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Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization Reprint Edition

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520208230
ISBN-10: 0520208234
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"A kind of archaeological analysis of Soviet life during the momentous years of Stalinist industrialization."—Lewis Siegelbaum, Michigan State University

From the Back Cover

"A kind of archaeological analysis of Soviet life during the momentous years of Stalinist industrialization." (Lewis Siegelbaum, Michigan State University)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 639 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (February 27, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520208234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520208230
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 47 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is about building socialism, Soviet style. Magnitogorsk was the site of an outcrop of rich iron ore and Soviet economic planners elected to construct a whole new steel manufacturing center with accompanying city on that site. The site lacked easy access to coal, required extensive damming of the neighboring river, was hundreds of miles off the main Russian railroad system, and was sparsely populated. The rational approach would have been to develop an iron mine and expand the rail lines connecting to established industrial centers; a Soviet equivalent of the once important iron mines in nothern Minnesota. In keeping with the goal of erecting a whole new industrial civilization, the new Soviet state treated the site as a physical and social tabula rasa, developing not only a whole new vertically integrated production complex but also a whole new society. Kotkin's book is a social history of that enterprise. Based on extensive archival research and using extensive secondary sources, Kotkin describes the social experience of building the factory/city and life within Magnitogorsk.
This is an excellent book. The quality of writing and documentation is excellent. Readers will get a vivid sense of the Soviet experience during this period of Russian history. The underlying theme of the book is the efforts of the Soviet state to transcend capitalism and totally transform human existence. The resulting efforts to break the social mold and develop rational modes of social organization are described well. The Soviet emphasis on heavy industry, central planning, and subordination of the individual to social goals is demonstrated through close analysis of the system of factory construction, housing organization, and many aspects of daily life.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Rhyne on December 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
At several points in Magnetic Mountain, the Stalinist state appears like "Bizarro" world, where up is down, people permanently dwell in "temporary" cities, and claims of exceeding expectations really meant falling far short of the goal. Yet, according to Stephen Kotkin, all of these apparent contradictions were perfectly sensible and functional within Stalinist civilization. Kotkin, in his analysis of Magnitogorsk --the industrial centerpiece of Stalin's five-year plans-- demonstrates how and why society functioned, treating Stalinism in an analytical style not unlike those employed by anthropologist observing and explaining the bizarre behavior of non-western "others". Kotkin considers Stalinism as civilization rather than solely a political ideology because it provided unique ways of thinking, speaking, living, organizing, and constructing.
Kotkin's work is an excellent blend of theoretical models and empirical evidence. The book, dedicated to Michel Foucault, embraces many of the suggestions proffered by the late theoretician, such as the definition of "power" as a defining rather than an oppressing "force" and the need to explore power on the micro-level. And true to form, Kotkin locates power in a wide variety of domains- from the divide between the imagined and real layout of Socialist City to a list of names and profession tacked onto the front of a workers' barrack. Kotkin convincingly demonstrates that while party ideology and administrative policy was imposed from above, it was by no means absolute. Realities within and without the "official" system created spaces that shaped resistance and defined the ways in which the individuals could utilize the to accommodate their needs/interest.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Virgil on September 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
Kotkin has done excellent work here in Magnetic Mountain. This is a landmark study on the building of an industrial city in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist era. It's extremely bizarre that some have taken the view that it is a pro-Stalin work. I can only conclude that they haven't read Magnetic Mountain but only certain reviews or are so head-in-the-sand dogmatic that they render any view outside of cold war totalitarian model as pro-Stalinist.
Especially ironic is the Stalinist tone of many who oppose any view outside this strict cold war construction. Like it or not the facts are many who lived in the Soviet Union during that era believed in communism as their salvation and future. I've lived in Russia and have seen the older generation protesting in pro-Stalin demonstrations in St Petersburg's Palace Square. Stating this doesn't make Kotkin pro anything. It makes him a historian.
Kotkin's rendering of Magnitogorsk is great history. From the initial idealistic workers that established the city, he quickly shows the disillusionment that occurred when theory and practical organization clashed. Labor shortages abound in this workers paradise ironically because workers couldn't stand the conditions. Kotkin shows how internal passports and party cards gradually began to be used to make sure workers could not move freely or that party members could be monitored.
Not that all was oppression. He correctly describes how many used the opportunities that were available to proceed with gaining an education in the evening technical programs that proliferated in the Magnitogorsk community.
Kotkin does not shy away from the effects of the purges, but he does describe them as being focused particularly on party members.
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