As ever, highly readable and of tremendous interest to students not just of Russian history, but also of modern...

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REVOLUTIONARY RUSSIA, 1891-1991

A HISTORY

The dean of contemporary Russian studies—and a gifted popularizer—ventures a refreshing thesis that joins the fondest dreams of the Bolsheviks to the full-circle collapse of the Soviet Empire.

Figes (History/Birkbeck Coll., Univ. of London; Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag, 2012, etc.) delivers the welcome insight that “red Russia” really began in a time of widespread famine in 1891, when Russians of various classes and regions realized that the czarist regime was of no help—so helpless, in fact, that it called on the people themselves for solutions, which “opened the door to a powerful new wave of public activity and debate which the government could not control and which quickly turned from the philanthropic to the political.” With the bloodletting of the Russo-Japanese War, thanks to an inept general command, the die was cast, proving Trotsky’s observation that a human crisis needed a match of human agency to bring about revolution. Figes carefully reminds readers that the revolution happened in stages: first in 1905, then again in 1917—twice, the first when the czar was overthrown, the second when the Bolsheviks wrestled power away from a coalition that would likely have proved more humane, and certainly more democratic, had it remained in government. The result was the grim regime of Stalin, which was not inevitable but instead hinged on the accident of Lenin’s weakness in illness and Trotsky’s talent for making enemies. Figes ably explains the subsequent Nazi-Soviet pact, which Stalin parsed as “Leninist,” and the slow thawing that came about after the dictator’s death in 1953. The author then joins the developments of the final four decades of Soviet power to the earlier era, writing that Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms were proposed much earlier—decades, in some cases—than they were enacted.

As ever, highly readable and of tremendous interest to students not just of Russian history, but also of modern geopolitics—and not least due to the fact that Soviet heir Vladimir Putin remains in power.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9131-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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