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Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia Hardcover – December 17, 2008

3.2 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“In a strongly-written, fascinating, and original book, Jonathan Brent interweaves portraits of Russians in their daily lives with an astute analysis of Joseph Stalin's legacy.” (Philip Roth)

Inside the Stalin Archives is a necessary report from the Soviet netherworld of totalizing injustice that ought to have been universally known throughout the greater part of the twentieth century—when it could not have existed. Jonathan Brent’s discoveries will shake and shock and indispensably enlighten.” (Cynthia Ozick)

“The author is careful to make neither heroes nor villains of the ghosts he summons from the archives, incorporating flawed personalities into stories of unthinkable justice.” (Katya Tylevich - readrussia.com)

“Brent seized a unique opportunity that, if not for him, would doubtless have been missed….[H]is book shows us the conditions—moral, personal, and material—that Russians take for granted but which are utterly unlike anything Americans have ever experienced.” (Gary Saul Morson - The New Criterion)

“In the first part of his engaging and well-written memoir, Inside the Stalin Archives, Brent tells the story of the [Annals of Communism's] genesis. He conjures up the Moscow of the early 1990s, a time when the Russians were struggling to recover from the loss of the old certainties following the collapse of the Soviet system and adapt to a market-based economy.” (Orlando Figes - The New York Review)

“A fascinating, subtle, and finely written quest into the Russia of today through the dark labyrinth of history. Brent unveils not only the secrets of his journeys into Soviet Archives, but also a unique yet personal portrait of an enigmatic country and a blood-soaked century.” (Simon Sebag Montefiore)

“Brent's engaging memoir . . . reveals as much about the grim realities of post-Soviet life and bureaucracy as it does about the archives themselves. Equipped with little Russian and few contacts, but with an almost palpable sense of decency and honest intentions that illuminate his book, Brent explains for the general reader as well as for specialists how he went about his work in the new Russia.” (Martin Walker - New York Times Review of Books)

About the Author

Jonathan Brent is the editorial director of Yale University Press, where he founded the Annals of Communism series in 1991. He is the coauthor of Stalin's Last Crime, and a frequent contributor to the New Criterion, the Observer, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He teaches Soviet literature and history at Bard College and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atlas; First edition (December 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0977743330
  • ISBN-13: 978-0977743339
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,949,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Every student can recite Pushkin by heart in this shitty country but there are no jobs, there is no future here."

That's the bitter reaction of Olga, a young Russian woman after discovering that a neighbor - a classically-trained ballet dancer - is performing in a cabaret that is really a strip club. It is against that kind of backdrop that Jonathan Brent is trying to obtain access to Russia's Soviet-era archives (assisted by Olga, a translator). Russians like Olga, hungry for stability and prosperity and nostalgic for past glories, are finding a new allure in the idea of a totalitarian state; communism, Brent writes, may be dead, but not the idea of an all-powerful state unconstrained by the rule of law. Will publishing crucial records of Stalin's days, when state oppression reached surreal levels, make Olga and her peers aware of the dangers of that kind of nostalgia?

The title of this fascinating book is actually somewhat misleading. Rather than a straightforward recitation of of what Brent, the editorial director of the Yale University Press, unearths within the archives, it sets some such revelations in the much broader and fascinating chronicle of his experiences trying to win and maintain access to those records, of his relationships and discussions with Russian archivists.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book became a disappointment within the first 10 pages, when I realized the author wasn't about to share any material FROM the archives, but rather his own rather uninteresting travels to / from Moscow, discussions with his proud landlady on Kutuzovski Prospect, drinking tea from cracked cups, etc.

His personal experiences were shared by hundreds, thousands of foreigners who flocked in the early 1990s to a very exciting new Russia -- emerging from stagnation while nearly falling into anarchy. I was one of those foreigners, and found Mr. Brent's limited journey to be unremarkable.

In fairness to the author, and after re-reading the editorial review, I see that my expectations on this book's content were indeed raised too high by its title. I should have read this with the understanding that this is Mr. Brent's personal journey, rather than a scholarly work. In fact, I shouldn't have read this book at all.
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Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Brant arrived in Moscow in January 1992 to negotiate with Russian officials for Yale University Press for access to Soviet historical archives previously unavailable to outsiders. Many trips followed over the next fifteen years. They provide a loose connective thread for this memoir. They also allowed the personal contacts and observations that anchor the book. Brant raises complex questions including why many Russians still esteem both Stalin, a paranoid tyrant, and the oppressive regime he created; and why Russians have acquiesced to Putin's regime as it persistently curtailed democracy and freedom.

This book is very much a personal memoir, not a scholarly analysis. Brant offers no formal analysis or final answers. He speaks of the disruption and near chaos in Russian society in January 1992, of the perceived incompetence of the Yeltsin government, of the dissolution of what had been a Russian empire built over almost 400 years and of Russia's loss of international position and prestige. All this was a huge blow to the Russian people who were proud of the old society's accomplishments, achieved at enormous cost in blood and suffering. In the popular view, as well as in the view of some of the elite, Stalin was the architect of all this civil and military success.

By comparison, the new regime presided over a breakdown of public order, the collapse of the economy, an end to empire and a much diminished role in the world. No wonder, the book implies, that many in this proud nation are nostalgic for the Soviet regime and are willing to forgive much to the "great leader" who supposedly brought all this success about.
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Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Brent was instrumental in helping open the Russian Archives for the Yale University Press series "Annals of Communism", and for that we can be thankful to him, as the opening of these files enabled us to learn quite a lot that would otherwise have remained hidden. Even though revanchists are busy closing those archives again, light has been thrown on the Kirov assassination, on the Terror, and many other things.
Unfortunately, Brent's 15-year journey through the archives is often tedious, and he takes pleasure in droning on and on about little anecdotes that we could frankly do without. I don't need to read the Merlot in such a restaurant was fantastic, or what was on the blinis at Prof's X party.
This would have been the stuff of a good long detailed article. As a book, it's way too long, and the actual glimpses into the events detailed in the documents are few and far between. Thank you Jonathan Brent for opening up the archives, but this, though not unpleasant, is a letdown
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