventual ecstatic reception by revolutionary crowds at Petrograd's Finland Station.
With great insight and imagination Merridale weaves the story of the train and its uniquely strange group of passengers with a gripping account of the now half-forgotten February liberal Russian revolution and shows how these events intersected. She brilliantly uses a huge range of contemporary eyewitnesses, observing Lenin as he travelled back to a country he had not seen for many years. Many thought he was a mere 'useful idiot', others thought he would rapidly be imprisoned or killed, others that Lenin had in practice few followers and even less influence. They would all prove to be quite wrong.See all Product description
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In a way, I do wish there was more about the actual train journey in this book, as it is wonderfully bizarre. Although later writers, and artists, were keen to portray Lenin’s trip as one of romance and idealism (one artist cleverly inserted Stalin into his painting; which, as the author says was historically incorrect, but probably wise in terms of self preservation) but, of course, the reality was somewhat different. The group consisted of thirty two adults and two children and contained several lawyers and one dentist. So incensed was Lenin by the late night carousing of some of his group that he later created proper Soviet rules for how people should behave on trains – including sleeping at appropriate times. As a commuter, I feel his rules and regulations would be warmly welcomed by many who are bothered by the behaviour of other people and sympathise with his thoughts.
Certainly though, Lenin was not a man who suffered fools gladly. A three day trip across Germany, with many delays and discomforts, might have worn some people down – but not him. On arrival, he gave speech, after speech, after speech. Sprinting to the top of cars, leaping up stairs to find a balcony; finding a platform and sweeping aside the less daring plans of his rivals, he was a man on a mission. His enemies might have scurried around looking for evidence that Lenin was being funded by Germany – a spy even – but the Germans reported he was, ‘working, exactly as we would wish.’
As well as the story of Lenin’s journey back to Russia, this is also a look at the revolution, especially from the point of view of the British. There is much about the British Embassy, whose building was opposite the house taken from a famous ballerina (and former mistress of the former tsar) for use by the Bolshevik Party. There is also some interesting information on W. Somerset Maugham, who later wrote “Ashenden,” about his experiences as a war spy and who quarrelled with Hugh Walpole, head of the British propaganda effort (who he later lampooned in the novel, “Cakes and Ale”), but it was clear that the Russian people were not affected by the British arguments, as Germany poured money into the country. Overall, an interesting read, which attempts to put the events in this book into political, and historical, context.
Having not known much about Lenin, the book gave me a feel for the man and movement he led.
Final chapters ask about his funding, and the fortunes of the major players from Europe and the train in the years that followed. Hundreds of references to sources.
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In this book, Merridale charts Lenin's return from exile in Switzerland, back to a Russia in the...Read more
My loss I'm sure, yet...
The narrative is excellent and skips along at a good pace.Read more