Extraordinary in its range and lucidity: a most welcome companion to Bernard-Henri Levi’s Barbarism With a Human Face,...

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GULAG

A HISTORY

A searing, engrossing history of the most extensive, longest-lived experiment in “rationalized evil” the world has ever known.

From 1929 to 1953—the years in which Josef Stalin ruled the Soviet Union—at least 18 million people passed through the massive penal and slave-labor system known as the Gulag. Though that system had antecedents in tsarist Russian, former Economist correspondent Applebaum writes, it took Stalin to shape the Gulag into an enormous machine; Stalin believed, she asserts, that “the Gulag was critical to Soviet economic growth,” offering an endless source of free labor to the state. Stalin’s successors, however, saw it as “a source of backwardness and distorted investment,” and within days of Stalin’s death began to dismantle the most infamous camps—though not before untold millions had died within them. Applebaum (Between East and West, 1994) charts the inception and development of the Gulag, showing how it served to channel the millions of deportees during the famines of the 1920s and ’30s, the victims of political purges before WWII, and whole nations—including the Chechens and Tartars—during the war against Germany. Drawing on accounts by survivors, she also documents daily life inside the Gulag, a Dante-esque existence of individual rituals in the face of death: “Never on any account take more than a half-hour to consume your ration,” one such account warns. “Every bite of bread should be chewed thoroughly. . . . Eat it all at one sitting; if, on the other hand, you gobble it down too quickly, as famished people often do in normal circumstances, you will also shorten your days.” Throughout, Applebaum’s account runs a large question: Why did the West do nothing about the Gulag, even though its existence and the reality of other Soviet crimes against humanity were well known? Perhaps because we can’t admit that we allied ourselves with one mass murderer to battle another. But, she adds in closing, we had better not deny such crimes the next time they occur—as they certainly will.

Extraordinary in its range and lucidity: a most welcome companion to Bernard-Henri Levi’s Barbarism With a Human Face, Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, and, of course, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.

Pub Date: April 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0056-1

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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