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The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the larger history of the Soviet Union. Immediately recognized as a landmark and long-overdue work of scholarship, Gulag is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand the history of the twentieth century.


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The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the larger history of the Soviet Union. Immediately recognized as a landmark and long-overdue work of scholarship, Gulag is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand the history of the twentieth century.

30 review for Gulag: A History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I have been reading some memoirs about the Soviet Gulags, and I discovered that I didn't have enough knowledge of Russian history to process what I was reading about individual experiences. Consequently, I picked up Applebaum's book. Her book was precisely what I needed. She presents a very systematic explanation of the gulags in three sections: 1) the historical precedents prior to Stalin's regime and the rise of their power under Stalin; 2) Day-to-day life in the gulags; and 3) the dismantling I have been reading some memoirs about the Soviet Gulags, and I discovered that I didn't have enough knowledge of Russian history to process what I was reading about individual experiences. Consequently, I picked up Applebaum's book. Her book was precisely what I needed. She presents a very systematic explanation of the gulags in three sections: 1) the historical precedents prior to Stalin's regime and the rise of their power under Stalin; 2) Day-to-day life in the gulags; and 3) the dismantling of the Gulag's after Stalin's death and their diminishing presence through several other Soviet leaders and into 21st century Russia politics and judicial / penal system. At times the amount of detail was close to overwhelming, but Applebaum places all the facts into strong frameworks without losing the debates and ambiguity present in the field because of incomplete and missing information. She blends data, history, politics, personal history, and even a few exerpts from literary works to create her history. I expected to see cruelty depicted, but what shocked me the most was the arbitrary manner in which arrests, labor, torture and even releases were conducted. It would be maddening to live under a regime that weilded so much power in ways that were incomprehensible to its people. Anyone could be arrested and placed in labor / death camps: criminals, dissidents, and even members of the Communist party. Were the gulags so heavily populated because Stalin wanted cheap labor as a way to industrialize the Soviet Union? They never were cost effective. Was he trying to brow beat people into submission? They created strife between people and government. Was he trying to reform criminals and political dissidents? Few if none of the gulag prisoners became better people because of their time in the camps -- if they lived through it. The accounts made me wonder how human beings could descend into such irrational mistreatment of one another and made me wonder if such nonesense still persists in other countries - even in small ways (even in our own). Before this summer, I could fit everything I knew about the gulags on a postage stamp. Applebaum gave me a wealth of knowledge and much to ponder. I'm glad that I found this book -- even if her book was the antithesis of a "summer read."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    I read history books because of my undying belief that as a human being, I am responsible for anything that humans do. If murder happens, it is because I have it in me as well. If kindness happens, it is because I am capable of kindness. This belief does not put me or humanity at the center of anything - I think anthropocentrism is one of the worst ways of explaining our existence - but rather connects me to every other human being that has ever lived, or will ever live. I believe in patterns - I read history books because of my undying belief that as a human being, I am responsible for anything that humans do. If murder happens, it is because I have it in me as well. If kindness happens, it is because I am capable of kindness. This belief does not put me or humanity at the center of anything - I think anthropocentrism is one of the worst ways of explaining our existence - but rather connects me to every other human being that has ever lived, or will ever live. I believe in patterns - and totalitarian patterns have a particular tendency to devolve into heinous, soul-crushing, lethal regimes, run by maniacs who indulge in their darkest sides. Applebaum seems to think along the same lines. This book is written with such delicacy towards the victims and innocents, but it also lays down facts with the weight of iron with regards to what actually happened. Myths are debunked, correctness is preserved, truth above all is searched for, because in knowing the truth about things such as the Gulag, we are better prepared to deal with ourselves in the future. Applebaum believes the Gulags will exist again (albeit in any future form they might morph into), she believes massacres, genocides, totalitarianism, mass murder happen and will continue to happen for as long as we are human - and I agree. That is why we must read history, that is why we must expose ourselves to the most uncomfortable facts about ourselves - because we will meet with this again. And the best weapon against anything human-made is knowledge of everything human-made.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    A third to a fourth remains when I write this. I have 8 hours left of 27 hours and 45 minutes! I am chugging along, but I'll tell you Gulag: A History is an exceptionally hard read. The topic is dark, and I am usually fine with difficult subjects, but this proves to be harder than I thought! The book is VERY thorough. Chapter after chapter covering every possible aspect of the Gulag camps. I have read a lot previously on the topic. References are made to much of what I have read before.....and y A third to a fourth remains when I write this. I have 8 hours left of 27 hours and 45 minutes! I am chugging along, but I'll tell you Gulag: A History is an exceptionally hard read. The topic is dark, and I am usually fine with difficult subjects, but this proves to be harder than I thought! The book is VERY thorough. Chapter after chapter covering every possible aspect of the Gulag camps. I have read a lot previously on the topic. References are made to much of what I have read before.....and yet still there is more. The material presented is well organized. The author analyzes the evidence; she doesn't simply accept what is being said but compares information with other sources. Yet there is so much information you get drowned by the details and what is discussed is so very horrible. Here is one example of the meticulous analytical manner in which facts are studied. The food eaten in the camps is discussed, so of course food portions in grams must be listed too - for each and every prisoner type. On top of that the water content, which skews the nutrient content for the given weight, is documented. See what I mean by thorough?! Phew. Thoroughness on top of being a very difficult subject makes this a hard read. It is a clinically accurate and an encyclopedic tome. Tons of references to particular individual experiences. This I like. ******************************** On completion I want to re-emphasize what I noted above. The book is well organized, well researched, thorough, meticulously documented and encyclopedic in content. Multiple references to particular individuals' experiences are sited. Statements are not taken at face value; instead each is evaluated to discover the real truth. How is the book organized? There are three sections. The first covers how the camps came into being and developed with time. The central section covers life in the camps divided into chapters focusing on different themes, i.e. different aspects of the camps. Here are some examples of the themes: arrest, interrogations, incarceration in prisons, transport to the camps, intermediary transit camps. Once in the camps the following themes are equally meticulously documented - freedom of movement, classification of the incarcerated, bathing, dining, food, sleeping facilities, work, propaganda, punishment and reward, communication with the outside world, spiritual issues, criminals versus political prisoners, women and children and births and nurseries and sex and rape and prostitution and love and homosexuality...... I simply cannot list everything! What is essential to understand is that every aspect is meticulously documented. There are statistics and quotes from the incarcerated. The third section is about the dismantlement of the camps and the situation at the end of the 20th century. Finally there is an epilogue that focuses on why the author felt the book needed to be written. The first and the third section are in chronological order. Numerous references are made to authors such as Aleksandr Solzjenitsyn, Yevgenia Ginzburg, Osip Mandelstam, Andrej Sacharov, and others. I found the war years and the treatment of Poles, Crimean Tartars, Ukrainians, Chechens and other Caucasians, seen from the perspective of current events, particularly interesting. Also Putin’s background. The book's organization and clear writing makes it easy to follow. BUT.....you can feel at points that you are drowning in all the information. It is like reading an encyclopedia section of over 600 pages. If I were writing a research paper, this would be a fantastic resource. It is itself a bit like a research paper. I would have appreciated a bit more editing. Even if it is easy to understand, it doesn't read as a book for the general public, in that it is so comprehensive! I do think there was a real need for such a book. How you rate a book depends on what you personally are looking for. My three star rating is by no means a judgment of the book’s quality; my rating only shows my personal appreciation of the book. I liked it and would definitely recommend it to others, along with a word of warning that it is at times tedious and often relates horrible events. The narration of the audiobook by Laural Merlington was absolutely excellent. I cannot judge her Russian pronunciation. I liked the speed at which it was narrated and the ease at understanding each word. Clearly narrated. This is essential in a book of non-fiction. I am giving the narration five stars.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Jesus Christ. With the possible exception of a few books on the Holocaust, this is the single most painful work of non-fiction I've ever encountered. The portrait of the Soviet work camp system that Applebaum develops examines, in painfully minute detail, every single aspect of life in and around the Gulag system, from the highest levels of Soviet politburo administration, down to the lowliest starving, walking damned in the most far flung Siberian penal cell. And she brings a staggering deluge Jesus Christ. With the possible exception of a few books on the Holocaust, this is the single most painful work of non-fiction I've ever encountered. The portrait of the Soviet work camp system that Applebaum develops examines, in painfully minute detail, every single aspect of life in and around the Gulag system, from the highest levels of Soviet politburo administration, down to the lowliest starving, walking damned in the most far flung Siberian penal cell. And she brings a staggering deluge of historical records and personal testimonies from people involved at all levels of the Gulag system to bare witness and de-mystify what was for decades an almost completely hidden world. And what a nightmare of a world it all was, all the more so because the criminal unfairness of the whole enterprise was never mandated, never required, never written into laws or decrees in any way, they just didn't care at all what really happened to all of these people they arrested for nothing and charged with nothing and shunted around the Russian wastes and sent to dig limestone out the arctic with their bare hands with no shelter or warm clothing... In some ways, and I doubt Applebaum intended this, this is a work of supreme political nihilism. It doesn't merely call into question the practical ramifications of the ideology of the soviet union/socialism, it calls into question the entire concept of sane, humane governance in the modern age period. As long as something this crushingly atrocious is able to sustain itself for decades on end, how can we possibly have faith in anything that any national entity ever does?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    This is a fantastic book. It is a must-read for anyone who has any illusions about communism. It sucks. It is evil. It belongs in the dustbin of history. Anne Applebaum tells the story of the gulag in fascinating detail, using newly available Soviet archives and published and unpublished memoirs from those who survived the camps. Their stories are chilling, to say the least. In the Introduction, Applebaum discusses the differences and similarities between the Nazi death camps and the Soviet camps. This is a fantastic book. It is a must-read for anyone who has any illusions about communism. It sucks. It is evil. It belongs in the dustbin of history. Anne Applebaum tells the story of the gulag in fascinating detail, using newly available Soviet archives and published and unpublished memoirs from those who survived the camps. Their stories are chilling, to say the least. In the Introduction, Applebaum discusses the differences and similarities between the Nazi death camps and the Soviet camps. She also explains why so many on the Left were willing to excuse Soviet communism (and particularly Stalin) for its crimes. She then delves into a general history of the camps, explaining that they were, at heart, an economic enterprise. The first official camp, Solovetsky, spread out over a group of islands in the White Sea, was meant to be profitable. Later, Stalin insisted that the entire gulag must turn a profit, which it never did. But no one had had the guts to tell Stalin that. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Applebaum shows how many prisoners were used for grand construction projects like canals and railroads, with the predictably disappointing results and thousands of lives lost (suffice to say that OSHA would not be pleased with the working conditions). She writes how the camp system expanded throughout the 1930s until it obtained its permanent form. By 1940, hundreds of camps imprisoned millions of people, many of them criminals, many of them politicals, those whose only "crime" was some sort of dissent against Stalin and the Soviet Union. Many of these politicals were innocent, of course. In Part Two, in my opinion the heart and most compelling section of the book, Applebaum delves into the minutiae of the camps, chronicling prisoners' experiences through the arrest, transport, and imprisonment in the camps. This is where you get the sense of the monstrosity of the system and the government that ran it. Space doesn't permit me to go into all the details. Suffice to say that as a horror writer, there's enough material to write dozens of short stories and novels, with no need for any supernatural element to make them scary. In the third section, she switches back to general history and covers the rest of the 20th century, from the death of Stalin to the death of the Soviet Union. The gulag survived Stalin's death, but it did shrink as Soviet leaders were then free to address the unprofitably of the system. Many camps were closed and many prisoners were released, though many of those were later re-arrested. But the suppression continued. Innocents were still jailed for speaking out for freedom and still forced to endure hard labor in horrific conditions. This is the story of oppression on a massive scale. But it's also a collection of gritty and inspiring stories of survival by those lucky enough to live through the experience. Unfortunately, millions did not.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    Page 102 (my book) from Stalin and Beria “an enemy of the people is not only one who commits sabotage, but one who doubts the rightness of the Party line.”... women were arrested as “wives of enemies of the people” and the same applied to children. Page 241 Vladimir Bukovsky “In our camps, you were expected not only to be a slave laborer, but to sing and smile while you worked as well. They didn’t just want to oppress us; they wanted us to thank them for it.” This is a book that is horrific in scope Page 102 (my book) from Stalin and Beria “an enemy of the people is not only one who commits sabotage, but one who doubts the rightness of the Party line.”... women were arrested as “wives of enemies of the people” and the same applied to children. Page 241 Vladimir Bukovsky “In our camps, you were expected not only to be a slave laborer, but to sing and smile while you worked as well. They didn’t just want to oppress us; they wanted us to thank them for it.” This is a book that is horrific in scope as it details the history of the Gulag in the Soviet Union from its beginnings under Lenin. The author, who writes with great eloquence, takes us through the various stages of what occurred. The Gulag itself was a vast slave labour system that had two basic purposes: to incarcerate anyone who was perceived as a threat to the system and to use the slave labourers (the prisoners) to industrialize and modernize the Soviet Union – to build roads and railroads, work in mines, chop down trees for lumber – in other words to exploit the almost endless resources of the country. Ms. Applebaum takes us through the entire sequence of events: the arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, transport to a camp, and the camp itself. Millions passed through this system, some more than once. When examined individually these steps could be compared to imprisonment in other countries – for instance the food is atrocious. But it is the vast scale of the Gulag that sets it apart - not only in terms of human dignity, but as a crime against there own citizens. One aspect that is beyond the compare is the transport to the labour camps. Many would die during this long journey to the outer reaches of the Soviet Union where they could be locked in cattle cars or the bottom of ships and given little food and clothing. Many of the prisons were in the far north where the prisoners were forced to work long hours in the cold with inadequate clothing and small rations, even in the summer they were decimated by hordes of mosquitoes. Of interest is that the camps were controlled by the Russian mob which has a long history, as they started in the days of the Czar. These real criminals held brutal sway over the political prisoners. The number and types of prisoners were vast – “political” prisoners, exiles (as in a national group relocated for ethnic cleansing) consisting over the years of Poles, Lithuanians, Chechens, religious people, kulaks... One is never quite sure of the distinction between an exile and prisoners – in remote locations neither, due to geography, had freedom of movement. Maybe prisoners had an advantage because they were fed, usually with a bowl of watery soup. Page 421 in 1939 With no warning, the NKVD had plucked these newcomers – Poles, Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Moldavians – out of their bourgeois or peasant worlds after the Soviet invasion of multiethnic eastern Poland, Bessarabia, and the Baltic States, and dumped them in large numbers, into the Gulag and exile villages. What is most sad and atrocious is the treatment of the children (which I dare say was even worse than the way women were treated). They were at the bottom of the ladder in a “society” where work was rewarded with food. Page 333 Decades of propaganda, of posters draped across orphanage walls, thanking Stalin “for our happy childhood”, failed to convince the Soviet people that the children of the camps, the children of the streets, and the children of the orphanages had ever become anything but full-fledged members of the Soviet Union’s large and all-embracing criminal class. Ms. Appleton humanizes all with emotional quotes from several people, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov. The author discusses how the Gulag changed after Stalin. For instance, during the Brezhnev era Joseph Brodsky (a poet) was arrested and imprisoned on charges of “parasitism”. This book furthered my understanding of the Soviet Union and its’ successor Russia. This is not a book of numbers. It is intense and extremely well written. We are provided not just with a history of the Gulag, but of the entire country. Highly recommended for any who are interested in this important historical era. As the author mentions, it gives us another view of the Cold War – and why there was a Cold War. Page 515 Olga Adamo-Sliozberg arrested in 1936 – released in 1956 “There was no one home and finally I was able to weep freely. To weep for my husband, who perished in the cellars of the Lubyanka, when he was thirty-seven years old, at the height of his powers and talent; for my children, who grew up orphans, stigmatized as the children of enemies of the people; for my parents, who died of grief; for Nikolai who was tortured in the camps; and for all of my friends who never lived to be rehabilitated but lie beneath the frozen earth of Kolyma.”

  7. 5 out of 5

    tasha

    A 5 star read without a doubt. This book impacted me on so many levels, I was absorbed and utterly fascinated with every word I read. My family is from Russia (I am a first gen American) and many of the events and situations which occurred in this book related to my family history. It's impact was tremendous as I learned so much of what had happened and what it must have been like for my family living (and eventually escaping) during Stalin's reign. As a young girl I heard stories of my grandfat A 5 star read without a doubt. This book impacted me on so many levels, I was absorbed and utterly fascinated with every word I read. My family is from Russia (I am a first gen American) and many of the events and situations which occurred in this book related to my family history. It's impact was tremendous as I learned so much of what had happened and what it must have been like for my family living (and eventually escaping) during Stalin's reign. As a young girl I heard stories of my grandfather having been in a "labor camp" but until I read this, I never knew what that really meant. My family knew a dissident who vacationed in the same resort we did every year, until I read this I truly did not understand what that meant either. Of course, we all can intellectually know what that means but Applebaum brings it to light on so many levels. I feel like I had the best Russian history lesson yet was emotionally engaged the whole time. What better way to learn about history?! Anne Applebaum is truly a talented writer. It is evident how well-researched this book is and she is able to present it in such a wonderfully engaging and readable format. Speaking for myself, other than knowing that labor camps existed, I had NO idea to the extent and to the length of time they existed. I am sure I am not alone in this and this book brings so much to our understanding of the world. I feel it is a very important contribution to history and a wonderful memorial to those who experienced these miserable situations. I feel it also brings an understanding of the Russian people both past and present. I highly recommend this book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    William2

    Read 60% of this then my interest precipitously flagged. Found it redundant because I’d read most of Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn. If you’ve read Solzhenitsyn, no need to read Anne Applebaum.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the era, country, politics, WWII or even just the Gulag itself. The vastness of the Gulag is astounding. From small camps to giant and from city prisons to tents in Siberia and all sizes in between. The variety of work that was required was also quite extensive, from manufacturing to logging to mining to channel building. With the quality of life that prisoners had to endure and how unprepared both they and their captures were I am surprised t I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the era, country, politics, WWII or even just the Gulag itself. The vastness of the Gulag is astounding. From small camps to giant and from city prisons to tents in Siberia and all sizes in between. The variety of work that was required was also quite extensive, from manufacturing to logging to mining to channel building. With the quality of life that prisoners had to endure and how unprepared both they and their captures were I am surprised that so many people survived to tell their tales. I had no issues with the history, it was extremely well researched but the layout of the book held a few issues for me. Part 1 was a great introduction but I found Part 2 was a bit confusing as it switched from years and camps with such rapidity. I couldn't always remember what had happened in that year or that camp as it switched from subject to subject. But I loved the epilogue and the summation was very thought provoking. The story was depressing and shocking and disturbing. At the same time it was fascinating, enthralling and makes me want to know even more about the legacy of Lenin, Stalin and the Communist Party.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Esme

    What an unbelievably grim book. Dark topic non-fictions always take me a while to get through, especially when it's 600 or more pages. People were ripped from their families for being too rich, something I didn't know about, with the rise of communism there was a harsh outlook on those living in luxury or above the means deemed appropriate and many of them were rounded up and put into these prisons, along with political opponents, petty criminals and anyone else the regime found to be bothersome What an unbelievably grim book. Dark topic non-fictions always take me a while to get through, especially when it's 600 or more pages. People were ripped from their families for being too rich, something I didn't know about, with the rise of communism there was a harsh outlook on those living in luxury or above the means deemed appropriate and many of them were rounded up and put into these prisons, along with political opponents, petty criminals and anyone else the regime found to be bothersome. The conditions weren't all that different from the concentration camps in Germany and it's astounding to me that a country would do this to its own people, although, maybe I shouldn't be all that surprised given the times and the leaders. Life for women could be markedly different than it was for the men in this prison, some made attempts to get into relationships with the guards - but that didn't spare them when the higher-ups wanted them dead. I like the fact that she went and personally interviewed people who lived through this rather than just going on second hand reports, it gave a lot of more intimate insight into the day to day living. This was an easily accessible book, you don't have to have a lot of background on the topic to get a lot out of this book, and I didn't find myself getting confused by references to events I wasn't familiar with, everything that was stated was explained - which is also why it's so long. So, perhaps this wouldn't be a book for people already well versed on the topic, it could be considered remedial in places. Overall, this was well written, if a bit verbose, it maybe could have been shortened a bit in places, but having it all laid out in painstaking detail made for a horrific read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Scottnshana

    It would be easy to stop reading after the introduction, where she tells us that "the Gulag did not emerge, fully formed, from the sea, but rather reflected the standards of the society around it. If the camps were filthy, if the guards were brutal, if the work teams were slovenly, that was partly because filthiness and brutality and slovenliness were plentiful enough in other spheres of Soviet life. If life in the camps was horrible, unbearable, inhuman, if death rates were high--that too was h It would be easy to stop reading after the introduction, where she tells us that "the Gulag did not emerge, fully formed, from the sea, but rather reflected the standards of the society around it. If the camps were filthy, if the guards were brutal, if the work teams were slovenly, that was partly because filthiness and brutality and slovenliness were plentiful enough in other spheres of Soviet life. If life in the camps was horrible, unbearable, inhuman, if death rates were high--that too was hardly surprising. In certain periods, life in the Soviet Union was also horrible, unbearable, and inhuman, and death rates were as high outside the camps as they were within them." Applebaum argues through the narrative--describing heartbreaking transits on boats full of mass rape and murder to desolate corners of the USSR; families shattered as spouses break it off at conjugal "House of Meetings" visits and orphans end up on the streets as a festering class of homeless/brutal/carnal criminals; and the awful/truly gross things people would do to smuggle grain alcohol into the camps--that when there were periods war and famine outside the system deaths inside it would spike. Along the way, there are some very interesting historical gems, too. I've been to Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst many times, but I didn't know that in 1945 145 Russian prisoners of war housed there rioted and killed themselves rather than go back to the USSR and atone for their collaboration with the Nazis via the Gulag. I didn't know that in 1944 U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace visited the camp at Kolyma and was completely duped Potemkin-style into thinking it was a worker's paradise in "the Wild West of Russia". I learned that if you're a fat guy and two other prisoners suddenly invite you to do a big cross-country escape opportunity you're probably going to get eaten. I think that, after accompanying Applebaum on this well-researched history--meeting Solzhenitsyn, seeing the comparisons and contrasts to the Nazis' camps, and watching the ways that every Soviet leader after Stalin's death tried to deal with this system that absolutely wasted so much blood and treasure--that the ugliest but most useful part of this book occurs in the epilogue. After describing all the soul-searching and efforts to heal that took place in Germany in the wake of the Holocaust (which are ongoing, by the way), she points out that "Half a century after Stalin's death, there were no equivalent arguments taking place in Russia, because memory of the past was not a living part of public discourse... the goal has been to end discussion of the past, to pacify the victims by throwing them a few extra rubles and free bus tickets, and to avoid any deeper examination of the causes of Stalinism or of its legacy." While Applebaum laments the fact that Russians don't want to talk about the crimes of the past, she doesn't let the other Cold War camp off easy, either: "Already, we are forgetting what it was that mobilized us, what held the civilization of "the West" together for so long: we are forgetting what it was that we were fighting against. If we do not try harder to remember the history of the other half of the European continent, the history of the other twentieth-century totalitarian regime, in the end it is we in the West who will not understand our past, we who will not know how our world came to be the way it is." I found this book insightful and interesting, if a little depressing (I read it in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, one of the most beautiful places in the world, so that I could occasionally take a reality break from the uglier bits in the pages like forced feedings and self-mutilation) and I think that its subject matter is timely, given what we're seeing lately in the international news.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    In one of my college history classes, a student asked the professor who killed more people - Stalin or Hitler? The answer: we don't know and it doesn't matter - they were both the embodiment of evil. This book is very detailed history of the physical form of that evil and does an amazing job of detailing both the causes and effects that the system had on everyone involved from the police, to the guards, to the horrific effects on the prisoners. It is extremely well written - I had a hard time pu In one of my college history classes, a student asked the professor who killed more people - Stalin or Hitler? The answer: we don't know and it doesn't matter - they were both the embodiment of evil. This book is very detailed history of the physical form of that evil and does an amazing job of detailing both the causes and effects that the system had on everyone involved from the police, to the guards, to the horrific effects on the prisoners. It is extremely well written - I had a hard time putting it down during all 600 detail filled pages.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    Anne Applebaum delivers an important, comprehensive, and damning history of the Gulag. The vast array of Soviet concentration camps originated in the Bolshevik Revolution and lasted until well after Stalin's death, with the final amnesty of political prisoners occurring in the mid-1980s. These camps held millions of criminal and political prisoners. Applebaum does a phenomenal job telling the history of the camp system and it's unfortunate prisoners. This is a must read for any student of Russia Anne Applebaum delivers an important, comprehensive, and damning history of the Gulag. The vast array of Soviet concentration camps originated in the Bolshevik Revolution and lasted until well after Stalin's death, with the final amnesty of political prisoners occurring in the mid-1980s. These camps held millions of criminal and political prisoners. Applebaum does a phenomenal job telling the history of the camp system and it's unfortunate prisoners. This is a must read for any student of Russian and 20th century history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    John

    Among the best accounts of Stalin's system of concentration and labor camps that I know of. She describes not only the organization, operations of the camps as well as life within them, but she also explains the role of slave labor in the development of the Soviet economy and in war production. Very well written, and entirely engaging - despite the horror in the tale. Clearly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize that she was awarded - if I recall correctly.

  15. 4 out of 5

    A.L. Sowards

    Applebaum is one of a few great new-to-me nonfiction authors I discovered this year. Her books are very readable and very well researched. I completely understand why this one received a Pulitzer prize. Had Dante been born after Stalin, he could easily have described one of the circles of hell as a gulag. Applebaum has done a very thorough job of detailing the history of the camps and the types of experiences its prisoners suffered. It’s terrifying. Early in the book, Applebaum remarks on a worry Applebaum is one of a few great new-to-me nonfiction authors I discovered this year. Her books are very readable and very well researched. I completely understand why this one received a Pulitzer prize. Had Dante been born after Stalin, he could easily have described one of the circles of hell as a gulag. Applebaum has done a very thorough job of detailing the history of the camps and the types of experiences its prisoners suffered. It’s terrifying. Early in the book, Applebaum remarks on a worrying trend. Nearly everyone recognizes that Nazi Germany was evil. But the same can’t be said of the Soviet Union under Stalin. Maybe that’s because Khrushchev and Gorbachev weren’t as bad as Stalin. (And Stalin helped defeat Hitler.) This book comprehensively sheds light on the horrible way people were treated by the Soviet Union and serves as a reminder that, yes, the West had good reason to band together against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Raymond

    I probably never will get all of, "Gulag," read. Anne Applebaum's awesome, masterful, 586-page history of the Gulag, the labor/concentration camps of the Soviet Union, overwhelms me. A key question which must arise in the minds of most American readers is how and why we know and hear so much of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's assault upon millions of people, but we know and hear so little of the Gulag. There is at least one important distinction. The German camps came to be outright death camps; p I probably never will get all of, "Gulag," read. Anne Applebaum's awesome, masterful, 586-page history of the Gulag, the labor/concentration camps of the Soviet Union, overwhelms me. A key question which must arise in the minds of most American readers is how and why we know and hear so much of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's assault upon millions of people, but we know and hear so little of the Gulag. There is at least one important distinction. The German camps came to be outright death camps; people were herded to mass executions. The Soviets - by no means benign - did maintain their camps (mostly) as labor/banishment camps, albeit untold millions died of the cruelty and inhumanity which became their lot. There were no trials of the Gulag perpetrators or the guards or the informers. There were no state probes or official inquiries. When at last the Gulag ended, it was done. With exceptions (with Applebaum's notable exception), the Gulag was not even history. In part this may explain - incredible - Josef Stalin "deported the Chechen nation to the wastes of Kazakhstan where half of them died and the rest were meant to disappear, with their language and culture." Then - twice in the 1990s - the Russian federation launched wars against the Chechen people, killed tens of thousands, and destroyed the Chechen capital of Grozny. Applebaum notes this is the moral equivalent of Germany invading Poland twice in the 1990s. Focus on the Gulag and its consequences becomes withering.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

    She's a fine journalist, but she's no historian. It seems well researched, and certainly well-footnoted, but it basically comes across as a mind-numbing tale of how millions of people, represented by a group of selected memoirists, suffered terribly for dubious political/philosophical reasons. I think it's a good attempt at trying to approach a historical era from the point of view of the victims, rather than the perpetrators, but it also shows how difficult that is to carry off. I'm still waiti She's a fine journalist, but she's no historian. It seems well researched, and certainly well-footnoted, but it basically comes across as a mind-numbing tale of how millions of people, represented by a group of selected memoirists, suffered terribly for dubious political/philosophical reasons. I think it's a good attempt at trying to approach a historical era from the point of view of the victims, rather than the perpetrators, but it also shows how difficult that is to carry off. I'm still waiting for the book that can give me what feels like real insight into the phenomenon of early-to-mid-century European social and political tumult. But maybe I will just have to dig it out for myself from fact-packed tomes like this one (given that I'm limited to English-language sources). Also, she does a pretty good job of not letting her own political biases take over (they are there, particularly if you know her background, or are sensitive to clues) but she seems to be letting facts speak for themselves on the whole. I would say, howver, that her conclusions in the epilogue are not well supported. Also, the prose, while certainly readable, can be clunky.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Holtzclaw

    this sure was about the gulag!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    This is an eye-opening look at a dictatorial bureaucracy run amok, and the consequences of that bureaucratic nightmare on real human beings. Applebaum writes about the Soviet Gulag first as a narrative history and then as a social history. Her narrative history begins with the early Cheka (or pre-KGB) prison on the Solovetsky island monastery, in the White Sea, where a former prisoner named Naftaley Frenkel became a manager of the prison and, in true Soviet fashion, tried to turn it into a source This is an eye-opening look at a dictatorial bureaucracy run amok, and the consequences of that bureaucratic nightmare on real human beings. Applebaum writes about the Soviet Gulag first as a narrative history and then as a social history. Her narrative history begins with the early Cheka (or pre-KGB) prison on the Solovetsky island monastery, in the White Sea, where a former prisoner named Naftaley Frenkel became a manager of the prison and, in true Soviet fashion, tried to turn it into a source of economic production, mainly of lumber. By 1930 the Soviet secret police took over most of the nation's prisons and turned them into massive versions of Solovetsky, just as Stalin began filling them with "kulak" peasant resisters and political opponents. Over the course of the next 20 years, almost 29 million people traveled through the camps, with about 2 million people in them at any one time. One report estimates at least 2.8 million people died in them. After Stalin's own death, millions were set free, but over 10,000 dissidents were kept in similar camps and psychiatric hospitals right up to the collapse of the country. In her social history of life in the camps Applebaum highlights the paradoxes that were everywhere part of Soviet life. The camps were supposed to be engines of economic productivity, but from Solovetsky on they almost always lost money, or cost more than the relatively more "free" enterprises in the Soviet Union, which is why Lavrentia Beria moved to close them so quickly after Stalin's death. Yet during the Gulag's height, no place could seemed so capitalist-minded or obsessed with profit and production. Gulag prisoners were divided into brigades, led by a "brigadier," which competed to fulfill output quotas of lumber or coal or, in the deathly Kolyma complex, gold. Those brigades that fulfilled their quotas got up to 700 grams of bread a day, while those who failed got starvation rations of 300 grams. The irony was that 700 grams of bread was often not enough calories to complete a hard day's work, so many brigades failed and fell back to the lower level of rations, which was then not even enough to survive on, so many starved. In attempting the "maximize output" at the lowest cost, the Gulag was in fact eating itself alive. In fact, hunger was the overwhelming concern and cause of death throughout the Gulag's history. Its the main reason they turned into little forms of hell. The strangest part of the Gulag in Applebaum's tale, however, was that most of the time the authorities truly hoped to run it "by the book." There were legal "commission" decisions and confessions that accompanied just about every absurd arrest and sentence. There were inspector reports which described the horrendous conditions and demanded reform. The central Gulag administration ("Gulag" was a Russian acronym for "main administration of camps") set strict requirements on the amount of clothes and boots and living spaces prisoners should receive (one regulation set the height and width in centimeters of the bucket to defecate in), and demanded the camps nurture sick prisoners to health, so they could produce more of course. The fact that these camps tortured and killed so many innocents seems more like an example of riotous incompetence combined with ridiculous ideology. Unlike some of the Nazi concentration camps, the Gulag was not meant to be a factory of death and terror, they just turned out to be (although they never reached the death rates of the Nazi "KLs," they did have many more people travel through them). In this tale, the Soviet Union's leaders were certainly corrupt and malicious, but mostly they were ideological, and their ideology and obsession with Soviet development allowed a hateful system to spin out of control, turning into something its own creators did not exactly want, but that few had the courage to challenge.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    This is first rate history but difficult reading as you might suspect from its topic. Applebaum presents a strong, unblinking examination of the history of the Soviet gulag, the system of Communist prison camps that in Solzhenitsyn’s metaphoric naming spread across the Soviet Union in a vast archipelago of intentional brutality, targeted murder, malign indifference, exposure, overwork, disease, deprivation, and starvation. Everything, including the heroically stubborn survival of prisoners suffe This is first rate history but difficult reading as you might suspect from its topic. Applebaum presents a strong, unblinking examination of the history of the Soviet gulag, the system of Communist prison camps that in Solzhenitsyn’s metaphoric naming spread across the Soviet Union in a vast archipelago of intentional brutality, targeted murder, malign indifference, exposure, overwork, disease, deprivation, and starvation. Everything, including the heroically stubborn survival of prisoners suffering the insufferable, enduring the unendurable, and simply outlasting this rarely mitigated evil, is hard to read but necessary for understanding. The gulag’s inmates were political opponents, real and imagined, of Stalin. They were random citizens turned in for telling a joke or making a disparaging remark about Soviet leaders or the Soviet system—or for listening to someone else make a joke or a remark. Others were citizens who were merely suspected of something because they received mail from abroad, spoke a language other than Russian or bought something on the black market. Other prisoners were reported to authorities by someone who was angry or jealous of them for any reason; and still others were implicated by friends, colleagues or acquaintances in response to interrogations about non-existent conspiracies. There were also criminals in the camps, thieves and murderers and sexual predators, who sometimes were allowed to or were used by camp wardens to victimize the political prisoners. And at times there were spouses and children of political prisoners, swept up for the crime of being family members of “an enemy of the people.” The gulag existed from immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution until the collapse of the Soviet Union, though it was at its worst during the reign of Stalin. For many of its original prisoners it was surprisingly familiar because as revolutionaries themselves (Mensheviks, anarchists, socialists, etc.) they had spent time in the czarist prisons. But the Soviet gulag was worse than its czarist model. Periodic purges resulted in mass executions, particularly but not exclusively in the Great Terror of 1937 and 1938. For all of Stalin’s reign the work camps were a significant, if totally unsuccessful, part of the Soviet economy. Prisoners were slave labor with unreachable quotas of work to be attained under extreme conditions with crude and inadequate tools. Food rations were close to minimal levels to avoid starvation and those who didn’t meet quotas were fed below minimal level. Disease and death were rampant. During periods of famine and after the Nazi invasion, when conditions were so awful that millions of free Soviet citizens died from cold, starvation, and related diseases, life, of course, was even worse in the camps. Applebaum tries to put verifiable figures on all of this but documentation, the methodology and reliability of record keeping, in the camps makes that challenging. Applebaum’s relentless research and interview efforts are inspiring—if you are wondering how difficult is it to read almost 600 pages of such unimaginable brutality, pause to consider how difficult it is to spend intense years examining the histories, memoirs, documents, and oral accounts of this dark, decades-long era of evil. Pause further to consider how we can adequately understand and remember what happened if all we know is a simple, brief textbook summary? You can’t. Anne Applebaum’s Gulag, A History is essential reading for any meaningful understanding of the 20th century.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rick Boyer

    An absolutely brilliant and crucially important work, which details the history of the Soviet Gulag system of forced labor camps, from the end of the First World War to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Exhaustively researched and containing numerous reminiscences from camp survivors, and details from official government archives, Anne Applebaum presents a picture of Soviet repression that is equal parts horrifying, sobering, educational, and nearly beyond belief. This is an important work fo An absolutely brilliant and crucially important work, which details the history of the Soviet Gulag system of forced labor camps, from the end of the First World War to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Exhaustively researched and containing numerous reminiscences from camp survivors, and details from official government archives, Anne Applebaum presents a picture of Soviet repression that is equal parts horrifying, sobering, educational, and nearly beyond belief. This is an important work for what it teaches us historically, for the lessons it brings to us about the reality of evil, for what it tells us about ourselves, and for the hope it gives that, with understanding, perhaps future descents into the horrors of ideological and political violence and repression can be mitigated, if not avoided altogether. I strongly, strongly recommend this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael Gerald

    A great complement to the books "The Gulag Archipelago" and "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea", this book provides the bigger picture as well as the individual level of the evil that was the Soviet gulag. Showing the history of the gulag system from the Bolsheviks' appropriation of the existing camps under the Tsarist system to its massive expansion by Stalin and his minions, "Gulag" proves that the "concentration camp" system had its roots not in Nazi Germany but in the Soviet Unio A great complement to the books "The Gulag Archipelago" and "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea", this book provides the bigger picture as well as the individual level of the evil that was the Soviet gulag. Showing the history of the gulag system from the Bolsheviks' appropriation of the existing camps under the Tsarist system to its massive expansion by Stalin and his minions, "Gulag" proves that the "concentration camp" system had its roots not in Nazi Germany but in the Soviet Union. In fact, the Nazis actually got the inspiration for their own extermination camps from their Soviet counterparts. The banality of evil and the institutionalized criminality of the Soviet gulag system did break the souls and bodies of millions of Soviet citizens and other nationalities. But the system can never defeat the people. In the end, it was the people who won over it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    Eye opening. Amazing how this part of history seems to be left alone, especially in the West. Applebaum acknowledges this when she visits the prisons on her own. An interesting read and one that includes the power that literature and poetry has when many great Russian writers were finally able to get their works pertaining to these camps published decades later.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    An unflinching, engrossing, and incredibly detailed history of the USSR's concentration and forced labor camps. I'm not sure if this book has a thesis, but it does provide a panoramic account of the gulag. The majority of the book is about life in the camps; going from arrest to transit to labor to social relations to gender, etc. One fascinating theme is the division of prisoners into political and criminal categories; for most of the gulag's history, it was the criminals who sort of ran the ca An unflinching, engrossing, and incredibly detailed history of the USSR's concentration and forced labor camps. I'm not sure if this book has a thesis, but it does provide a panoramic account of the gulag. The majority of the book is about life in the camps; going from arrest to transit to labor to social relations to gender, etc. One fascinating theme is the division of prisoners into political and criminal categories; for most of the gulag's history, it was the criminals who sort of ran the camps and negotiated deals with the camp authorities. Here's the basic timeline of the Gulag that Applebaum provides: when the Bolsheviks took power in 1917, they almost immediately started stashing political enemies in far off settlements, somewhat similar to longstanding czarist practices. This process accelerated during the Russian Civil War, but it wasn't until the pivotal year of 1929 that Stalin decided to expand the camps and make them into profitable enterprises as part of his plans to industrialize the Soviet economy. The camp #'s ballooned in the 30s and the administration of the camps became harder; workers only held value for what they produced, so those who didn't produce usually didn't get fed or cared for. The worst period for the camps was World War II, when increased labor demands and the disruption of the Soviet economy led to higher death rates. After the war, Stalin decided to keep the economy on a full war tilt, which meant that he would keep the gulag going full time. Of course, the gulag was also the place to isolate and punish the USSR's millions of real and imagined enemies. Indeed, without Stalin maniacal fixation with the gulag, it probably would have faded post WWII. It was only his death that enabled Beria and then Khruschev to dismantle most of the camps and release most prisoners. The gulag was also economically inefficient. Such was the insane centralization of the Soviet system under Stalin that one man's paranoia, cruelty, and inflexibility maintained a brutal and economically backward camps system even as everyone around him soured on the idea. The finishing blow to the camps was prompted by revolts from prisoners who hadn't been pardoned post-Stalin, revolts that I had never even heard of. Applebaum also presents a fascinating account of the memory of the camps. Later Neo-Stalinist types like Andropov and Brezhnev seemed like apologists for the gulag, and they expanded penal labor sites in keeping with their post-Khruschev reaction. Ultimately, Gorbachev finished off the camps as part of his reforms of the Soviet system. Still, in contrast to Germany, there seems to have been little grappling with the crimes and legacy of the Gulag in Russia itself. The chaos on the 1990s, the humiliation of the USSR's collapse, and the Stalinist nostalgia of the Putin regime have all militated against such a reckoning. Hence the political importance of Applebaum's work. She is trying to get Russians and Western leftists to fully own up to the brutality of the totalitarian Soviet system and of communism in general. With her broader body of work, she is trying to discredit the misuse of history by Putin's regime and remind liberal democrats that the Cold War was not just a misunderstanding, or a product of rapacious Western capitalism, but a true conflict of ideological opposites: liberal, capitalist democracy against a totalitarian communism. I look forward to reading Red Famine, at least as much as you can look forward to reading a book about famines.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Peggy Warren

    A vivid, gruesome history of Soviet concentration camps.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    This was definitely and eye-opening, thought-provoking and at many point a very disturbing read for me. I truly had no idea why these "Gulags" were established and the immense amount of people (soviets and foreigners) that were prisoners in these labor camps. Nor did I know that there were staggering amounts of "Gulags" spread out across the USSR, especially ones very close to the Artic. There was one chapter in this book that astonished me and left me horrified with an actual lump in my throat. This was definitely and eye-opening, thought-provoking and at many point a very disturbing read for me. I truly had no idea why these "Gulags" were established and the immense amount of people (soviets and foreigners) that were prisoners in these labor camps. Nor did I know that there were staggering amounts of "Gulags" spread out across the USSR, especially ones very close to the Artic. There was one chapter in this book that astonished me and left me horrified with an actual lump in my throat. It was chapter 15 titled "Women and Children" which opened with a shocking excerpt from a memoir of a survivor named Olga Adamova-Sliozberg. I won't go into any detail about this excerpt because it must be read by anyone interested in learning about these Gulags. In this chapter you read about the depravation, demoralization and inhumane way these women and children were treated and witnessed on a day to day, month to month and for most of them year to year basis, left me utterly gobsmacked.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    So this is good, but it's a bit TMI for this reader. About three hundred pages in, I was like, "Okay, I get it. Being in the Gulag really sucked, and these camps weren't well-run. Wow, are we really gonna run through how bad it was in even more detail??" I mean, you pick up that it sucked pretty quickly, and then there's like five hundred more pages describing how MUCH it sucked. So again, yeah, the casual student of the Gulag might be savvy enough to avoid the 600 page history, and might not ne So this is good, but it's a bit TMI for this reader. About three hundred pages in, I was like, "Okay, I get it. Being in the Gulag really sucked, and these camps weren't well-run. Wow, are we really gonna run through how bad it was in even more detail??" I mean, you pick up that it sucked pretty quickly, and then there's like five hundred more pages describing how MUCH it sucked. So again, yeah, the casual student of the Gulag might be savvy enough to avoid the 600 page history, and might not need my advice that perhaps she should pick a shorter book or more of a Stalinist Russia overview, which I guess probably would've been a bit more my speed. I might finish this at some point, but the fact is that it's been sitting untouched and half-finished in my desk at work since around the time that the weather got warm (it was a more appropriate winter book), so for now I'm putting it on my abandoned-efforts shelf of shame.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    Probably no review can do complete justice to the depth, breadth, and importance of this book. Written when researchers were able to gain better access to Soviet archives (which have since reduced access), this book provides a record of Gulag terror, Gulag society, and Gulag goals, aims, and failures--a record we might not otherwise have to such a comprehensive extent. It supports the veracity of the memoirs of Gulag survivors and compiles numbers (most of them stomach-turning) for how many peop Probably no review can do complete justice to the depth, breadth, and importance of this book. Written when researchers were able to gain better access to Soviet archives (which have since reduced access), this book provides a record of Gulag terror, Gulag society, and Gulag goals, aims, and failures--a record we might not otherwise have to such a comprehensive extent. It supports the veracity of the memoirs of Gulag survivors and compiles numbers (most of them stomach-turning) for how many people were processed through the system, how many ethnic minorities died in transit to prisons, how overcrowded the camps were, how few calories prisoners subsisted on. In some books it's easy to get overwhelmed by numbers because statistics, when listed, can be boring, but the numbers Applebaum provides overwhelm because they underscore the enormity of the human rights violation that was the Gulag: Adding the numbers together, the total number of forced laborers in the USSR comes to 28.7 million. Applebaum's introduction alone is worth reading because it compares and contrasts the Gulag to the Nazi concentration camps; she notes the importance of distinguishing how they were different but draws valid comparisons here (and throughout the book later) between them. She makes sure to define the Nazi camps as death camps rather than "labor" camps. However, she explains that the link between both types of camps is how they legitimized themselves "by establishing categories of 'enemies' or 'sub-humans' whom they persecuted and destroyed on a mass scale." Further, she says: Above all, however, two differences between the systems strike me as fundamental. First, the definition of "enemy" in the Soviet Union was always far more slippery than the definition of "Jew" in Nazi Germany. . . . Second . . . the primary purpose of the Gulag, according to both the private language and the public propaganda of those who founded it, was economic. Applebaum deftly presents the sometimes confusing history of the Gulag: after all, while cruelty was not built into the Gulag system from the top, it was nevertheless used consistently as a tool for control over inmates; and while the "economic" intent behind the camps prompted leaders to have interest in prisoners' health, in reality, prisoners starved, suffered from exposure, had inadequate or no access to medical care, and were forced to work well beyond what even healthy people would be capable of. They were raped, tortured, murdered, left for dead, and separated from loved ones, even the littlest and most vulnerable, newborn babies. Death may not have been the official purpose of these camps (until later, when Stalin identified ethnic groups he wanted to destroy), but without documents indicating so, someone reading about them might not know it given the enormous waste and disregard for life. Applebaum is thoughtful, too, with the term "genocide," this term wrought with controversy when used in particular contexts. When Applebaum refers to deportations of nations of people, she says: Perhaps "genocide" is not the proper term for these deportations, since there were no mass executions. In later years, Stalin would also seek collaborators and allies among these "enemy" groups, so his hatred was not purely racial. "Cultural genocide," however, is not inappropriate. After they had gone, the names of all of the deported peoples were eliminated from official documents . . . The authorities wiped their homelands off the map . . . Regional authorities destroyed cemeteries, renamed towns and villages, and removed the former inhabitants from the history books. She also notes how Stalin's show trials focusing on Jewish doctors may have signaled that "he may have planned, ultimately, to deport all Jews resident in the Soviet Union's major cities to central Asia and Siberia." The book is not an easy read even though Applebaum, as I said, is deft in her presentation--she works in the voices of memoirists, such as Barbara Armonas ( Leave Your Tears in Moscow ) and Solzhenitsyn, to highlight the reality of individual situations, which cannot be told in numbers and through report about official documents. These are punctuated by fiction that either draws on personal experience or was intended as commentary. While she provides concrete information about the functioning of the Gulag, she does not forget the people who were traumatized by this system--she allows them to speak. The epilogue of the book is just as poignant as its other parts: . . . if we do not start trying harder to remember, there will be consequences for us too. For one, our understanding of what is happening now in the former Soviet Union will go on being distorted by our misunderstanding of history. . . . Already, we are forgetting what it was that mobilized us, what inspired us, what held the civilization of "the West" together for so long: we are forgetting what it was that we were fighting against. If we do not try harder to remember the history of the other half of the European continent, the history of the other twentieth-century totalitarian regime, in the end it is we in the West who will not understand our past, we who will not know how our world came to be the way it is. I followed this book with Timothy Snyder's manifesto-like book, On Tyranny . If Gulag doesn't terrify you enough, the combination of the two books will have an impressive impact.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Douglas Rowland

    Admirable enough, but repetitive, with information drawn from the same handful of sources over and over again.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sean Binkley

    A detailed and at times difficult account of a dark period of history. Applebaum does a great job capturing the scope of the Gulag system as well the human face of the inmates who suffered in that system. Definitely not a light read but well worth the effort.

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