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The Great Terror: A Reassessment Paperback – November 15, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0195317008 ISBN-10: 0195317009 Edition: 40th anniversary

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Editorial Reviews


"Anthony Powell once wrote of Robert Conquest that he had a 'capacity for taking enormous pains in relation to any enterprise in hand.' It is beyond dispute that, forty years after the publication of The Great Terror, this judgment requires no reassessment."--Michael Weiss, The New Criterion

"The volume that tore the mask away from Stalinism before most people had even heard of Solzhenitsyn."--Christopher Hitchens, Wall Street Journal

About the Author

Robert Conquest is the author of some thirty books of history, biography, poetry, fiction, and criticism. The recipient of many honors and awards, he is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the British Academy, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is at present Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 40th anniversary edition (November 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195317009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195317008
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

The dialogue from the trials is alone worth reading the book for.
Grey Wolffe
Conquest's work here confirms his original book and shows that its estimates, if off in any way, were too conservative.
Daniel Berger
Robert Conquest's The Great Terror is a testament to human corruptibility.
Claudia Moscovici

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on September 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
Instead of repeating other reviewers, I mostly focus on new information. To begin with, Robert Conquest implicitly rejects the argument that Communism was positive in that it modernized Russia. He comments: "But the old Russia had not been all that backward. It already had been the fourth industrial power before the Revolution." (p. 460). He also upends the myth of the insignificance of Lend Lease aid to the Soviet Union in WWII. General Zhukov is quoted as saying that, without it, "victory would have been impossible." (p. xviii).

Conquest provides significant detail about the Katyn massacre (pp. 447-449). Tens of thousands of captive Polish officers and intellectuals were shot in cold blood in the spring of 1940. The author discusses the virtual absence of officers resurfacing after the Nazi-invasion-induced "amnesty" of Gulag Poles in 1941, Stalin's farcical lie about them all having escaped to Manchuria (December 3, 1941), the German revelation about the discovery of the Katyn graves in April 1943, etc. Of course, Katyn is only one location in the former Soviet Union where mass graves containing tens of thousands of victims have subsequently been found (p. 288).

It has been argued that there was no Gulag equivalent to the Nazi death camps--no camps to which admission absolutely guaranteed death. In fact, there were: Novaya Zemlya, for example. (pp. 337-338).

Some revisionists have attempted to downgrade the number of victims of the Gulags into the thousands, based on selected Soviet data. But Soviet archives are rife with falsification. (p. 460). There is no reason to suspect that data relative to the Gulags is any more reliable. (The fact that certain documents refer to essentials such as food is irrelevant.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Berger VINE VOICE on April 22, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Which is more terrifying? Stalin's 1936-38 terror, or Western liberals' inability to recognize it? Updating his original work "The Great Terror" with a vast amount of new data, Conquest scrupulously details and puts into context the purges themselves: the many players and defendants, the shifting political cross-currents, the rounds of trials and arrests.

And he does the same for the many Western observers - intellectuals, writers, journalists, and left activists - who were oblivious to it or actively sought to hush it up, even decades later when there were no longer any shreds of doubt. This is the equivalent of Holocaust denial.

And a Holocaust it was. While left-wing apologists pooh-poohed the numbers of purge deaths as in the thousands, the estimates of those killed politically in the people's progressive utopia are now solidly in the eight figures, with as many as 15 to 20 million arrested and executed, or worked to death in the camps, in the years up until Stalin's death in 1953. As many more died were starved by the Communists in the Ukraine to break the peasantry a few years earlier. Yet most people seem never to have heard of any of this.

In the Terror itself, Stalin and the NKVD prosecuted fictitious espionage, sabotage and subversion charges against millions of people. Those arrested would be tortured until they agreed to confess and implicate others. Most did, and quickly. It wound down only when the NKVD saw that, mathematically, every citizen of the nation would soon be implicated. But it flared up periodically until Stalin's death in 1953.

The purges served several purposes. They transformed the USSR from a dictatorship of the proletariat into Stalin's despotism.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Claudia Moscovici on June 29, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Psychopathy is usually analyzed as an individual psychological phenomenon. The term describes individuals without conscience, with shallow emotions, who are able to impersonate fully developed human beings and mimic feelings of love, caring and other-regarding impulses to fulfill their deviant goals: be that stealing your money, stealing your heart or both. This phenomenon becomes all the more toxic, and dangerous, when such individuals rise to national power and manage to create totalitarian regimes ruled by mind-control, deception, lack of individual and collective rights and freedoms, and arbitrary displays of power.

Psychopathic, or at least seriously disordered rulers, such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Ceausescu show what happens when (their) pathology spreads to a whole country. Given that psychopaths are estimated to be, at most, only 4 percent of the population, it's difficult to imagine how they manage to rise to positions of authority over more or less normal human beings to impose a social pathology in every social sphere: from education, to the police force, to the juridical system, to the media. Few books explain this strange and extremely dangerous political and psychological phenomenon better than Robert Conquest`s classic, The Great Terror. This book traces both Stalin's rise to power within the ranks of the Bolsheviks and, concurrently, the spreading of the totalitarian system like a fatal virus throughout Soviet society (and beyond).

The book also exposes the underlying lack of principles even among seemingly ideological rulers like Joseph Stalin.
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