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Gulag: A History

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The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the larger history of the Soviet Union. Immediately recognized as a landmark and long-overdue work of scholarship, Gulag is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand the history of the twentieth century.


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The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the larger history of the Soviet Union. Immediately recognized as a landmark and long-overdue work of scholarship, Gulag is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand the history of the twentieth century.

30 review for Gulag: A History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    I read history books because of my undying belief that as a human being, I am responsible for anything that humans do. If murder happens, it is because I have it in me as well. If kindness happens, it is because I am capable of kindness. This belief does not put me or humanity at the center of anything - I think anthropocentrism is one of the worst ways of explaining our existence - but rather connects me to every other human being that has ever lived, or will ever live. I believe in patterns - I read history books because of my undying belief that as a human being, I am responsible for anything that humans do. If murder happens, it is because I have it in me as well. If kindness happens, it is because I am capable of kindness. This belief does not put me or humanity at the center of anything - I think anthropocentrism is one of the worst ways of explaining our existence - but rather connects me to every other human being that has ever lived, or will ever live. I believe in patterns - and totalitarian patterns have a particular tendency to devolve into heinous, soul-crushing, lethal regimes, run by maniacs who indulge in their darkest sides. Applebaum seems to think along the same lines. This book is written with such delicacy towards the victims and innocents, but it also lays down facts with the weight of iron with regards to what actually happened. Myths are debunked, correctness is preserved, truth above all is searched for, because in knowing the truth about things such as the Gulag, we are better prepared to deal with ourselves in the future. Applebaum believes the Gulags will exist again (albeit in any future form they might morph into), she believes massacres, genocides, totalitarianism, mass murder happen and will continue to happen for as long as we are human - and I agree. That is why we must read history, that is why we must expose ourselves to the most uncomfortable facts about ourselves - because we will meet with this again. And the best weapon against anything human-made is knowledge of everything human-made.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    I have been reading some memoirs about the Soviet Gulags, and I discovered that I didn't have enough knowledge of Russian history to process what I was reading about individual experiences. Consequently, I picked up Applebaum's book. Her book was precisely what I needed. She presents a very systematic explanation of the gulags in three sections: 1) the historical precedents prior to Stalin's regime and the rise of their power under Stalin; 2) Day-to-day life in the gulags; and 3) the dismantling I have been reading some memoirs about the Soviet Gulags, and I discovered that I didn't have enough knowledge of Russian history to process what I was reading about individual experiences. Consequently, I picked up Applebaum's book. Her book was precisely what I needed. She presents a very systematic explanation of the gulags in three sections: 1) the historical precedents prior to Stalin's regime and the rise of their power under Stalin; 2) Day-to-day life in the gulags; and 3) the dismantling of the Gulag's after Stalin's death and their diminishing presence through several other Soviet leaders and into 21st century Russia politics and judicial / penal system. At times the amount of detail was close to overwhelming, but Applebaum places all the facts into strong frameworks without losing the debates and ambiguity present in the field because of incomplete and missing information. She blends data, history, politics, personal history, and even a few exerpts from literary works to create her history. I expected to see cruelty depicted, but what shocked me the most was the arbitrary manner in which arrests, labor, torture and even releases were conducted. It would be maddening to live under a regime that weilded so much power in ways that were incomprehensible to its people. Anyone could be arrested and placed in labor / death camps: criminals, dissidents, and even members of the Communist party. Were the gulags so heavily populated because Stalin wanted cheap labor as a way to industrialize the Soviet Union? They never were cost effective. Was he trying to brow beat people into submission? They created strife between people and government. Was he trying to reform criminals and political dissidents? Few if none of the gulag prisoners became better people because of their time in the camps -- if they lived through it. The accounts made me wonder how human beings could descend into such irrational mistreatment of one another and made me wonder if such nonesense still persists in other countries - even in small ways (even in our own). Before this summer, I could fit everything I knew about the gulags on a postage stamp. Applebaum gave me a wealth of knowledge and much to ponder. I'm glad that I found this book -- even if her book was the antithesis of a "summer read."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brett C

    I learned a great deal from this book. This is a well-researched and scholarly book about a subject that is rarely discussed. The introduction was enough to sell me into wanting to know more. This book lays it all out: the beginnings of the penal system of Czarist Russia, the revolution, and into the apex of Gulag atrocities. The most informative was the life inside the camps: arrests, the prisoners, the guards, women & children, survival, and rebellion & escape. The book goes all the way throug I learned a great deal from this book. This is a well-researched and scholarly book about a subject that is rarely discussed. The introduction was enough to sell me into wanting to know more. This book lays it all out: the beginnings of the penal system of Czarist Russia, the revolution, and into the apex of Gulag atrocities. The most informative was the life inside the camps: arrests, the prisoners, the guards, women & children, survival, and rebellion & escape. The book goes all the way through to the Gulag system's demise with Gorbachev's end and the fall of the Soviet Union. Interesting fact is GULAG is an acronym—Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, or Main Camp Administration. Recommended for anyone interested in Russian/Soviet history. Thanks!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    Page 102 (my book) from Stalin and Beria “an enemy of the people is not only one who commits sabotage, but one who doubts the rightness of the Party line.”... women were arrested as “wives of enemies of the people” and the same applied to children. Page 241 Vladimir Bukovsky “In our camps, you were expected not only to be a slave laborer, but to sing and smile while you worked as well. They didn’t just want to oppress us; they wanted us to thank them for it.” This is a book that is horrific in scope Page 102 (my book) from Stalin and Beria “an enemy of the people is not only one who commits sabotage, but one who doubts the rightness of the Party line.”... women were arrested as “wives of enemies of the people” and the same applied to children. Page 241 Vladimir Bukovsky “In our camps, you were expected not only to be a slave laborer, but to sing and smile while you worked as well. They didn’t just want to oppress us; they wanted us to thank them for it.” This is a book that is horrific in scope as it details the history of the Gulag in the Soviet Union from its beginnings under Lenin. The author, who writes with great eloquence, takes us through the various stages of what occurred. The Gulag itself was a vast slave labour system that had two basic purposes: to incarcerate anyone who was perceived as a threat to the system and to use the slave labourers (the prisoners) to industrialize and modernize the Soviet Union – to build roads and railroads, work in mines, chop down trees for lumber – in other words to exploit the almost endless resources of the country. Ms. Applebaum takes us through the entire sequence of events: the arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, transport to a camp, and the camp itself. Millions passed through this system, some more than once. When examined individually these steps could be compared to imprisonment in other countries – for instance the food is atrocious. But it is the vast scale of the Gulag that sets it apart - not only in terms of human dignity, but as a crime against there own citizens. One aspect that is beyond the compare is the transport to the labour camps. Many would die during this long journey to the outer reaches of the Soviet Union where they could be locked in cattle cars or the bottom of ships and given little food and clothing. Many of the prisons were in the far north where the prisoners were forced to work long hours in the cold with inadequate clothing and small rations, even in the summer they were decimated by hordes of mosquitoes. Of interest is that the camps were controlled by the Russian mob which has a long history, as they started in the days of the Czar. These real criminals held brutal sway over the political prisoners. The number and types of prisoners were vast – “political” prisoners, exiles (as in a national group relocated for ethnic cleansing) consisting over the years of Poles, Lithuanians, Chechens, religious people, kulaks... One is never quite sure of the distinction between an exile and prisoners – in remote locations neither, due to geography, had freedom of movement. Maybe prisoners had an advantage because they were fed, usually with a bowl of watery soup. Page 421 in 1939 With no warning, the NKVD had plucked these newcomers – Poles, Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Moldavians – out of their bourgeois or peasant worlds after the Soviet invasion of multiethnic eastern Poland, Bessarabia, and the Baltic States, and dumped them in large numbers, into the Gulag and exile villages. What is most sad and atrocious is the treatment of the children (which I dare say was even worse than the way women were treated). They were at the bottom of the ladder in a “society” where work was rewarded with food. Page 333 Decades of propaganda, of posters draped across orphanage walls, thanking Stalin “for our happy childhood”, failed to convince the Soviet people that the children of the camps, the children of the streets, and the children of the orphanages had ever become anything but full-fledged members of the Soviet Union’s large and all-embracing criminal class. Ms. Appleton humanizes all with emotional quotes from several people, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov. The author discusses how the Gulag changed after Stalin. For instance, during the Brezhnev era Joseph Brodsky (a poet) was arrested and imprisoned on charges of “parasitism”. This book furthered my understanding of the Soviet Union and its’ successor Russia. This is not a book of numbers. It is intense and extremely well written. We are provided not just with a history of the Gulag, but of the entire country. Highly recommended for any who are interested in this important historical era. As the author mentions, it gives us another view of the Cold War – and why there was a Cold War. Page 515 Olga Adamo-Sliozberg arrested in 1936 – released in 1956 “There was no one home and finally I was able to weep freely. To weep for my husband, who perished in the cellars of the Lubyanka, when he was thirty-seven years old, at the height of his powers and talent; for my children, who grew up orphans, stigmatized as the children of enemies of the people; for my parents, who died of grief; for Nikolai who was tortured in the camps; and for all of my friends who never lived to be rehabilitated but lie beneath the frozen earth of Kolyma.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    J

    Jesus Christ. With the possible exception of a few books on the Holocaust, this is the single most painful work of non-fiction I've ever encountered. The portrait of the Soviet work camp system that Applebaum develops examines, in painfully minute detail, every single aspect of life in and around the Gulag system, from the highest levels of Soviet politburo administration, down to the lowliest starving, walking damned in the most far flung Siberian penal cell. And she brings a staggering deluge Jesus Christ. With the possible exception of a few books on the Holocaust, this is the single most painful work of non-fiction I've ever encountered. The portrait of the Soviet work camp system that Applebaum develops examines, in painfully minute detail, every single aspect of life in and around the Gulag system, from the highest levels of Soviet politburo administration, down to the lowliest starving, walking damned in the most far flung Siberian penal cell. And she brings a staggering deluge of historical records and personal testimonies from people involved at all levels of the Gulag system to bare witness and de-mystify what was for decades an almost completely hidden world. And what a nightmare of a world it all was, all the more so because the criminal unfairness of the whole enterprise was never mandated, never required, never written into laws or decrees in any way, they just didn't care at all what really happened to all of these people they arrested for nothing and charged with nothing and shunted around the Russian wastes and sent to dig limestone out the arctic with their bare hands with no shelter or warm clothing... In some ways, and I doubt Applebaum intended this, this is a work of supreme political nihilism. It doesn't merely call into question the practical ramifications of the ideology of the soviet union/socialism, it calls into question the entire concept of sane, humane governance in the modern age period. As long as something this crushingly atrocious is able to sustain itself for decades on end, how can we possibly have faith in anything that any national entity ever does?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    A third to a fourth remains when I write this. I have 8 hours left of 27 hours and 45 minutes! I am chugging along, but I'll tell you Gulag: A History is an exceptionally hard read. The topic is dark, and I am usually fine with difficult subjects, but this proves to be harder than I thought! The book is VERY thorough. Chapter after chapter covering every possible aspect of the Gulag camps. I have read a lot previously on the topic. References are made to much of what I have read before.....and y A third to a fourth remains when I write this. I have 8 hours left of 27 hours and 45 minutes! I am chugging along, but I'll tell you Gulag: A History is an exceptionally hard read. The topic is dark, and I am usually fine with difficult subjects, but this proves to be harder than I thought! The book is VERY thorough. Chapter after chapter covering every possible aspect of the Gulag camps. I have read a lot previously on the topic. References are made to much of what I have read before.....and yet still there is more. The material presented is well organized. The author analyzes the evidence; she doesn't simply accept what is being said but compares information with other sources. Yet there is so much information you get drowned by the details and what is discussed is so very horrible. Here is one example of the meticulous analytical manner in which facts are studied. The food eaten in the camps is discussed, so of course food portions in grams must be listed too - for each and every prisoner type. On top of that the water content, which skews the nutrient content for the given weight, is documented. See what I mean by thorough?! Phew. Thoroughness on top of being a very difficult subject makes this a hard read. It is a clinically accurate and an encyclopedic tome. Tons of references to particular individual experiences. This I like. ******************************** On completion I want to re-emphasize what I noted above. The book is well organized, well researched, thorough, meticulously documented and encyclopedic in content. Multiple references to particular individuals' experiences are sited. Statements are not taken at face value; instead each is evaluated to discover the real truth. How is the book organized? There are three sections. The first covers how the camps came into being and developed with time. The central section covers life in the camps divided into chapters focusing on different themes, i.e. different aspects of the camps. Here are some examples of the themes: arrest, interrogations, incarceration in prisons, transport to the camps, intermediary transit camps. Once in the camps the following themes are equally meticulously documented - freedom of movement, classification of the incarcerated, bathing, dining, food, sleeping facilities, work, propaganda, punishment and reward, communication with the outside world, spiritual issues, criminals versus political prisoners, women and children and births and nurseries and sex and rape and prostitution and love and homosexuality...... I simply cannot list everything! What is essential to understand is that every aspect is meticulously documented. There are statistics and quotes from the incarcerated. The third section is about the dismantlement of the camps and the situation at the end of the 20th century. Finally there is an epilogue that focuses on why the author felt the book needed to be written. The first and the third section are in chronological order. Numerous references are made to authors such as Aleksandr Solzjenitsyn, Yevgenia Ginzburg, Osip Mandelstam, Andrej Sacharov, and others. I found the war years and the treatment of Poles, Crimean Tartars, Ukrainians, Chechens and other Caucasians, seen from the perspective of current events, particularly interesting. Also Putin’s background. The book's organization and clear writing makes it easy to follow. BUT.....you can feel at points that you are drowning in all the information. It is like reading an encyclopedia section of over 600 pages. If I were writing a research paper, this would be a fantastic resource. It is itself a bit like a research paper. I would have appreciated a bit more editing. Even if it is easy to understand, it doesn't read as a book for the general public, in that it is so comprehensive! I do think there was a real need for such a book. How you rate a book depends on what you personally are looking for. My three star rating is by no means a judgment of the book’s quality; my rating only shows my personal appreciation of the book. I liked it and would definitely recommend it to others, along with a word of warning that it is at times tedious and often relates horrible events. The narration of the audiobook by Laural Merlington was absolutely excellent. I cannot judge her Russian pronunciation. I liked the speed at which it was narrated and the ease at understanding each word. Clearly narrated. This is essential in a book of non-fiction. I am giving the narration five stars.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    This is a fantastic book. It is a must-read for anyone who has any illusions about communism. It sucks. It is evil. It belongs in the dustbin of history. Anne Applebaum tells the story of the gulag in fascinating detail, using newly available Soviet archives and published and unpublished memoirs from those who survived the camps. Their stories are chilling, to say the least. In the Introduction, Applebaum discusses the differences and similarities between the Nazi death camps and the Soviet camps. This is a fantastic book. It is a must-read for anyone who has any illusions about communism. It sucks. It is evil. It belongs in the dustbin of history. Anne Applebaum tells the story of the gulag in fascinating detail, using newly available Soviet archives and published and unpublished memoirs from those who survived the camps. Their stories are chilling, to say the least. In the Introduction, Applebaum discusses the differences and similarities between the Nazi death camps and the Soviet camps. She also explains why so many on the Left were willing to excuse Soviet communism (and particularly Stalin) for its crimes. She then delves into a general history of the camps, explaining that they were, at heart, an economic enterprise. The first official camp, Solovetsky, spread out over a group of islands in the White Sea, was meant to be profitable. Later, Stalin insisted that the entire gulag must turn a profit, which it never did. But no one had had the guts to tell Stalin that. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Applebaum shows how many prisoners were used for grand construction projects like canals and railroads, with the predictably disappointing results and thousands of lives lost (suffice to say that OSHA would not be pleased with the working conditions). She writes how the camp system expanded throughout the 1930s until it obtained its permanent form. By 1940, hundreds of camps imprisoned millions of people, many of them criminals, many of them politicals, those whose only "crime" was some sort of dissent against Stalin and the Soviet Union. Many of these politicals were innocent, of course. In Part Two, in my opinion the heart and most compelling section of the book, Applebaum delves into the minutiae of the camps, chronicling prisoners' experiences through the arrest, transport, and imprisonment in the camps. This is where you get the sense of the monstrosity of the system and the government that ran it. Space doesn't permit me to go into all the details. Suffice to say that as a horror writer, there's enough material to write dozens of short stories and novels, with no need for any supernatural element to make them scary. In the third section, she switches back to general history and covers the rest of the 20th century, from the death of Stalin to the death of the Soviet Union. The gulag survived Stalin's death, but it did shrink as Soviet leaders were then free to address the unprofitably of the system. Many camps were closed and many prisoners were released, though many of those were later re-arrested. But the suppression continued. Innocents were still jailed for speaking out for freedom and still forced to endure hard labor in horrific conditions. This is the story of oppression on a massive scale. But it's also a collection of gritty and inspiring stories of survival by those lucky enough to live through the experience. Unfortunately, millions did not.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

    A 5 star read without a doubt. This book impacted me on so many levels, I was absorbed and utterly fascinated with every word I read. My family is from Russia (I am a first gen American) and many of the events and situations which occurred in this book related to my family history. It's impact was tremendous as I learned so much of what had happened and what it must have been like for my family living (and eventually escaping) during Stalin's reign. As a young girl I heard stories of my grandfat A 5 star read without a doubt. This book impacted me on so many levels, I was absorbed and utterly fascinated with every word I read. My family is from Russia (I am a first gen American) and many of the events and situations which occurred in this book related to my family history. It's impact was tremendous as I learned so much of what had happened and what it must have been like for my family living (and eventually escaping) during Stalin's reign. As a young girl I heard stories of my grandfather having been in a "labor camp" but until I read this, I never knew what that really meant. My family knew a dissident who vacationed in the same resort we did every year, until I read this I truly did not understand what that meant either. Of course, we all can intellectually know what that means but Applebaum brings it to light on so many levels. I feel like I had the best Russian history lesson yet was emotionally engaged the whole time. What better way to learn about history?! Anne Applebaum is truly a talented writer. It is evident how well-researched this book is and she is able to present it in such a wonderfully engaging and readable format. Speaking for myself, other than knowing that labor camps existed, I had NO idea to the extent and to the length of time they existed. I am sure I am not alone in this and this book brings so much to our understanding of the world. I feel it is a very important contribution to history and a wonderful memorial to those who experienced these miserable situations. I feel it also brings an understanding of the Russian people both past and present. I highly recommend this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    nastya

    The more we are able to understand how different societies have transformed their neighbors and fellow citizens from people into objects, the more we know of the specific circumstances which led to each episode of mass torture and mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature. This book was not written “so that it will not happen again,” as the cliché would have it. This book was written because it almost certainly will happen again. Totalitarian philosophies The more we are able to understand how different societies have transformed their neighbors and fellow citizens from people into objects, the more we know of the specific circumstances which led to each episode of mass torture and mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature. This book was not written “so that it will not happen again,” as the cliché would have it. This book was written because it almost certainly will happen again. Totalitarian philosophies have had, and will continue to have, a profound appeal to many millions of people. Destruction of the “objective enemy,” as Hannah Arendt once put it, remains a fundamental object of many dictatorships. We need to know why—and each story, each memoir, each document in the history of the Gulag is a piece of the puzzle, a part of the explanation. Without them, we will wake up one day and realize that we do not know who we are.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the era, country, politics, WWII or even just the Gulag itself. The vastness of the Gulag is astounding. From small camps to giant and from city prisons to tents in Siberia and all sizes in between. The variety of work that was required was also quite extensive, from manufacturing to logging to mining to channel building. With the quality of life that prisoners had to endure and how unprepared both they and their captures were I am surprised t I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the era, country, politics, WWII or even just the Gulag itself. The vastness of the Gulag is astounding. From small camps to giant and from city prisons to tents in Siberia and all sizes in between. The variety of work that was required was also quite extensive, from manufacturing to logging to mining to channel building. With the quality of life that prisoners had to endure and how unprepared both they and their captures were I am surprised that so many people survived to tell their tales. I had no issues with the history, it was extremely well researched but the layout of the book held a few issues for me. Part 1 was a great introduction but I found Part 2 was a bit confusing as it switched from years and camps with such rapidity. I couldn't always remember what had happened in that year or that camp as it switched from subject to subject. But I loved the epilogue and the summation was very thought provoking. The story was depressing and shocking and disturbing. At the same time it was fascinating, enthralling and makes me want to know even more about the legacy of Lenin, Stalin and the Communist Party.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    "No one wants to be told that there was another, darker side to Allied victory, or that the camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were liberated... No one wants to think that we defeated one mass murderer with the help of another." ▪️GULAG: A History, by Anne Applebaum, 2003. Appleabaum's exhaustive history of the network of forced labor camps/prisons that operated for decades across the whole of the USSR, in "every one of the USSR's twelve time zones" (pg15) "No one wants to be told that there was another, darker side to Allied victory, or that the camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were liberated... No one wants to think that we defeated one mass murderer with the help of another." ▪️GULAG: A History, by Anne Applebaum, 2003. Appleabaum's exhaustive history of the network of forced labor camps/prisons that operated for decades across the whole of the USSR, in "every one of the USSR's twelve time zones" (pg15) after the purges of the late 1930s, from the notorious camps of Siberia to urban factory camps in Leningrad and Moscow, to the deserts in Kazakhstan. Familiar with Applebaum's impeccable and organized writing from my reading of IRON CURTAIN earlier this year, GULAG still astounded me in the level of research, and her attention to many facets that have not been largely covered and discussed: the incarceration of children in various camps, the lives of incarcerated women, the various kinds of camps and the social hierarchy and interworkings, the criminal versus political prisoners that were incarcerated side by side, and the vast numbers of disappeared and never-accounted for casualties in the camps. Unsurprisingly, Applebaum uses a lot of prison memoir sources: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Varlam Shalamov, Evgeniya Ginzburg and others, with some sources from state and local archives, and press reports from the time. The long shadow of these decades still felt and present at this very moment, the impact on countless lives and families generations later. GULAG was the well-deserved recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 2004. 📚 Related reading I've shared here: ▪️SECONDHAND TIME by Svetlana Alexievich, tr. Bella Shayevich, 2013. ▪️NEVER REMEMBER: Searching Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia by Masha Gessen, 2018. ▪️ONE DAY IN the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, tr. H.T. Willets, 1962.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Scottnshana

    It would be easy to stop reading after the introduction, where she tells us that "the Gulag did not emerge, fully formed, from the sea, but rather reflected the standards of the society around it. If the camps were filthy, if the guards were brutal, if the work teams were slovenly, that was partly because filthiness and brutality and slovenliness were plentiful enough in other spheres of Soviet life. If life in the camps was horrible, unbearable, inhuman, if death rates were high--that too was h It would be easy to stop reading after the introduction, where she tells us that "the Gulag did not emerge, fully formed, from the sea, but rather reflected the standards of the society around it. If the camps were filthy, if the guards were brutal, if the work teams were slovenly, that was partly because filthiness and brutality and slovenliness were plentiful enough in other spheres of Soviet life. If life in the camps was horrible, unbearable, inhuman, if death rates were high--that too was hardly surprising. In certain periods, life in the Soviet Union was also horrible, unbearable, and inhuman, and death rates were as high outside the camps as they were within them." Applebaum argues through the narrative--describing heartbreaking transits on boats full of mass rape and murder to desolate corners of the USSR; families shattered as spouses break it off at conjugal "House of Meetings" visits and orphans end up on the streets as a festering class of homeless/brutal/carnal criminals; and the awful/truly gross things people would do to smuggle grain alcohol into the camps--that when there were periods war and famine outside the system deaths inside it would spike. Along the way, there are some very interesting historical gems, too. I've been to Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst many times, but I didn't know that in 1945 145 Russian prisoners of war housed there rioted and killed themselves rather than go back to the USSR and atone for their collaboration with the Nazis via the Gulag. I didn't know that in 1944 U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace visited the camp at Kolyma and was completely duped Potemkin-style into thinking it was a worker's paradise in "the Wild West of Russia". I learned that if you're a fat guy and two other prisoners suddenly invite you to do a big cross-country escape opportunity you're probably going to get eaten. I think that, after accompanying Applebaum on this well-researched history--meeting Solzhenitsyn, seeing the comparisons and contrasts to the Nazis' camps, and watching the ways that every Soviet leader after Stalin's death tried to deal with this system that absolutely wasted so much blood and treasure--that the ugliest but most useful part of this book occurs in the epilogue. After describing all the soul-searching and efforts to heal that took place in Germany in the wake of the Holocaust (which are ongoing, by the way), she points out that "Half a century after Stalin's death, there were no equivalent arguments taking place in Russia, because memory of the past was not a living part of public discourse... the goal has been to end discussion of the past, to pacify the victims by throwing them a few extra rubles and free bus tickets, and to avoid any deeper examination of the causes of Stalinism or of its legacy." While Applebaum laments the fact that Russians don't want to talk about the crimes of the past, she doesn't let the other Cold War camp off easy, either: "Already, we are forgetting what it was that mobilized us, what held the civilization of "the West" together for so long: we are forgetting what it was that we were fighting against. If we do not try harder to remember the history of the other half of the European continent, the history of the other twentieth-century totalitarian regime, in the end it is we in the West who will not understand our past, we who will not know how our world came to be the way it is." I found this book insightful and interesting, if a little depressing (I read it in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, one of the most beautiful places in the world, so that I could occasionally take a reality break from the uglier bits in the pages like forced feedings and self-mutilation) and I think that its subject matter is timely, given what we're seeing lately in the international news.

  13. 4 out of 5

    John

    Among the best accounts of Stalin's system of concentration and labor camps that I know of. She describes not only the organization, operations of the camps as well as life within them, but she also explains the role of slave labor in the development of the Soviet economy and in war production. Very well written, and entirely engaging - despite the horror in the tale. Clearly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize that she was awarded - if I recall correctly. Among the best accounts of Stalin's system of concentration and labor camps that I know of. She describes not only the organization, operations of the camps as well as life within them, but she also explains the role of slave labor in the development of the Soviet economy and in war production. Very well written, and entirely engaging - despite the horror in the tale. Clearly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize that she was awarded - if I recall correctly.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elena Sala

    GULAG (2003) is an impressive, documented history of the Soviet concentration camps. Anne Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for The Economist, describes how a regulated, centralized system of prison labor—unprecedented in scope—gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Applebaum researched newly accessible Soviet archives as well as camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the Gulag's origins and expansion. Although the Gulag reached its cruellest and most ext GULAG (2003) is an impressive, documented history of the Soviet concentration camps. Anne Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for The Economist, describes how a regulated, centralized system of prison labor—unprecedented in scope—gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Applebaum researched newly accessible Soviet archives as well as camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the Gulag's origins and expansion. Although the Gulag reached its cruellest and most extreme form under Stalin, it was not invented by Bolshevik revolutionaries but by the Tsars. However, after 1929, Stalin shaped the Gulag into an enormous machine which provided an inexhaustible source of free labour to the Soviet State. Prisoners began to be used as slaves, working for forestry, construction, mining projects and many other activities. The camp population grew in 1937-8, the years of the Great Terror, but the severest time was 1941-2, when prisoners were worked to death to support the Soviet Union's war against Nazism. Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. "Fed" by waves of capricious arrests, this vile system of prison labor actually became the foundation of the Soviet economy just as Stalin desired. GULAG is a riveting, grim and terrible book. I read it as a companion to Varlam Shalamov's KOLYMA TALES, and I am so glad I did because it provided context to some of Shalamov's stories and deepened my appreciation and understanding of his book. The Gulag was "the longest-lived experiment in rationalized evil the world has ever known", Applebaum pronounces, and who could disagree after reading this book? Her book ends with large, uncomfortable questions lest you feel too comfortable thinking all this is past history, over and done with.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Esme

    What an unbelievably grim book. Dark topic non-fictions always take me a while to get through, especially when it's 600 or more pages. People were ripped from their families for being too rich, something I didn't know about, with the rise of communism there was a harsh outlook on those living in luxury or above the means deemed appropriate and many of them were rounded up and put into these prisons, along with political opponents, petty criminals and anyone else the regime found to be bothersome What an unbelievably grim book. Dark topic non-fictions always take me a while to get through, especially when it's 600 or more pages. People were ripped from their families for being too rich, something I didn't know about, with the rise of communism there was a harsh outlook on those living in luxury or above the means deemed appropriate and many of them were rounded up and put into these prisons, along with political opponents, petty criminals and anyone else the regime found to be bothersome. The conditions weren't all that different from the concentration camps in Germany and it's astounding to me that a country would do this to its own people, although, maybe I shouldn't be all that surprised given the times and the leaders. Life for women could be markedly different than it was for the men in this prison, some made attempts to get into relationships with the guards - but that didn't spare them when the higher-ups wanted them dead. I like the fact that she went and personally interviewed people who lived through this rather than just going on second hand reports, it gave a lot of more intimate insight into the day to day living. This was an easily accessible book, you don't have to have a lot of background on the topic to get a lot out of this book, and I didn't find myself getting confused by references to events I wasn't familiar with, everything that was stated was explained - which is also why it's so long. So, perhaps this wouldn't be a book for people already well versed on the topic, it could be considered remedial in places. Overall, this was well written, if a bit verbose, it maybe could have been shortened a bit in places, but having it all laid out in painstaking detail made for a horrific read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (2004), the Duff Cooper Prize (2003), and the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction Nominee (2004) easily merits a five-star rating on the Goodreads scale. Published in2003, forty years after Solzhenitsyn' "Gulag Archipelago", Applebaum was able to draw on an extensive body of academic works and memoirs written in Russian and Polish in order to bring the Anglo-Saxon world up to date on the state of knowledge of a remarkable and horrifying phenom Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (2004), the Duff Cooper Prize (2003), and the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction Nominee (2004) easily merits a five-star rating on the Goodreads scale. Published in2003, forty years after Solzhenitsyn' "Gulag Archipelago", Applebaum was able to draw on an extensive body of academic works and memoirs written in Russian and Polish in order to bring the Anglo-Saxon world up to date on the state of knowledge of a remarkable and horrifying phenomenon. While Solzhenitsyn describes the Gulags as they were in the 1940s and 1950s when he was interned, Applebaum begins her book with the creation of the camps shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and goes right up to the end of the 20th century. (Although the central Gulag administrative authority was dissolved in 1960, Applebaum argues that some of the prisons continued to house political dissidents including the famous Jewish Refuseniks into the 1990s.) Applebaum's work is similar to Solzhenitsyn's in that it is focussed on the daily experience of the detainees. Solzhenitsyn is one of the memoire authors that Appelbaum often quotes from. Among the other published authors that she frequently cites are Yevgenia Ginzburg, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, János Rózsás, and Frantsishak Alyakhnovich. Moreover she quotes from scores of unpublished authors whose memoires can be found in various archives. In addition Appelbaum conducted many interviews with survivors of the Gulag. The result is a masterful synthesis portraying life inside the Gulags. While Solzhenitsyn describes the Gulags as they were in the 1940s and 1950s when he was interned, Applebaum begins her book with the creation of the camps shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and goes right up to the end of the 20th century. Although the central Gulag administrative authority was dissolved in 1960, Applebaum argues that some of the prisons continued to house political dissidents including the famous Jewish Refuseniks into the 1990s. In addition to examining the lives of the prisoners, Appelbaum also attempts to analyze the history of the institution. She argues that Gulags were operated as death camps only during the Great Terror of the late 1930's. For most of their history, the Gulags were intended to be economically productive digging canals, building railroads, operating mines and logging. In fact, due to their dreadful management, they were an enormous drain on the Russian economy which most administrators saw and which none were foolish enough to bring to the attention of Stalin. There was thus universal consensus in the Communist Party that the Gulags needed to be closed. Doing so however proved to be difficult once Stalin died. The re-integration of the inmates into normal society was done with the same incompetence that had characterized the operation of the camps. Applebaum also noted that she was regarded with hostility in Russia whenever she revealed that she was researching the Gulags and that the majority of Russians would prefer that there be less discussion of the topic. Applebaum speculates that in some cases, the people that she encountered simply resented a foreigner publicizing Russia's dirty secrets. In other cases, they may have had good reasons to prefer silence on the topic. Whenever someone was sent to the Gulags someone else would get their position and apartment. Anne Applebaum's "Gulag" is an intelligent and informative book. However, it is not for faint-hearted reader as the topic is very tough.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    In one of my college history classes, a student asked the professor who killed more people - Stalin or Hitler? The answer: we don't know and it doesn't matter - they were both the embodiment of evil. This book is very detailed history of the physical form of that evil and does an amazing job of detailing both the causes and effects that the system had on everyone involved from the police, to the guards, to the horrific effects on the prisoners. It is extremely well written - I had a hard time pu In one of my college history classes, a student asked the professor who killed more people - Stalin or Hitler? The answer: we don't know and it doesn't matter - they were both the embodiment of evil. This book is very detailed history of the physical form of that evil and does an amazing job of detailing both the causes and effects that the system had on everyone involved from the police, to the guards, to the horrific effects on the prisoners. It is extremely well written - I had a hard time putting it down during all 600 detail filled pages.

  18. 5 out of 5

    La Crosse County Library

    Review originally published September 2015 In 2017, a mere two years away, the world will recognize the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution: a violent, prolonged event that saw the demise of the nation’s once great tsarist empire and the rise of what would eventually become the Soviet Union. The first Soviet forced labor camps were established as early as 1918, and would quietly exist (in one form or another) for the next sixty-eight years, until Mikhail Gorbachev approved a g Review originally published September 2015 In 2017, a mere two years away, the world will recognize the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution: a violent, prolonged event that saw the demise of the nation’s once great tsarist empire and the rise of what would eventually become the Soviet Union. The first Soviet forced labor camps were established as early as 1918, and would quietly exist (in one form or another) for the next sixty-eight years, until Mikhail Gorbachev approved a general pardon for all Soviet political prisoners in 1986. The Gulag, as this stunningly complex web of camps and government bureaucracy would become known, took the lives of millions of Soviet citizens and foreigners alike. It is estimated that between 1929 and 1953 alone, at least 18 million people were sent to the camps, and another six million exiled (actual numbers can never be known due to imprecise Soviet documentation and the destruction of records). Yet, despite such staggering statistics, most people in the Western world have little, if any, knowledge of the Gulag system. It is a hidden history, but one that receives the delicate, insightful treatment it deserves in the well-researched Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum. For a history buff like myself, Applebaum’s book is a diamond in the rough, providing extensive survivor interviews, historical photographs and diagrams, and excerpts from poetry and prose written by both survivors and victims alike. The author reminds readers early on that this is not simply a technical, chronological history of the Gulag, but “[a]t the same time, this is a book about life in the Gulag” that explores every corner of a person’s time served in a camp. In fact, Applebaum devotes an entire section of Gulag to this human aspect of the Soviet labor camp system, with chapters like “Work in the Camps,” “Women and Children,” and “Strategies of Survival.” While perhaps not the cheeriest of reads, Gulag: A History provides a much needed introduction for general readers to an important facet of modern history that has remained incredibly enigmatic, even been avoided, for far too long. As Applebaum states, “[t]his book was not written ‘so that it will not happen again,” as the cliché would have it. This book was written because it almost certainly will happen again.” A thorough understanding of the past is therefore the only way to truly comprehend our future. Find this book and more like it through the La Crosse County Library system, with locations in Holmen, Onalaska, West Salem, Bangor, and Campbell. Find this book and other titles within our catalog.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carol Bakker

    Woe. The scope of Stalin's evil, the scale of suffering described in this book is suffocating. Though agonizing to read, it is important for understanding the Gulag. (Gulag is a Soviet acronym for the system of Soviet slave labor camps.) Find this title on Amazon, click on the "Look Inside" feature. Applebaum's introduction is available to read without purchasing the book. It answers the question that has plagued me for a decade: why, when the horror of Hitler's crimes are recounted, are not Sta Woe. The scope of Stalin's evil, the scale of suffering described in this book is suffocating. Though agonizing to read, it is important for understanding the Gulag. (Gulag is a Soviet acronym for the system of Soviet slave labor camps.) Find this title on Amazon, click on the "Look Inside" feature. Applebaum's introduction is available to read without purchasing the book. It answers the question that has plagued me for a decade: why, when the horror of Hitler's crimes are recounted, are not Stalin's atrocities (which surpassed Hitler's numerically) also recalled? History is messy. We used "Uncle Joe" to help defeat Hitler. Geography is significant; Allied soldiers saw with their eyes the evidence of body parts. Gulag camps were isolated. No television cameras ever filmed the Soviet camps or their victims, as they had done in Germany at the end of the second World War. No images, in turn, meant less understanding. There are few photographs in Gulag, but the line drawings from prisoner archives are poignant. And very sad. This matters: the failure to acknowledge or repent or discuss the history of the communist past weighs like a stone on many of the nations of post-communist Europe. As so often happens, reading generates more reading. I've tried to read Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich three times. Gulag has primed and prepared me for it. Slavomir Rawicz's The Long Walk was referenced, although Applebaum reports that several attempts to verify Rawicz's story have come to nothing. I still want to read it. When I was in high school I read volume 1 of Solzhenitsyn's A Gulag Archipelago. I'm not sure why, except that the book was in my home. Now I'm ready to read all three volumes. Anne Applebaum's Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine is also on my reading list.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Haaze

    This is an outstanding immersion in a terrible time! At times this book was a bit overwhelming. Applebaum brings forward an avalanche of names, places and numbers, suspended in a fog of despair and tyranny. Yet she also brings forward lots of voices from memoirs speaking like ghosts from the past of these times. We cannot forget these travesties of tyranny - of people kept captive by fear and oppression. It is sobering to experience the 20th century's Soviet Union through Applebaum's perceptive This is an outstanding immersion in a terrible time! At times this book was a bit overwhelming. Applebaum brings forward an avalanche of names, places and numbers, suspended in a fog of despair and tyranny. Yet she also brings forward lots of voices from memoirs speaking like ghosts from the past of these times. We cannot forget these travesties of tyranny - of people kept captive by fear and oppression. It is sobering to experience the 20th century's Soviet Union through Applebaum's perceptive lens. I will never forget these events and voices. It is difficult to traverse this realm of suffering, but it is worthwhile as well as unforgettable. An excellent work of history! I wonder about the fate of humanity ...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Raymond

    I probably never will get all of, "Gulag," read. Anne Applebaum's awesome, masterful, 586-page history of the Gulag, the labor/concentration camps of the Soviet Union, overwhelms me. A key question which must arise in the minds of most American readers is how and why we know and hear so much of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's assault upon millions of people, but we know and hear so little of the Gulag. There is at least one important distinction. The German camps came to be outright death camps; p I probably never will get all of, "Gulag," read. Anne Applebaum's awesome, masterful, 586-page history of the Gulag, the labor/concentration camps of the Soviet Union, overwhelms me. A key question which must arise in the minds of most American readers is how and why we know and hear so much of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's assault upon millions of people, but we know and hear so little of the Gulag. There is at least one important distinction. The German camps came to be outright death camps; people were herded to mass executions. The Soviets - by no means benign - did maintain their camps (mostly) as labor/banishment camps, albeit untold millions died of the cruelty and inhumanity which became their lot. There were no trials of the Gulag perpetrators or the guards or the informers. There were no state probes or official inquiries. When at last the Gulag ended, it was done. With exceptions (with Applebaum's notable exception), the Gulag was not even history. In part this may explain - incredible - Josef Stalin "deported the Chechen nation to the wastes of Kazakhstan where half of them died and the rest were meant to disappear, with their language and culture." Then - twice in the 1990s - the Russian federation launched wars against the Chechen people, killed tens of thousands, and destroyed the Chechen capital of Grozny. Applebaum notes this is the moral equivalent of Germany invading Poland twice in the 1990s. Focus on the Gulag and its consequences becomes withering.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jill S

    I'm not sure why I was so compelled to pick up Anne Applebaum's Gulag, a book dealing with a very dark and heavy subject matter, during the COVID-19 pandemic, but here we are. This is a triumph of a history book. Applebaum manages to make a dark and complex history accessible and very readable. It does get a bit dense with facts, especially throughout the middle section, but I was compelled to keep reading. It may be because I have a fondness for Gorbachev, but I found the last section about the I'm not sure why I was so compelled to pick up Anne Applebaum's Gulag, a book dealing with a very dark and heavy subject matter, during the COVID-19 pandemic, but here we are. This is a triumph of a history book. Applebaum manages to make a dark and complex history accessible and very readable. It does get a bit dense with facts, especially throughout the middle section, but I was compelled to keep reading. It may be because I have a fondness for Gorbachev, but I found the last section about the 1980s and reflections on the past to be the most interesting. I particularly found the intro and conclusion to be exceptionally written, and made me wonder what kind of masterpiece Applebaum could weave in a shorter format. An excerpt from the final chapter, which I found very compelling. "The more we are able to understand how different societies have transformed their neighbours and fellow citizens from people into objects, the more we know of the specific circumstances which led to each episode of mass torture and mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature. This book was not written 'so it will not happen again,' as the cliché would have it. This book was written because it almost certainly will happen again." If you have any interest in Russian and Soviet history, this is a must-read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joanna

    She's a fine journalist, but she's no historian. It seems well researched, and certainly well-footnoted, but it basically comes across as a mind-numbing tale of how millions of people, represented by a group of selected memoirists, suffered terribly for dubious political/philosophical reasons. I think it's a good attempt at trying to approach a historical era from the point of view of the victims, rather than the perpetrators, but it also shows how difficult that is to carry off. I'm still waiti She's a fine journalist, but she's no historian. It seems well researched, and certainly well-footnoted, but it basically comes across as a mind-numbing tale of how millions of people, represented by a group of selected memoirists, suffered terribly for dubious political/philosophical reasons. I think it's a good attempt at trying to approach a historical era from the point of view of the victims, rather than the perpetrators, but it also shows how difficult that is to carry off. I'm still waiting for the book that can give me what feels like real insight into the phenomenon of early-to-mid-century European social and political tumult. But maybe I will just have to dig it out for myself from fact-packed tomes like this one (given that I'm limited to English-language sources). Also, she does a pretty good job of not letting her own political biases take over (they are there, particularly if you know her background, or are sensitive to clues) but she seems to be letting facts speak for themselves on the whole. I would say, howver, that her conclusions in the epilogue are not well supported. Also, the prose, while certainly readable, can be clunky.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Taylor

    Too long/too repetitive. I made my way to this book via eminent historian Simon Sebag Montefiore’s list of essential reading on understanding Russia, which for me is a gold mine of great historical and cultural works recommended by someone I have a huge amount of respect for. I had also read Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine which I found decent, if not mind blowing. From reading the reviews, seeing the great names (Antony Beevor, Richard Overy, Adam Zamoyski etc) written all over the cover of the book Too long/too repetitive. I made my way to this book via eminent historian Simon Sebag Montefiore’s list of essential reading on understanding Russia, which for me is a gold mine of great historical and cultural works recommended by someone I have a huge amount of respect for. I had also read Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine which I found decent, if not mind blowing. From reading the reviews, seeing the great names (Antony Beevor, Richard Overy, Adam Zamoyski etc) written all over the cover of the book exclaiming how great it is, that it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 & even being recommended by my boss I sincerely thought this would be a great book. A history of one of the USSR’s darkest stains, the Gulag camps would surely be an exciting tale of unimaginable suffering and horror. From the ‘knock’ on the apartment door in the middle of the night to interrogation, uncomfortably long travel to eventually back braking work and fending off fellow prisoners from theft, rape and murder. Unfortunately the book is too tedious and too long. There is only so much can be said in the end about this topic. There is actually nothing really groundbreaking or gripping about it, in my opinion. I have indeed learnt a lot, about the history, the set up, why they were instigated, what they were for and how they were different from traditional Western prisons. Individual stories are poignant and some of the stories are enough to keep one awake at night. For example another prisoner betting another’s items, mass rapes and extreme cold which forced inmates to self defecate as going to the toilet would have meant certain death. True, all the important questions are answered, including how many died or were interred, the dynamics between the prisoners themselves and if people escaped and what happened to them. However, in the end I found the book too repetitive and a slog to finish. It actually took me a couple of days to trudge through the last 40 pages as by that time I’d lost all interest. In all I am glad I have read the book, it’s definitely essential for understanding Russia and the Soviet system, but I doubt I will revisit it again.

  25. 4 out of 5

    A.L. Sowards

    Applebaum is one of a few great new-to-me nonfiction authors I discovered this year. Her books are very readable and very well researched. I completely understand why this one received a Pulitzer prize. Had Dante been born after Stalin, he could easily have described one of the circles of hell as a gulag. Applebaum has done a very thorough job of detailing the history of the camps and the types of experiences its prisoners suffered. It’s terrifying. Early in the book, Applebaum remarks on a worry Applebaum is one of a few great new-to-me nonfiction authors I discovered this year. Her books are very readable and very well researched. I completely understand why this one received a Pulitzer prize. Had Dante been born after Stalin, he could easily have described one of the circles of hell as a gulag. Applebaum has done a very thorough job of detailing the history of the camps and the types of experiences its prisoners suffered. It’s terrifying. Early in the book, Applebaum remarks on a worrying trend. Nearly everyone recognizes that Nazi Germany was evil. But the same can’t be said of the Soviet Union under Stalin. Maybe that’s because Khrushchev and Gorbachev weren’t as bad as Stalin. (And Stalin helped defeat Hitler.) This book comprehensively sheds light on the horrible way people were treated by the Soviet Union and serves as a reminder that, yes, the West had good reason to band together against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Arthur

    Gulag 27 hours and 40 minutes unabridged. Some of the primary sources frequently mentioned in this book are already well known in the West for their gulag writings: Shalamov, Solzhenitsyn, Dolgun, Dostoevsky, etc. But this book goes further in introducing us to the accounts of many others, including prison camp administrators. The author visited the place where several camps had existed - in some cases museums, in others reclaimed by nature, with perhaps just a memorial at the site of one of the m Gulag 27 hours and 40 minutes unabridged. Some of the primary sources frequently mentioned in this book are already well known in the West for their gulag writings: Shalamov, Solzhenitsyn, Dolgun, Dostoevsky, etc. But this book goes further in introducing us to the accounts of many others, including prison camp administrators. The author visited the place where several camps had existed - in some cases museums, in others reclaimed by nature, with perhaps just a memorial at the site of one of the mass graves. It's impossible to get too detailed knowing there were dozens of camps, millions of prisoners, and decades of time to cover, but the author does an admirable job at giving facts and figures with enough anecdotal stories to make it seem like a detailed accounting. I liked this book a lot

  27. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    Anne Applebaum delivers an important, comprehensive, and damning history of the Gulag. The vast array of Soviet concentration camps originated in the Bolshevik Revolution and lasted until well after Stalin's death, with the final amnesty of political prisoners occurring in the mid-1980s. These camps held millions of criminal and political prisoners. Applebaum does a phenomenal job telling the history of the camp system and it's unfortunate prisoners. This is a must read for any student of Russia Anne Applebaum delivers an important, comprehensive, and damning history of the Gulag. The vast array of Soviet concentration camps originated in the Bolshevik Revolution and lasted until well after Stalin's death, with the final amnesty of political prisoners occurring in the mid-1980s. These camps held millions of criminal and political prisoners. Applebaum does a phenomenal job telling the history of the camp system and it's unfortunate prisoners. This is a must read for any student of Russian and 20th century history.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael Gerald

    A great complement to the books, "The Gulag Archipelago" and "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea". A great complement to the books, "The Gulag Archipelago" and "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea".

  29. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    This is an eye-opening look at a dictatorial bureaucracy run amok, and the consequences of that bureaucratic nightmare on real human beings. Applebaum writes about the Soviet Gulag first as a narrative history and then as a social history. Her narrative history begins with the early Cheka (or pre-KGB) prison on the Solovetsky island monastery, in the White Sea, where a former prisoner named Naftaley Frenkel became a manager of the prison and, in true Soviet fashion, tried to turn it into a source This is an eye-opening look at a dictatorial bureaucracy run amok, and the consequences of that bureaucratic nightmare on real human beings. Applebaum writes about the Soviet Gulag first as a narrative history and then as a social history. Her narrative history begins with the early Cheka (or pre-KGB) prison on the Solovetsky island monastery, in the White Sea, where a former prisoner named Naftaley Frenkel became a manager of the prison and, in true Soviet fashion, tried to turn it into a source of economic production, mainly of lumber. By 1930 the Soviet secret police took over most of the nation's prisons and turned them into massive versions of Solovetsky, just as Stalin began filling them with "kulak" peasant resisters and political opponents. Over the course of the next 20 years, almost 29 million people traveled through the camps, with about 2 million people in them at any one time. One report estimates at least 2.8 million people died in them. After Stalin's own death, millions were set free, but over 10,000 dissidents were kept in similar camps and psychiatric hospitals right up to the collapse of the country. In her social history of life in the camps Applebaum highlights the paradoxes that were everywhere part of Soviet life. The camps were supposed to be engines of economic productivity, but from Solovetsky on they almost always lost money, or cost more than the relatively more "free" enterprises in the Soviet Union, which is why Lavrentia Beria moved to close them so quickly after Stalin's death. Yet during the Gulag's height, no place could seemed so capitalist-minded or obsessed with profit and production. Gulag prisoners were divided into brigades, led by a "brigadier," which competed to fulfill output quotas of lumber or coal or, in the deathly Kolyma complex, gold. Those brigades that fulfilled their quotas got up to 700 grams of bread a day, while those who failed got starvation rations of 300 grams. The irony was that 700 grams of bread was often not enough calories to complete a hard day's work, so many brigades failed and fell back to the lower level of rations, which was then not even enough to survive on, so many starved. In attempting the "maximize output" at the lowest cost, the Gulag was in fact eating itself alive. In fact, hunger was the overwhelming concern and cause of death throughout the Gulag's history. Its the main reason they turned into little forms of hell. The strangest part of the Gulag in Applebaum's tale, however, was that most of the time the authorities truly hoped to run it "by the book." There were legal "commission" decisions and confessions that accompanied just about every absurd arrest and sentence. There were inspector reports which described the horrendous conditions and demanded reform. The central Gulag administration ("Gulag" was a Russian acronym for "main administration of camps") set strict requirements on the amount of clothes and boots and living spaces prisoners should receive (one regulation set the height and width in centimeters of the bucket to defecate in), and demanded the camps nurture sick prisoners to health, so they could produce more of course. The fact that these camps tortured and killed so many innocents seems more like an example of riotous incompetence combined with ridiculous ideology. Unlike some of the Nazi concentration camps, the Gulag was not meant to be a factory of death and terror, they just turned out to be (although they never reached the death rates of the Nazi "KLs," they did have many more people travel through them). In this tale, the Soviet Union's leaders were certainly corrupt and malicious, but mostly they were ideological, and their ideology and obsession with Soviet development allowed a hateful system to spin out of control, turning into something its own creators did not exactly want, but that few had the courage to challenge.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rick Boyer

    An absolutely brilliant and crucially important work, which details the history of the Soviet Gulag system of forced labor camps, from the end of the First World War to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Exhaustively researched and containing numerous reminiscences from camp survivors, and details from official government archives, Anne Applebaum presents a picture of Soviet repression that is equal parts horrifying, sobering, educational, and nearly beyond belief. This is an important work fo An absolutely brilliant and crucially important work, which details the history of the Soviet Gulag system of forced labor camps, from the end of the First World War to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Exhaustively researched and containing numerous reminiscences from camp survivors, and details from official government archives, Anne Applebaum presents a picture of Soviet repression that is equal parts horrifying, sobering, educational, and nearly beyond belief. This is an important work for what it teaches us historically, for the lessons it brings to us about the reality of evil, for what it tells us about ourselves, and for the hope it gives that, with understanding, perhaps future descents into the horrors of ideological and political violence and repression can be mitigated, if not avoided altogether. I strongly, strongly recommend this book.

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