Books by Stephane Courtois

Released: Oct. 1, 1999

A unique attempt by French historians—as important in its way as the works of Solzhenitsyn—to chronicle the crimes of communism wherever it has attained power in the world. Not the least remarkable thing about this book is that this is the first time such a study has been made. For the cumulative toll of victims of communist rule, estimated by the authors at between 85 and 100 million, dwarfs even the crimes of the Nazis. In the Soviet Union the toll included 6 million deaths during the collectivization famine of 1932—33, 720,000 executions during the Great Purge, 7 million entering the gulag in 1934—41, many of them to die, and nearly 3 million still there when Stalin died. In China there were probably 10 million "direct victims," another 20 million in China's gulag, the Laogai, and between 20 and 43 million during the Great Leap Forward, the largest man-made famine in history. In Cambodia, the worst recent example, one in seven of the population died. And to these the authors add the cost in eastern Europe, Vietnam, North Korea, Afghanistan, Latin America, Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique. Nor is it just statistics: the authors tell, for example, of the young children in Cambodia hung from the roof by their feet and kicked from side to side until they died. The overwhelming question confronted by the authors is: why? The answer, writes Courtois, lies in the "Bolsheviks propensity for extreme violence . . . demonstrated from the outset," but above all in their habit of reducing their victim—as had Hitler in his attacks on Jews as 'subhuman——to an abstraction: "the bourgeoisie," "capitalists," and "enemies of the people." The essays are of varying quality, some quite sketchy in their scope, but overall a devastating and important book, already hailed in Europe, and the more harrowing for its sobriety. (78 photos, 6 maps) Read full book review >