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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
This book is a first-person account of work life in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Disenchanted with opportunities in Depression America in 1931, Scott takes off for the Workers' Paradise. He finds a job as a welder building the massive steelworks in the new Soviet city of Magnitogorsk in the Ural Mountains. Altogether, he spent six years living and working in...
Published on July 18, 2002 by Amazon Customer

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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but sometimes slow
The book is an interesting story - the author goes to Russia to work in the times of Stalin. He discusses the differences between foreigners and the Russians, the shortages of supplies, the problems of production, and the purges and some of their affects. As a foreigner, he feels somewhat distant from the times, and hence does not pull the reader in as much as one...
Published on March 27, 2000 by Kate


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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, July 18, 2002
This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
This book is a first-person account of work life in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Disenchanted with opportunities in Depression America in 1931, Scott takes off for the Workers' Paradise. He finds a job as a welder building the massive steelworks in the new Soviet city of Magnitogorsk in the Ural Mountains. Altogether, he spent six years living and working in Magnitogorsk until he lost his job due to Stalin's purges.
The conditions that Scott found himself working in are simply incredible. He rose well before dawn and went to work outdoors in -30 degree temperatures with no breakfast. Lunch, the major meal of the day, was a hunk of bread and some watery soup with perhaps a slice of tough meat. Work place injuries were extremely common, due to the cold, lack of food and lack of training or safety equipment. For example, Scott describes an incident where he was working high above the ground and saw something, or rather, somebody, go sailing past only to the pipes below. As a foreigner, Scott knew some first aid, so he was always called on to care for such injuries when they occurred at the work site. In addition to describing work life and living conditions, Scott also discusses the educational and training systems that were in place and spare time activities such as vacations. He also includes some anecdotes about ex-pat workers who he met in Magnitogorsk.
Scott remains objective throughout the book, making the message of the book extremely powerful, much more so than if he had pressed political arguments or personal viewpoints. A particularly interesting facet of the book is its discussion of the purges of the 1930s and speculation on their cause. Few other outsiders were living inside Soviet society at the time, so Scott's views can be uniquely enlightening about how Soviets perceived what was happening to their society and why. Scott identifies several possible causes for the purges, but seems to place great emphasis on the fear of foreign saboteurs and does not mention Stalin's personality at all as a possible cause. Area specialists and historians will find much of interest in this book, as will casual readers.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Real Magnitogorsk, October 10, 2001
By 
Blah (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
This is a great first hand accont of Stalinism at work. John Scott five year experience in Russia gives us a fairly good overview of some of the accomplishments (such as increase production of pig iron three fold in a decade) and also the problems usually involving poor planning or lack of materials. Scott as an American working in Russia gives us an unusual perspective that is quite refreshing. His writing is easy to read and includes many entertaining and revealing anecdotes. Also his writing is not bogged down by the didactic language and relentless facts that plague most works of history. True there is a history of Magnitogorsk that drags a bit but it is over soon enough. Generally, this is considered the definative work on everyday Stalinism
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing first-hand account of Stalin's Russia, January 6, 2010
By 
Graham (Palo Alto, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
This is an amazing first-hand account of Stalin's Russia, written by a young American who went to work in 1932 at the great new steel city of Magnitogorsk in the Urals. It contains much first hand evidence on working and living conditions, on social moods, on corruption, on repression and on heroism.

One key question is how reliable a witness is Scott? It is clear that he is trying to present a generally upbeat picture, but he is also willing to depict enormously harsh conditions at Magnitogorsk, especially in the early years. He paints a mood of simultaneous suffering and Gung Ho spirit, where living conditions were appalling, working conditions wildly unsafe, muddle and waste abounded, but where all this was seen as a temporary and necessary transition to a better future.

This was written in 1942, after Scott returned to the US. Scott praises the great foresight of Stalin in building an immense industrial complex in the Urals ("Stalin's Urals Stronghold") beyond the reach of invading German armies. He emphasizes both the enormous sacrifices in building Magnitogorsk and other Urals plants and the vast industrial power of these new factories. Given the dark context of 1942, this was probably a very welcome message in both the USSR and the USA.

I was surprised by the liveliness that Scott describes in plant meetings. Criticism of the system itself, or of the high leadership, seems to have been entirely taboo. However, vigorous grassroots criticism of local plant management, or production methods, or specific social problems (such as the workers canteens) appears to have been common and even seems to have been encouraged, perhaps partly as a safety valve or as a way to spur on mid-level leaders.

Another surprise was the importance of financial incentives. Higher work grades earned significantly higher pay, so workers studied industriously to qualify for the higher grades. (Improved education was a key goal of the regime, so the incentives here were clearly deliberate.) But income was also tied to production. If the group targets were exceeded, pay could be boosted (even doubled). But if the targets were missed, pay could drop. At a higher level, the overall plant income and expenditures were tracked assiduously, although at the very top, Moscow seemed more interested in total raw production than "profit".

In the originally published text, Scott often comes across as well intentioned but distinctly naïve. However, this enlarged edition also includes some private notes that Scott provided to the US Moscow Embassy in 1938. These show a considerably more skeptical and insightful side, for example in analyzing the different groups at Magnitogorsk and explaining how some groups, such as the former kulaks, were permanently embittered against the regime. He is also explicit in describing the impact of what we now call the Great Terror. "Life is cruel in the Soviet Union and the regime knows no pity."

Scott, like other foreign workers, was eventually forced to leave Magnitogorsk as the Soviet authorities became increasingly fearful of foreigners in the later 1930s.

Overall, I found this a fascinating study. When reading this, I think we have to be watchful that Scott, even when skeptical, still tends to see events through somewhat rose-tinted glasses. When he describes horrific conditions, or even major purges, he will often quickly assert that these were necessary steps to a greater end. (And perhaps, in the dark context of 1942, that view is understandable.) Similarly, as a former Soviet resident, he often unthinkingly accepts the regime's official positions, for example in believing that the secret NKVD trials are "fair", without himself having any evidence of them. But, if we keep those rose glasses in mind, this is still a fascinating source of raw primary data for life in a heroic but almost impossibly harsh age.
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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ...at the Temple of Stalin, February 13, 2005
This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
Other reviewers have done a good job pointing out the positives of this book; it's a unique look at a moment in history in a region most westerners have never heard of. One issue that needs to be made clear, however, is that this book is under no circumstance to be considered unbiased. In reference to Stalin's purges, John Scott makes such statements in as "Often they tried the wrong people, but in Russia this is relatively unimportant" and "Most of these people were innocent, but some were guilty, and some might have become excellent Nazi fifth-columnists. Stalin considered this investment a good one" without a hint of remorse. He plays the apologist, by constantly citing figures like pig iron production or cement tonnage, which are somehow supposed to negate the Stalinist terrors. Yes, the author is a victim of that same blind denial that kept Jews in concentration camps and the Gulag full of innocent Soviets. After reading Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg's "Journey Into the Whirlwind", her account of her life in Stalin's prison system, I almost felt physically ill when I reexamined "Behind the Urals". I can not blame Scott for what so many other Soviets fell victim to, the Cult of Stalin, but you have to go into this book with the mindset you would an uncritical book about the wonders of arms production in Nazi Germany. "Behind the Urals" is full of history, but it needs a liberal dose of critical interpretation, and an understandings that his political views should best be taken as an historical curiosity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Daily Life under Stalin, July 13, 2013
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This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
In 1931, with America in the midst of the Great Depression, John Scott, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, decided to leave school and go to the Soviet Union as a volunteer industrial worker. He first worked for a few months at the General Electric plant in Schenectady, NY to acquire skills as a welder, and the next year was in Magnitogorsk, a new industrial complex being built on the southeastern edge of the Ural Mountains, beyond the range of Hitler's bombers.
With raw courage and physical stamina, Scott worked alongside and shared hardships with Russian workers, welding blast furnaces and watching an immense industrial complex take shape. In his spare time he wrote daily notes of his observations, recording freezing cold, rickety ice-covered wooden scaffolding eighty feet above the ground, many accidents, and inadequate food and shelter.
He also noted the elan that gripped the workers, who compared their current state with the misery of the peasant villages in which they had grown up. Most were enrolled in night school courses and attending local cultural events, convinced that their lives were daily getting better and better.
Stalinist purges from time to time removed local Communist Party members, and Scott himself lost his job in 1938. He was nevertheless able to remain in Russia until 1941, when he was accused of being an American spy. On June 22, he left Vladivostok with his Russian wife and two daughters--on the very day that Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Ukraine.
Back in America, using nine years of field notes, Scott wrote Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel, which was published in 1942. An anthropologist would call his book a superb ethnography--a description of the day-to-day life and culture of a community of people. Scott, whose subsequent career was with Time magazine, became a journalist. In any case, his descriptions of the horrible working and living conditions, the grim political climate and purges, and the tremendous enthusiasm and hope of the workers amidst the chaos of forced-march industrialization are clear-eyed and objective. His book remains the best description of daily life in the USSR under Stalin.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but sometimes slow, March 27, 2000
This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
The book is an interesting story - the author goes to Russia to work in the times of Stalin. He discusses the differences between foreigners and the Russians, the shortages of supplies, the problems of production, and the purges and some of their affects. As a foreigner, he feels somewhat distant from the times, and hence does not pull the reader in as much as one would like. The book drags with constant statistics of production, but overall is interesting as an introduction into the times. His comparison of standards of living in Europe to those of Russia are particularly interesting.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stalin's Impact, January 13, 2007
By 
David Liano (Sterling Heights, MI USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
A very good account of life in 1930s Russia under the Bolshevik regime led by Lenin and then Stalin. Stalin's policies of collectivism of agriculture and rapid industrialization is very apparent throughout the book. What stands out is the dim view held by many Russian citizens of the capitalistic society of western nations including the United States which is clearly exploited by Stalin to pursue his objectives of social engineering and absolute power. You even find yourself buying into Stalin's propoganda as seems to be the case with the author, John Scott. But Stalin's brutal tactics must not be overlooked. He does create impressive cities and a very strong army, but at a great cost to the Russian people.
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3.0 out of 5 stars In the 1930s, the American economy was depressed and ..., December 4, 2014
This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
In the 1930s, the American economy was depressed and jobs were supposedly plentiful in the USSR. The USSR was still able to portray itself as a workers' paradise and the shining city on the hill. A wave of leftist-leaning Americans heeded the sirens' song and migrated there. This is a book by a true believer. Although most Americans who went to the USSR to help build the Soviet dream were either arrested in the purges or lucky to escape with their lives, Scott got out in time. He was a loyal communist to the last, but he did return to America.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great story simply told, May 3, 2014
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This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
I had to get this book for a class I had this past semester on the dream of communism. We had to read this book to see what it was like to live in a communist country. Scott's simple writing style puts you right in the lives of the workers of his day, while also telling a great, true story. A quick read and a good one for anybody interested in the life of communist workers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting historical story, March 13, 2014
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This review is from: Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (Paperback)
I found "Behind the Urals" to be a very compelling, easy to read story, an interesting view of the Russian Industrial Revolution from the perspective of an outsider, an American leaving the Great Depression to find work and a life in the most unlivable conditions imaginable.
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Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel
Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel by John Scott (Paperback - August 22, 1989)
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