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To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History Paperback – April 30, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (April 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170334
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170335
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Critical and historical study of European writers and theorists of socialism who set the stage for the Russian Revolution of 1917, by Edmund Wilson. It was published in book form in 1940 although much of the material had previously appeared in The New Republic. The work discusses European socialism, anarchism, and various theories of revolution from their origins to their implementation. It presents ideas and writings of political theorists representing all aspects of socialist, anarchist, and what would later be known as communist thought, among them Jules Michelet, Henri de Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, Mikhail Bakunin, Anatole France, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Leon Trotsky, and Vladimir Ilich Lenin--who arrived at Petrograd's (St. Petersburg's) Finland Station in 1917 to lead the Bolshevik revolution. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

EDMUND WILSON (1895–1972) is widely regarded as the preeminent American man of letters of the twentieth century. Over his long career, he wrote for Vanity Fair, helped edit The New Republic, served as chief book critic for The New Yorker, and was a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books. Wilson was the author of more than twenty books, including Axel’s Castle, Patriotic Gore, and a work of fiction, Memoirs of Hecate County.

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Customer Reviews

Anyone who wants to know what it means to be a writer should read this book, regardless of his or her interest in the subject.
Tyler P. Harwell
The best description I can give of the nature of the work is that it is very much a literary overview of socialism rather than a political-historical one.
M. A. Krul
What I'm writing here can't give you the beauty of Wilson's succinct prose, his ability to capture the essence of human history.
T. M. Teale

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on May 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is the story of the journey of an idea - that of engineering a society conceived as an organism - from its roots in the romantic movement with Michelet to Lenin, the ultimate man of action, on the threshold of power. Only Edmund Wilson, whose erudition as an autodidact was unsurpassed in his time, could have pulled this off: the ideas and inspiration pulse with life on every page. You get to know Marx, ENgels, and scores of other characters intimately as they dream of building a socialist order that would fundamentally re-order society and its economy. WHile I was never a sympathiser for communism, this most certainly gave me a feeling for the seductive beauty of the dream. THere is even a forward by Wilson, who admits to being overly optimistic, that what he chronicled with such excitment actually led to "one of the most horrible tyrannies in the history of mankind." THis is intellectual history at its very best, freed in the hands of a master writer from the pedantry and puffery of academia, and unflinching in the audacity of its partisan interpretations. Also beautifully written, it is a window into the hopes and dream of the 20C.
Warmly recommended.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 22, 1998
Format: Library Binding
Wilsons examination of Lenin is valuable even though it's too sympathetic. This is because at the time he wrote it (1930's) he wasn't afforded the needed documentation of Lenins murderous misdeeds...Wilsons portrait of Marx however, is without peers. He makes you feel like you're a fly on the wall of Marx's smoke filled study. He makes you feel like you're a witness to history. He makes complicated philosophic and economic issues understandable for the layperson. He gives you a roadmap as to how modern socialist/utopian thought developed, he traces it back to its source and he does it in such a way as to make the reader feel like an explorer. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It saddens me to see that it's out of print. This book is far too important to be out of print.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 1998
Format: Library Binding
Edmund Wilson has undeservingly fallen into obscurity, but in the 21st century I have no doubt that he'll be recognized as one of the greatest of writers in English, and especially important to understanding the 20th century.The title of his book, _To the Finland Station_ refers to Lenin's trip to Russia, financed by the German government. It is a history of religious and secular communalist movements in America, and surprisingly humorous. Starting from the early 1800's to the Communist Party of 1917, Wilson's elegant study remains ever relevant.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on May 4, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The American critical writer Edmund Wilson attempted in this book to give an overview of the historical development of socialism, or rather the many socialisms, until the 1930s. However, the result is a very mixed bag: sometimes Wilson reaches great heights, but sometimes it is bare nonsense too.

The best description I can give of the nature of the work is that it is very much a literary overview of socialism rather than a political-historical one. Wilson concentrates in all mini-biographies of early socialists as well as the pieces on Lenin, Marx & Engels on the particulars of their life. Larded with many details and amusing anecdotes revealing the personality of the main socialist leaders, this book is very much at its best when describing the human interactions between various socialists and the world around them, and in portraying how their ideas were formed by their life experiences.

The big downside to this book is, however, Wilson's complete lack of understanding of any theory whatever. He clearly has neither knowledge of nor interest in any of the real tenets of socialism, Marxist, Lassallean or otherwise, and has not taken any trouble to look it up either. The result is that the passages which mean to give quick overviews of the Marxist or Leninist positions on certain issues are almost invariably simplistic, confused and wrong. The worst example of this (as a prior reviewer also mentioned) is the chapter on the dialectic, which immediately reveals to the reader that Wilson didn't have the slightest idea what dialectics is, and the childish simplicity of his view on it makes one think he probably got his information from a dictionary or something equally useless.

For these reasons, it is hard to say whether the overall result is positive or negative.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By T. M. Teale on March 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
It has been several months since I finished To the Finland Station, and I'm still in awe of the scope of this book and its sensitive author. To the Finland Station is a world-class work of scholarly non-fiction. It reads like a novel partly because there are no endnotes or footnotes--though a handy index--but largely because the highly-perceptive writer, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972), mastered three elements of the novelist's craft: the narrative arc or rising and falling action, the reader's need for sensory language which shows the characters in action, and the relationship of geographic location to action and character. Through Edmund Wilson, we "see" Karl Marx courting his wife, the daughter of the Baron von Westphalen, in Trier, Germany; we "see" Lenin in a harsh Siberian winter, we "see" the cast of hundreds of thousands oppressed under absolute monarchies.

Keep in mind that the subtitle of To the Finland Station is "A Study in the Writing and Acting of History." This book is just as much about the historical actors as it is about Edmund Wilson's ability to trace the history of an idea. In order to understand the later chapters on Marx and Engels and Lenin, one must understand this "idea"--the main character of the book--and why Wilson begins his narrative with Jules Michelet and Giambattista Vico. Quite simply, Wilson wrote a modern history with which the world should now be familiar: that idea is that the development of democracy is inevitable, particularly because industrialization enabled people to organize based upon their economic class, which was partly determined by their relationship to industrial development.
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