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Gulag: A History Hardcover – April 29, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion. By the gulag's peak years in the early 1950s, there were camps in every part of the country, and slave labor was used not only for mining and heavy industries but for producing every kind of consumer product (chairs, lamps, toys, those ubiquitous fur hats) and some of the country's most important science and engineering (Sergei Korolev, the architect of the Soviet space program, began his work in a special prison laboratory). Applebaum details camp life, including strategies for survival; the experiences of women and children in the camps; sexual relationships and marriages between prisoners; and rebellions, strikes and escapes. There is almost too much dark irony to bear in this tragic, gripping account. Applebaum's lucid prose and painstaking consideration of the competing theories about aspects of camp life and policy are always compelling. She includes an appendix in which she discusses the various ways of calculating how many died in the camps, and throughout the book she thoughtfully reflects on why the gulag does not loom as large in the Western imagination as, for instance, the Holocaust.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

More than a full-scale history of the Soviet Gulag, this work by the Spectator's deputy editor asks why it is so little remembered in both Russia and the West.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (April 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767900561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767900560
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anne Applebaum is a historian and journalist. She is a regular columnist for the Washington Post and Slate, and a regular contributor to the New Republic, the New York Review of Books and the Spectator, among others. She also runs the Transitions Forum at the Legatum Institute in London, and in 2012-2013 held the Phillipe Roman chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics. Her book, Gulag: A History, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. Her most recent book, Iron Curtain, won the Cundill Prize for Historical Literature. Both books were nominated for the National Book Award.
Anne has been writing about Eastern Europe and Russia since 1989, when she covered the collapse of communism in Poland for the Economist magazine. She is married to Radoslaw Sikorski, a Polish politician and writer, and lives in Poland and Britain.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

213 of 235 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on June 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With the publication of "The Gulag Archipelago" in the early 1970s, Alexander Solzhenitsyn shocked and dismayed the Western world by masterfully detailing the existence of a horrific shadow culture within the Soviet Union, a culture comprised of a mass society of slave laborers scratching out their bare-knuckled survival in unbelievable difficulty and squalor, and having been recruited into the Gulag for a variety of economic, social, and political reasons. Given the inherent limitations of this superb albeit shocking work, the West had to wait for the fall of the Soviet bloc for a more definitive and more complete treatise on the nature of the Gulag. This new book by scholar-turned-journalist Anne Applebaum represents such a work.

The work is both massive and comprehensive, dealing not only with the ways in which the Gulag came into existence and then thrived under the active sponsorship of Lenin and Stalin, but also with a plethora of aspects of life within the Gulag, ranging from its laws, customs, folklore, and morality on the one hand to its slang, sexual mores, and cuisine on the other. She looks at the prisoners themselves and how they interacted with each other to the relationships between the prisoners and the many sorts of guards and jailers that kept them imprisoned. For what forced the Gulag into becoming a more or less permanent fixture within the Soviet system was its value economically in producing goods and services that were marketable both within the larger Soviet economy as well as in international trade. As it does in China today, forced labor within the Gulag for the Soviets represented a key element in expanding markets for Soviet-made goods ranging from lamps to those prototypically Russian fur hats.
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85 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on June 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In 1973, when Alexander Solzhenitsyn launched the first volume of his monumental GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, an oral history of Soviet concentration camps, he expressed concern that a proper history of the camps might never be written, that those who do not wish to recall would destroy all the documents "down to the very last one."
As it happened, however, the documents were not destroyed; they remained locked away in files and archives. Nor did Solzhenitsyn foresee the coming of Mikhail Gorbachev and the advent of glasnost, his policy of openness, much less the unfettered availability of Gulag information and the flood of memoirs by camp survivors.
It was an American Sovietologist-turned-journalist, Anne Applebaum, now a Washington Post columnist, who embraced the unexpected opportunity to undertake this vast and daunting project from which whole universities of ordinary researchers might have slunk away in dismay.
Lenin himself, the founding father of Russian communism, established the first 84 camps of the Soviet Gulag almost immediately after the Russian Revolution, basing their design on tsarist precedents. Lenin's successor, Josef Stalin, presided over the Gulag's development into the far-reaching "archipelago" of which Solzhenitsyn wrote.
Transport to the camps was no less nightmarish in many cases than the camps themselves. Prisoners en route to distant camps are said to have frozen to death even before they were loaded into the cattle cars, where they would sometimes remain crowded together for more than a month. Memoirs tell of trains being stopped to take off corpses, which were thrown into ditches.
The struggle for survival was part of daily life in the camps, the struggle for bits of food, edible but often revolting, and for enough water to sustain life.
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92 of 104 people found the following review helpful By A reader on May 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I suspect the definitive history of the Gulag system is still some decades away, and will likely be written by a Russian. Nevertheless, this is a good early survey. The Author brings a journalist's immediacy rather than a historian's depth to the project, and at this point, perhaps that is best. She spent a great deal of effort and time interviewing, searching archives, and reviewing the available memoirs to put together this volume. As the access to the archives seems to be in some question for now, this will likely be the benchmark work in English for some time.
For those who have not experienced the reality of the Soviet system, this is a good introduction. Acronymns and Soviet terms are clearly explained, and kept to a minimum, so a familiarity of Soviet history is not required. This is an accesible account, that will appeal to the general reader, although by no means an easy subject. One complaint, as an American, I was disappointed that the author did not include as a source Polish-American Jesuit Walter Ciszek, who spent 23 years in Stalin's prisons and camps, although the memoirs of American Alexander Dolgun are.
As the author laments, there is still perhaps a certain amount of, if not denial, at least unwillingness by many Russians to delve into this topic. In time, I feel certain that will change. The cold war ended, thankfully, not with a bang, but a wimper. No allied troops marched into Moscow. The Soviet regime collapsed of its own corruption and flawed ideology. The Russians themselves will have to come to grips with the reality of their history. Perhaps this book can be another helpful step in the process.
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