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Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 - A World on the Edge Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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“Splendid . . . By confining herself to foreigners in Russia's capital, Rappaport takes a necessarily narrow slice of revolutionary history. But the stories these witnesses tell is endlessly fascinating.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Lively . . . Ms. Rappaport’s account works well as an introduction to a complicated year, but is most valuable for its record of the impressions of those who lived through it.” ―Wall Street Journal
“One of the great strengths of this book is the way in which the unheralded and the celebrated mingle in its pages . . . A mosaic of truth which no fictional one could outdo.” ―The Washington Times
“A multifaceted account of the 1917 Russian Revolution . . . gripping and thoroughly researched. . . [Rappaport brings] the streets and spirit of the early-20th-centuryPetrograd to life on the page.” ―Harper’s Bazaar
One of Bustle's 16 Best Nonfiction Books coming in February 2017
One of Harper Bazaar's 14 Books You Need To Read In February
“Helen Rappaport combines thorough scholarship with the stylistic grace of a novelist, and the result is a riveting tale of the Russian Revolution that’s difficult to put down” ―PopMatters
“Rappaport’s elegantly detailed writing shapes and pulls together excerpts from letters, diaries, articles, and more, quoted throughout, creating the immediacy and energy of history in the making: terrifying, brutal, and unforgettable.” ―Booklist
“The most comprehensive compendium to date of non-Russian perspectives across social classes. . . . An engaging if challenging look at a country's collapse with worldwide repercussions. Informed general readers will enjoy this glimpse into history; scholars will declare it a definitive study.” ―Library Journal (starred)
“Rappaport creates a portrait of the Russian Revolution from the points of view of outsiders who happened to be in Petrograd at the time . . . An undeniably valuable history of the Russian Revolution.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Rappaport adopts an eye witness approach to the Russian revolution of 1917 . . . fun, fast-paced.” ―Publishers Weekly
"Illuminating . . . Rappaport has collected a wonderful array of observations . . . delightful and enlightening." ― The London Times on Caught in the Revolution
"A gripping, vivid, deeply researched chronicle of the Russian Revolution told through the eyes of a surprising, flamboyant cast of foreigners in Petrograd, superbly narrated by Helen Rappaport." ―Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs
“Helen Rappaport paints a compelling portrait of the doomed grand duchesses.” ―People magazine on The Romanov Sisters
"Rappaport, with a light hand and admiring eyes, allows the four Grand Duchesses to grow on us as they grow up.” ―Christian Science Monitor on The Romanov Sisters (10 best books of June 2014)
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As the capital of the Russian Empire Petrograd had always been a cosmopolitan city where wealthy foreigners could lead lives of great ease and luxury. When World War I broke out in 1914 life became a bit more constrained but still quite comfortable for most foreigners, chiefly British and American diplomats, journalists, bankers, and other businessmen who had come to Russia to take advantage of its extraordinary and largely untapped natural resources. Many brought their families with them and had lived contentedly for years. When chaos erupted they had to scramble for their lives, trapped inside a country that was suddenly at war with itself. Fortunately, most of these people survived the Revolution and returned to the West, where many wrote memoirs and popular press articles that vividly described what they had seen. I especially enjoyed reading about the British Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, his wife Lady Georgina, and his daughter Meriel. Redoubtable to the end, they held themselves with plenty of British phlegm and dignity. The US Ambassador, David Francis, also made for entertaining reading. A Missouri politician with no diplomatic experience, he arrived in Petrograd just as the Revolution was unfolding. His memories, as well as those of his African-American
servant Phil Jordan,are especially vivid. Then there were the journalists, including some intrepid women, who were landed with the news stories of their lives. Then there were the American and British socialists who had come to Russia to witness what they thought would be the beginnings of a bright new future, like John Reed and his wife Louise Bryant, who became very much a part of the Revolution they were out to cover.
Caught in the Revolution is meticulously researched, with material from archives in Britain and the United States and a wide range of primary and secondary sources, including some contemporary magazine and newspaper articles that must have been difficult to track down. Rappaport's work is scholarly and well documented, but she is an excellent writer who has a good eye for interesting anecdotes. I chuckle to think of Sir George Buchanan refusing to let a street battle interfere with his customary evening walk, so impressing the two battling sides that they called a ceasefire and waited respectfully while he strolled past. This is a book which will appeal to serious Russian history students as well as general readers looking for superlative real life drama.
Even before the revolution began, the city was in turmoil. We begin in 1917, with Russia at war and overflowing with refugees. Despite the first world war, and all of Russia’s internal problems, Petrograd was a city which sheltered a large, foreign community, as well as international industry. There was a large community of privileged expatriates; dominated by the highly insular and ultra conservative British Colony, led by British ambassador, Sir George Buchanan. The war also saw this community joined by a number of American engineers and entrepreneurs and, in 1916, a new American ambassador; David Rowland Francis and his enterprising valet, Philip Jordan. There was also the flamboyant French ambassador, Maurice Paleologue. These three headed the expatriate community and their stories are told throughout this book.
However, this book is not simply told from the point of view of the great and the good. The unfolding political situation attracted journalists and photographers. Revolution brought unlikely visitors, such as Emmeline Pankhurst, who wanted to encourage Russia to stay in the war, as well as visit women’s groups – including the Petrograd Women’s Death Battalion. Names you will recognise include author, Arthur Ransome; then a journalist. Also, another author, then a spy, was W. Somerset Maugham; sent by the Secret Intelligence Service and given the rather daunting task, “to prevent the Bolshevik Revolution and to keep Russia in the war.” For anyone who was not already aware of Maugham’s experiences as a spy, I direct you to his wonderful book, “Ashenden.”
Many in this privileged, expatriate society, were blind to the gathering resentment and hunger in the streets, but others realised the danger. The over-riding belief was that revolution, if it came, would come after the war. Revolution, though, obliterated any thought of war and, when revolution erupted, many foreign nationals in the city were there as witnesses. From nurses to governesses, to bank workers and industrialists, they were all caught up in events. Violence erupted on the streets, food shortages affected everyone and, although many were, justifiably terrified, others admitted that they found it rather thrilling.
The initial revolution seemed to result in many Russian workers assuming that ‘Freedom’ was equated with no work. Hotel rooms were no longer serviced; requests in the restaurants met with shrugs and the city dissolved into disarray. Eventually, the violence unleashed in the streets directly affected the foreign nationals, with the Hotel Astoria, where many were staying, being attacked. Those who ventured out faced abuse, or worse. Even something as seemingly innocent as wearing a hat, or gloves, could have you accused of being a bourgeois and justice could be swift. For example, one woman swore a man stole her purse, seeing him shot. When she discovered the missing purse in the folds of her dress, the mob decided that the only possible solution to the mistake was to carry out the same sentence on her…
This really is a wonderful read, full of larger than life characters. One of my personal favourites was Sir George Buchanan, who stoutly walked outside amidst the fighting – being caught putting on his coat like a ‘naughty schoolboy’ as he refused to listen to advice. So respected was he, that fighting came to a halt as he walked down the street and erupted again as soon as he had passed by. Still, the perpetual state of uncertainty and disorder affected everyone, as did a city being both slowly frozen and starved. Arthur Ransome was desperate to escape the chaos and futility, stating that, if he did make it back to England his sole interest would be, “gluttony,” while photographer and filmmaker, Donald Thompson, thought that Russia was, ‘going to hell.’
This book will really put you in the very centre of the Russian Revolution, with those viewing events being largely impartial and so able to comment on the situation less emotionally. It is also clear that many of those in this book attempted to help the disastrous political situation in Russia before the revolution and, of course, were involved in the finally fruitless attempt to keep Russia in the war after it happened. There were those who refused to be intimidated by events, others who stayed behind voluntarily and others who were stranded by circumstances. Rappaport has done an excellent job of allowing them to tell their story and concludes by telling us what happened to all of the main characters we meet throughout this book.
Top international reviews
It also gives the reader a good idea of the way things were for example that rich still managed to live to excess while the poor were starving.
How diplomats wives and daughters organized soup kitchen s for refugees and hospitals for Russian soldiers.
Gerry Mc Menemy.