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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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