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Trotsky: A Biography Hardcover – October 19, 2009
"Hitler's Forgotten Children" by Ingrid von Oelhafen
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Service has done little to conceal his disdain for the Communist enterprise and its paladins, first displaying his ideological persuasions in a biography of Lenin, then one on his successor Stalin and now on the remaining figure in the Communist "Big Three", Leon Trotsky. Given the apparent depth of his opposition to the (Russian) implementation of Marxist economic "laws", Service actually appears restrained in his editorial commentary, but he emphasizes certain things and minimizes others in conformity with his prejudices. As expected, his attitude is largely condemnatory and sometimes (rarely) laudatory, as if the author was forced by circumstances to marvel at the intellectual powers of the ideological adversary. Probably because of Service's all-too-obvious bias, opinions on "Trotsky" have been sharply polarized. Some (such as David North, whose scathing review is available on World Socialist website) have painstakingly dissected from it an array of factual errors and misstatements. Others, less swayed by facts and more by myth, are incensed that the anti-fascist, anti-Stalinist idol has been loosened from its pedestal.Read more ›
This book does point out his numerous flaws and overall this seems reasonably balanced. One thing I found highly frustrating was how the author refers to later events in Trotsky's life before they have yet to happen, as if the reader already has a knowledge of Trotsky's life and knows what he is talking about, and if this was the case I wouldn't have been reading the book in the first place! This ruined some passages for me, and some of the suspense was taken out of the narrative.
It has extensive maps at the beginning, three photo sections on the usual glossy pages and extensive notes at the back for those who are reading this for more academic reason. I haven't read the other books by the author about Stalin or Lenin and I would imagine there is a lot of cross over between them, but I can also imagine that if they are as well written as this they would provide an in-depth look at the main protagonists of the Russian revolution and USSR formation. This has lots of short chapters which help you progress through it at a reasonable rate and whilst I found some chapters relatively dry and uninspiring, this was in the main a fascinating and informative read. Worth considering.
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There's obviously much an historian's work behind Robert Service's book, but alas, I can't see much of the historian's craft in it. I was a history major and attended Oxford, and my impression was that the historian's prime directive is rigor. I fail to see much of that here. Besides editorial sloppiness and uneven annotation, there's a lack of detachment. It belies an eagerness to announce, "See, see, I told you he was a bad guy!" which I find unseemly in an historian.
Service makes it clear early on that his mission is to serve as an antidote to what he regards as the hagiography surrounding Trotsky. What he comes up with is this rather mean-spirited effort to bring Trotsky down a notch or two, mainly by gratuitous and petty personal jabs, often following faint praise. While admitting to Trotsky's intellect, organizing acumen and faithfulness to his creed, Service apparently finds the revolutionary's narcissism a worthy counterweight.
Service relates Trotsky's scrupulous reading of a friend's book:
"[T]he exclamation marks in the margins testify to angry self-righteousness and intellectual self-regard."
I've done that before -- exclamation marks noting something interesting or that I agree with strongly. Was I being self-righteous or egotistical?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is an outstanding bio of a man who was power hungry and willing to use any means to get it. He was guilty of being the force behind the use of terror and repression to create... Read morePublished 14 months ago by major
This book is a disgraceful reactionary smear of one of the truly great men of the Twentieth Century. Don't waste your time and money. Read morePublished 14 months ago by John L Rebman
I am interested in the subject of European history. Mainly, the history of Russia; and the three men Robert Service dared to touch upon. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Di. B
Professor Bertrand Patenaude reviewed Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky, published in June 2011 in the American Historical Review, which attracted so much attention. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Robert Montgomery
Well documented and balanced biography. It's an easy and catching reading.
The author describes in depth all sides of Trotsky's life
This book is full of errors and outright lies. It's important to realize that, in this book, Service takes no interest in any of Trotsky's writings while still attempting to... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Anthony Rynes
Quite a controversy has developed over this book, but for a single volume biography it is pretty good, but maybe a bit too personal, not political in its emphasis. Read morePublished on December 2, 2013 by william mathews
Don't expect a masterful rendition like Jon Lee's bio on Che. It is a crabbed read, each sentence is choked with information as if the writer is in a hurry to catch a flight. Read morePublished on June 9, 2013 by Prabal