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A People's Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution Hardcover – 1 Mar 1997

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 923 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Pr (Mar. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670859168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670859160
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 5.6 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,891,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"Few historians have the courage to attack great subjects; fewer have the grasp to succeed. This is a book that lets the reader look into the face of one of the major social upheavels of history. . . . A People's Tragedy will do more to help us undersand the Russian Revolution than any other book I know."
--Eric Hobsbawm, The London Review of Books

"I doubt there is anyone in the world who knows the revolution as well as Figes does."
--Norman Stone, The Sunday Times (London)

"An engagingly written and well-researched book. . . . Will stand for some time as a standard of historical scholarship."
--Steven Merritt Miner, The New York Times Book Review

"Huge in scope, brilliant in vignette, dark and implacable in theme, it is a modern masterpiece."
--Andrew Marr, The Independent



-Few historians have the courage to attack great subjects; fewer have the grasp to succeed. This is a book that lets the reader look into the face of one of the major social upheavels of history. . . . A People's Tragedy will do more to help us undersand the Russian Revolution than any other book I know.-
--Eric Hobsbawm, The London Review of Books

-I doubt there is anyone in the world who knows the revolution as well as Figes does.-
--Norman Stone, The Sunday Times (London)

-An engagingly written and well-researched book. . . . Will stand for some time as a standard of historical scholarship.-
--Steven Merritt Miner, The New York Times Book Review

-Huge in scope, brilliant in vignette, dark and implacable in theme, it is a modern masterpiece.-
--Andrew Marr, The Independent

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Orlando Figes is the prizewinning author of A People's Tragedy and Natasha's Dance. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Review of Books. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Paperback
A Peoples Tragedy is a harrowing insight into how the Russian Revolution far from being a smoothly organized transition into a harmonious Socialist society was actually a process of ongoing opportunism, compromise and cruelty, deft footwork, boot-work and brutality by the intellectual leaders who managed to hang on to their ideological bull and extinguish all resistance to their deadlier Autocracy posed under the guise of the Bolshevik's version of Socialism. Such a thorough account of leading peoples groups and events involved at each step of the process makes this study an excellent resource for anyone who has ever wondered about the fall of Russia and the rise of the Soviet Union.

Beginning in 1891 when Tsar Nicholas II takes the throne, to the death of Lenin in 1924 and the takeover of the Soviet State by Stalin, we find a brief portrayal of the Russian Imperial system where the Tsar was considered the 'Spiritual' 'Father' of the country and autocrat of final decree. This book portrays how the Russian culture as a whole had not developed away from a system of governance by a powerful paternalistic figure for a number of reasons, not least being the disproportionate lack of education among the masses ill equipping them for any wider perspectives or contribution outside the confines of their own village communities.
But the countries economic needs in a vast - multicultural society, to organize resources and reconcile authority behind a central body established a context in which the position of Tsar (or Premier ) seemed a culturally endorsed necessity, although this in fact was a consequence and reflection of state policy, of how it invested in certain aspects and neglected (or later pursued to destruction) others of its citizenry as a whole.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars 134 reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Narrative history on the 20C's most radical social convulsion 18 Aug. 2015
By Robert J. Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you want the definitive one-volume take on Lenin's revolution and all that it entailed, this is your book. I was mesmerized from the first page and it lasted right until the end, complete with characters who are followed throughout the entire story, quick and dense analyses of the forces behind events, and a full explanation of the consequences that inevitably followed. It is a masterpiece of historical exposition.

The story begins with an analysis of the old regime, the last major one to survive in Europe. On top was the Tsar and the aristocracy, which dominated government and much of the bureaucracy. They owned most of the land, had the most education, and controlled the armed forces. There was a slim tranche that represented an urban middle class, a rising bourgeoisie that dominated commerce and the rudiments of a manufacturing industry, but they were too weak to have much political influence. All the rest, over 90% of the population, were peasants in primitive villages, most of them illiterate; though serfs until the 1860s (bound to the land under the total control of the gentry), they had recently gained some legal rights, including minimal self governance; they were a mix of reactionary conservatives and the disgruntled, who carried a simmering rage.

Nicolas II, the Tsar, was so ill-suited to his role that the socio-political forces he faced led to complete catastrophe. Rather than take an interest in the reforms needed - or even in the practical tasks of governing - he chose to live in a dream world in which he imagined the "people" loved him as the eternal soul of the entire country. After a series of assassinations and violent uprisings, he indulged in the idea that autocracy was the answer for the Russian Empire, egged on by his German wife, who believed he should rule as Ivan the Terrible had done. Because Nicolas II was suspicious of anyone who challenged his authority, he actively undermined the government and bureaucracy, preferring the fawning nonsense of manipulative courtiers and religious figures, such as Rasputin. As the social situation worsened, he remained studiously unaware of what should be done to protect Russian institutions and his office. After the 1905 revolution, the Tsar agreed to establish a Parliament, the Duma, but he did not choose to nurture or work with it, losing a significant opportunity.

Had there been peace, more peaceful political change might have eventually come, but Nicolas II chose instead to join in the Great War as a Western ally. This war - the first fully modern one that required both an industrial capacity and more flexible institutions - brought the situation to a head. Not only was the aristocratic military revealed as incompetent and uncaring of the lives of its peasant foot soldiers, but the catastrophic conditions under which the war unfolded completely undermined the support of the masses for the Tsar's autocratic government. The result was a revolution that forced him to abdicate in favor of a new parliamentary democracy, which was soon identified with Kerensky.

One of the weaknesses of coverage is the precise configuration of the institutions that emerged to fill the gap created by the collapse of the autocracy. First, the Duma remained unrepresentative and weak, particularly with the absence of any viable middle class. Second, there were the Soviets, which apparently were more spontaneous groupings that better reflected the revolutionary forces, though they varied widely in their composition and openness. It was here that the Bolsheviks (the "Reds"), Mensheviks, and various Social Democrats met to debate courses of action. Third, there were disparate groupings that might be seen as power centers, including conservative Aristocrats (the "Whites") and many others, such as ethnic groups, but few added up to any coherent force. I was never clear on how these interacted or what their powers were.

Nonetheless, the politics of the situation is very well covered. As the rage of peasants was unleashed in a series of violent movements that attacked and disenfranchised the landed gentry, the Duma appeared impotent to restore order to the situation. Meanwhile, as the war wreaked havoc on the economy, the Bolsheviks emerged as the only ones who clearly opposed continuing to fight (as well as the only party to endorse the aristocracy's destruction as wholly desirable as well as the takeover of industries by workers). This won them the political heart of many peasants, who identified the Reds as the only true force genuinely supporting the revolution. No one else seemed to understand these political facts in the civil war that erupted after the Bolsheviks seized power in the October 1917 coup - the Whites appeared to want to restore the monarchy and land rights of the aristocracy, which at this point was politically impossible and hence completely undermined their cause in the medium term.

It is at this point that the personal stories become important. Figes proves that Lenin was the dominant politician of his time, pushing the Bolsheviks to seize power and establish their own form of autocracy, improvising the whole time with decisions that would prepare the ground for the ambitious Stalin to take over the party apparatus and soon (with his ability to appoint cronies in key positions) the entire government. The portraits of these men and scores of others are compelling and fascinating in their quirky detail. Figes is of the opinion that, due to the institutions that Lenin set up, Stalin was an inevitable and natural outgrowth of all that followed, even though Lenin came to oppose him while on his death bed.

Once the Bolsheviks were in power, even though they withdrew Russia from the war (with great difficulty), they made a series of mistakes that plunged the country into famine, renewed civil war, and desperate anarchy that took years to set right. To keep themselves in power, they relied on terror in a similar manner to the Tsar, but with ideological purpose guiding their actions and a huge bureaucracy that they installed, often run by uneducated and inexperienced peasant revolutionaries. Figes covers this process well, but his explanations of the impact of Marxist theory were less than satisfying for me, perhaps due to my own ignorance of it (i.e. he goes on about the lack of a capiltalist class, which had to be skipped).

Throughout the book, Figes exhibits an admirable skepticism, never indulging in romanticization of any of the characters or their ideas. Except for certain individuals, no class or group comes off well - not the peasants, not the revolutionaries, not representatives of the old regime. A very interesting analysis is offered regarding the mentalities of each group. Cut off as the vast majority was from the ideas in ferment to the west, there was a poverty of ideas under discussion, with few alternatives emerging organically from the society. Instead, the few ideas that did get into the country were viewed as exclusive panaceas rather than part of a mix that required compromise and negotiation; rather than an openness of mind, the lack of education and ignorance promoted rigid minds that rarely questioned opinions once they were adopted. For their part, the Bolsheviks disdained the peasants and workers, in whose name they established their dictatorship. I cannot due justice to the subtlety of Figes' ideas here, but it was one of the most interesting cultural aspects of the book for me. (For example, he views the search for philosophical answers to everything as a key to the appeal of the great Russian novelists of the 19C.)

This book is as satisfying an intellectual meal as the general reader could hope for. I simply could not stop reading it and almost never felt bogged down over its 800+ pages. It is an astounding achievement: for the first time in my life, I feel I truly grasp this revolution and all that it meant. While sometimes exhaustive in its detail, Figes never covers events to excess: there is always a purpose to his narrative, so that every single battle or political maneuver is not described; instead, significant or illustrative episodes are highlighted, a relief for lay readers.

Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the absence of the center (& why a center was absent in a society like that of the Russia of the time) & the ... 1 Mar. 2016
By Carlos Rodriguez V. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author explains the XIX century Russian world, the stratum from which the revolution emerged. More complex than the 'there was Zar … then there was a USSR' explanation one often hears in non-academic sources. The Russian 'ancien régime' is presented with it's ramifications & consequences for the benefit of the reader.

One gets to understand how this Russian Revolution was foremost the failure of the right, the absence of the center (& why a center was absent in a society like that of the Russia of the time) & the inaction of the more moderate socialists. Ending with a few, uniquely radicals in the furthest-left in charge of the planet's largest country.

The author does a very good job presenting the sociopolitical events behind that Russian revolution &, eventually, describes very well how the Bolsheviks seized the situation to set in place their uncanny Orwellian state.

If you want to read 1 book about this topic, understand how the Soviet regime was later able to come into being, don't let this one pass.
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed and Well Paced Telling of the Russian Revolution 4 Jun. 2017
By Jarred E. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Figes's history of the Russian Revolution is detailed and an enjoyable read. Figes's use of individual storylines is especially helpful in elucidating this complicated subject matter. These individual storylines never lose their context and Figes does not stray too long from the main story. Figes should also be commended for not pulling punches. Figes is sure to point out each party's weaknesses and positives.

He also spends a great deal of the book (first 1/3 of book) examining the causes of the Revolution, including the 1905 Revolution. This portion of the book can be frustrating when you mostly want to know about the actual events of the Revolution. However, the reader is rewarded once the details and events of the Revolution are told. The actual Revolution is complex, proper introduction and context enhances the reader's understanding to a great deal. This information is especially important because of the different parties involved (Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, The Duma, the Social Democrats, the Revolutionary Democrats). A handy index of these parties is helpful; but more detail in the index would be helpful.

Overall, this book is a detailed and compelling telling of the Russian Revolution. Although, its length will give some readers pause (rightly so), taking the plunge with this book will reward the reader interested in the Russian Revolution.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Am Not Orlando Figes 27 Dec. 2016
By dmiguer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Once in a great while a history comes along that eclipses all others for the near future. And no, I am not Orlando Figes. This book has the passion and the pathos, the humor and the humanity. I guess that this is what they call literature. My only critique is the sheer weight of the volume and mind numbingly tiny text. Couldn't it be reissued as an e-book?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tour De Force 9 April 2010
By Solipso - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author takes the reader on an informative journey through the Russian Revolution. Much of the text is devoted to elaborations, justifications, and explanations of persons and events, and this can be soporific, especially if you aren't caught up on your sleep. But if you forge ahead, you will be well rewarded. Colorful and historically important characters like Nicholas II, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, and Gorky are brought to life with insight, along with the important events they take part in. A large supporting cast, with characters like Alexandra, Rasputin, Kerensky, General Brusilov, and Prince Lvov add to the dramatic saga, highlighted by many tasty anecdotes.

You get only a few, unremarkable maps, but you get many photos, and they are good.

"A People's Tragedy" is a great accomplishment, and a reading of it will enrich you.
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