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Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, 1934-1941 Hardcover – March 27, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stalin has had the reputation of ruling the U.S.S.R. with an iron fist, employing terror to inflict his will on a hapless populace. Accordingly, Stalin was also a paranoid monster who stage-managed the twists and turns of Soviet policy that made him supreme leader. In this strongly revisionist work, Thurston, associate professor of history at Miami University, tries to refute that conception, arguing that Stalin was largely reacting to events around him. The author goes so far as to claim that, though terror existed as part of the Soviet system, Stalin never meant it to be a primary instrument for ruling. Thurston has surveyed recently opened Soviet archival material and other sources and interpreted them his way, conjecturing that in the late 1930s-the period of the Great Terror-"events spun out of... control," catching Stalin off-guard and forcing him to improvise. Whether one accepts what will surely be a highly controversial reassessment, the author acknowledges Stalin was nonetheless "one of history's leading murderers, and his crimes were grotesque." Photos. History Book Club selection.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Thurston (history, Miami Univ.) challenges conventional interpretations of the Soviet purges of the 1930s. Instead of treating Stalin as a master schemer committed to the extermination of multitudes of imagined opponents, he organizes evidence from scholarly and primary sources, some recently opened, to portray Stalin as both an initiator and a reactor to events who relied heavily upon his chief of the NKVD, the internal security force. Thurston examines the psychology of the Soviet citizenry, emerging from revolution and civil war, and identifies a genuine basis for a fear of opposition groups. The author finds his argument supported in the loyalty of the Soviet population to Stalin with the advent of World War II, which contravenes the examples of Soviets welcoming German troops cited in standard histories. For Thurston, Stalin's Terror reflected that of his people, and they supported him. This is a well-written and thought-provoking study for scholars in the field and subject collections.
Rena Fowler, Humboldt State Univ., Arcata, Cal.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First edition. edition (March 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300064012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300064018
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,251,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm professor of history at Miami University (the original Miami, Oxford, Ohio). I started out as a historian of Russia and lived for two different academic years in the USSR. My first two monographs and my edited book of articles are all on twentieth-century Russia, tsarist and Soviet. My interest in the Great Terror led me in a thematic direction, to write about the European and Salem witch hunts. I then followed the thread of mass persecution by writing about lynching around the world; this book was published by Ashgate in March, 2011.

I am senior editor and contributor to Coffee: A Comprehensive Guide to the Bean, the Beverage, and the Industry. Articles are by farmers, exporters, coffee federation members from various countries, importers, roasters, scientists, and major figures in the coffee industry.

My web site is

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 29 people found the following review helpful By T. Kunikov VINE VOICE on November 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I read this book a few years ago and was extremely happy with what I came away with. Some errors were made when it came to the purges of the Red Army, and at some points there were simply assertions that I did not agree with, but that should not take away from the excellent discourse this work goes into in regards to Stalin and the system that he was a part of. To us common sense has to dictate that killing millions of people is simply out of this world, even more so for one man to accomplish and do on his own. This book is a framework that shows how in fact Stalin and the NKVD worked and what happened behind the scenes. It is my belief that in fact many of the deaths that occurred, happened indirectly from what Stalin had ordered done. The usual procedure was as follows, it is known as the 'snowball affect': When some of those arrested were interrogated they would give up names, those names would then be researched and found and brought in and interrogated, etc etc etc. This is how when Stalin signed away for the arrests of the top Marshals and Generals in the Red Army, those who suffered during the purge were also colonels, majors, captains, etc. Stalin most likely had no clue that they were involved in anything, but when torture is applied anything and everything will be reveiled. This also explains that when Stalin realized where this was going he had to put a stop to it, he stopped it by blaming Yezhov, who was then in turn arrested, tortured, tried, and executed. One man most certainly was not responsible for what transpired throughout Stalin's reign. I am not an apologist, far form it, I hold him accountable for much of the suffering the Soviet Union and my great-grand parents had to go through. But more so I believe in knowing and understanding the truth, while much can be blamed on him it should be understood that this was a time of many crimes being committed by many people, this book goes far in showing that to be the truth.
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16 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 11, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book contains many interesting anecdotes about life in the Soviet Union from the mid-1930s until the outbreak of World War II. However, its fundamental arguments -- that the Great Terror was not so great nor even truly a terror -- are badly flawed. The principal problem is that the author spends far too much effort knocking down straw men. Among other things, he attempts to argue that the Soviet Union was not a totalitarian regime, the basis for this being that it did not achieve absolute control over every aspect of Soviet life. But if this is the test, not even the society in Orwell's "1984" was totalitarian, since free thinking was still possible, even if severely punished when caught. If the standard is set so high, the word becomes useless. He also argues that the Terror was not really a terror since its only goal was not the random creation of fear in society. Thurston appears to believe that a true terror could not arise if many of the participants and victims were involved because they actually believed the skewed form of "reality" created by Stalin and his cohorts. Further, Thurston at times almost sounds like an apologist for Stalin & Company, hinting for instance that the rooting out of Trotskyists had some justification in the fact that a "bloc" of like-minded supporters of Trotsky and his policies actually existed and communicated with one another. There are plenty of similar issues and problems with this book which I will not detail. I do not recommend it except as a source of anecdotes for the point that Stalin's terror was not all it might have been.
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12 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Robert Thurston has written an interesting --if flawed--history of the Stalinist terror. Correctly criticizing previous histories of the period, Thurston falls into the trap that awaits most revisionist historians: he spends more time looking for information to disprove their arguments than building his own case. A major problem is the author's use of Soviet archival material. Dr. Thurston uses Soviet statistics to build his case often neglecting their obvious bias. For example, he notes that only 63,889 people were arrested for counterrevolutionary crimes in 1939 (119), while later noting that in the same year more than a million Poles from the eastern Ukraine were deported to Siberia (218). Nevertheless, the book is important for students and academic interested in the impact of the terror on Soviet society.
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24 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Meia Dawn on July 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
What generally has dominated the conversation about Stalin's regime has been recognized as a "Totalitarian Paradigm" by Philip Marsh, outstanding non-Marxist scientist in his essay "Stalin And Yezhov- An Extra-Paradigmatic View". His definition of this paradigm is that when researching this historical period, Western historician always proceeds from the assumption that Stalin was a dictator and his rule was monolithic and tyrannic, thus always negating new evidence that would suggest otherwise. A good example of this is Robert Conquest and the case of Kovalev. Conquest's standard accusations against Stalinist regime have traditionally been that it was elitist, bureucratic and priviledged, suppressed workers and peasants with ruthless force, was only interested with fabricated harvest records etc. When Conquest then found that these people who practiced this were the main targets of the purges and were considered as unbearable burdons for Leninist party (demonstrated in the case Kovalev who was purged for exploiting toilers) he simply whitewashed these people as "victims of lynching mood" while not grasping that he was himself protecting tyrannical strata which was the remnant of Czarist rule. He was later espoused for this- but still remains among the most respected scholars on Stalin, while more responsible research- based on archival data rather than rumors and gossip, basic sources for information respected in mainstream - has been simply downplayed as an attempt to "absolve Stalin from his crimes" while these critics themselves suffer from all-too-typical paradigm blindness. They don't understand that this new research questions whether we can even talk about "crimes", which is useless term and out of historical context.Read more ›
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