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My Past and Thoughts Reissue Edition

4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520042100
ISBN-10: 0520042107
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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, Russian (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

"A literary masterpiece to be placed by the side of the novels by Herzen's contemporaries and countrymen, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoevsky."—Sir Isaiah Berlin

"Herzen's memoirs are one of the great nineteenth-century monuments, an essential document as well as a noble piece of literature."—Philip Toynbee

Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reissue edition (April 2, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520042107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520042100
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kenneth S. Cargill on February 1, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the years before Lenin and the harsh, bleak application of socialist thought to autocracy there existed a group of philosophers who believed in the beauty of the commune and its cooperation with a Republican government. Britain had Robert Owen and his factory town, the French had Fourier (the phalanstery) and Proudhon among others, and the Russians had Herzen. Here existed a time where the leading academics saw folly in violent revolution, and Herzen was by no means a demogogue willing to mobilize the Russian peasants in a siege of Moscow like a simple Pugachev or a Decembrist.
This perhaps explains Herzen's stern dislike of Marx and Engels, for he saw too much of the Robespierre in them and their ideas.
Herzen believed in democracy almost in a modern American sense. Indeed, much of the work is laced with arguments in disfavor to the flowering of socialism in Europe, citing particularly the cruelty of the police in France during 1848: "The Latin world does not like freedom, it only likes to sue for it." Certainly the tendencies of the Germans were no more progressive either. Instead at one point in the text the author suggests that those who "can put off from himself the old Adam of Europe and be born again a new Jonathan had better take the first steamer to some place in Wisconsin or Kansas."
The selections and abridgement of the text emphasize Herzen's basic belief about reform: revolution is gradual. One has to breed engrained stupidity out of the ruling class and make laws that better everyone, like the English and Americans. Laws make a better society, not people: "The Englishman's liberty is more in his institutions than in himself or his conscience. His freedom is the 'common law.
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One finds oneself drawn to Herzen. He comes off as urbane, generous, strong, empathetic to those suffering under the Tsar (and all tyrannies), dedicated to the cause of bringing freedom to his homeland and a wonderful writer. He seems to have known, or at least bumped into, all the luminaries of the Russia and the Europe of his time.

This abridgement by Dwight McDonald, dating I believe from 1968, is of its time. The editor tells us that he excised those portions of the narrative dealing with Herzen's marriage, his wife's affair with a close friend of Herzen's, the loss of his mother and son in the sinking of a passenger boat and the death of his wife shortly thereafter. I wish that material had been included. I suppose an abridgement done in 2007 might include only those portions and nothing else, as we have less high seriousness and more interest in scandal and tragedy. In any case, I would have loved to read Herzen on these more personal topics.

I should add that it may be my spotty background in 19th Century European history but I was lost any number of times as I read. Herzen is telling us about contemporary men, events, controversies and schools of thought. There are numerous footnotes identifying the people he refers to but I needed more--no doubt the references would have been understood by any educated reader at the time but that was then.

That said, I'm glad I made the effort and I wish I could have met him.
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There is no question that it is good to have this edition of Alexander Herzen's autobiography, "My Past and Thoughts," though it is considerably abridged. The work is deservedly praised as one of the great autobiographies of the West. Well written and colorful, it acquaints us with the mind and spirit of one of the most important political figures of the nineteenth century. Herzen, darling of radicals and nemesis of conservatives (wrongly, I believe), is a seminal thinker and activist of his time.
Herzen, a Russian by birth but an internationalist in spirit, knew most of the radicals of the era, Bakunin, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Louis Blanc. Yet he was in a way not one of them. He was too hardheaded and too reasonable--he knew what worked and what didn't. Raised in autocratic Russia, he had experienced prison, exile--and fame as a writer.
This edition has been abridged by Dwight MacDonald, unfortunately leaving out some crucial parts, for example his relations with his wife, Natalie, and other more domestic issues. However, the original appeared in five volumes, and something had to be excised to make this edition manageable. Those who wish to read the complete autobiography should look up the Knopf four-volume edition of 1968. Nonetheless, this edition will do for most of us. It's a gem.

Philip Brantingham
Chicago, IL
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For me this was two books, the first half about someone born into Russian higher society during the 19th century and who grew up to agitate authorities already leery or revolutionary activity, and the second half about the man in Europe watching the revolutions of other nations as an outsider. But through it all is one man, Alexander Herzen, who oddly, I never felt as if I got to know even though we read quite a few of his thoughts.

To be fair this book is an abridgment of the larger, 4 volume set that comprises the complete work, and though there were times I felt as if I was missing out on personal information, such as his wife, I am pretty sure what was cut was longer, more in depth thoughts about the state of civilization and his own personal philosophy.

The biggest problem I had with the book is that once he leaves Russia I really had no idea what was going on. Even events that take place in Russia can be obscure since most of the people are dead and are hardly known through history, but once we leave Russia for France, Italy, and England I just couldn't keep up. And While I was at first interested as just a passive observer to go along the ride and do my best to infer the events of his day, I did find it rather tedious.

More tedious, however, were his thoughts. On some issues I agreed totally, especially his views on Russia concerning corruption, graft, and the Russian character. Less interesting were his internal philosophies on how he believed man and society should function. Add that to a cast of characters who are probably little known to most scholars but whom he assumes you've heard of and it's no wonder this book never caught on in the west despite it being very, very well written.
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