A remarkable and unique insight into the character and history of the seven leaders whose careers spanned the birth and death of the Soviet Union. Unique because Volkogonov (Stalin, 1991; Trotsky, 1996) was himself a Marxist-Leninist, rose to a position where he had unparalleled access to the most secret archives, and, in part because of that access, ``after a long and tortuous inner struggle'' was able to free himself of ``the chimera of Bolshevik orthodoxy.'' He uses those archives to great effect, in the process considerably changing the judgment he rendered on Lenin in his earlier biography to emphasize those aspects of his rule which foreshadowed Stalin: his preoccupation with secrecy, his savage attacks on democracy, his total unconcern with human life, and even his readiness to give secret privileges to the party elite. Volkogonov has less that is new to say about Stalin, though he quotes the notes made by that dictator in editing his own biography to inflate his own achievements. Between 1929 and 1953, Volkogonov notes, the state deprived 21 million Russians of their lives: ``No one in history has ever waged such war on his own people.'' The archives produce some extraordinary material about his successors: letters of imprisoned security chief Beria from prison to Malenkov and the other leaders; transcripts of discussions between Khrushchev and Mao about Stalin; and the discussion in the Praesidium about the shooting down of the South Korean airliner. His judgments on them are nuanced: Khrushchev and Gorbachev courageous but unable to free themselves from Leninist orthodoxy; Brezhnev in some ways ``the good tsar'' but the prisoner of his hard-liners; Andropov talented but without new ideas; Chernenko a pathetic figure who underlined the extent to which the whole system had crumbled. A remarkable book, the autopsy of a system that killed more people than any in history, with the possible exception of its Chinese counterpart.

Pub Date: April 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-83420-0

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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


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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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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