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Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679640509
ISBN-10: 0679640509
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As Harvard University professor Richard Pipes shows in Communism: A Brief History, the tragedy of Communism is that its history was anything but brief. For most of the 20th century, it held much of the globe in its fatal grip: The utopian ideology is responsible for nearly 100 million deaths, which is 50 percent more than the number of people killed in the two world wars combined. "Communism was not a good idea that went wrong; it was a bad idea," writes Pipes, who is also the author of The Russian Revolution and Property and Freedom.

This compelling little book is a devastating critique of Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, and everything else that fits under the awful rubric of Communism. It begins by tracing Communism's philosophical origins (it has antecedents in Plato) and then outlines the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Next comes the story of why Communism took root in Russia and not the industrial West, where Marx himself believed it would sprout (answer: the traditions of property rights and the rule of law were too strong). Even in Russia, Communism was not the product of popular demand (in fact, it has never been the product of popular demand anywhere). Instead, it was a top-down revolution imposed on the whole country by a small minority of elites, led by Lenin. The Communists claimed to represent workers, but few workers were actually a part of their movement. Thus, "the Communists had to rule despotically and violently; they could never afford to relax their authority." And they were capable of incredible cruelty: "The so-called purges of the 1930s were a terror campaign that in indiscriminate ferocity and number of victims had no parallel in world history." In 1937 and 1938, for instance, the Soviet rulers of Russia executed an average of 1,000 people per day; the tsarist regime they supplanted, which was often criticized as inhumane, executed less than 4,000 people for political crimes over an 85-year period.

Though Pipes appropriately spends much time discussing the Soviet Union, he also examines Communism's reception in the West and in developing countries. The book is a concise tour de force. As the cold war fades into history, it is critical not to forget the monstrous legacy of Communism, whose horrible record Pipes lays out on these pages. This is a magnificent book, a wonderful primer on a topic whose importance is difficult to overstate. --John Miller

From Publishers Weekly

This opinionated introduction to communism would be better subtitled "requiem for a misguided ideology." Pipes (The Russian Revolution) focuses much of the book on his own field of specialty the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. The Harvard historian is at his best here, providing a thorough account of the ascendancy of the Russian party in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in accessible and at times eloquent prose: "Soviet totalitarianism thus grew out of Marxist seeds planted on the soil of tsarist patrimonialism." Part of the Modern Library's series on world history, the book details Soviet atrocities, emphasizing how Communist agricultural policies not only suppressed human rights but led to famines that killed millions of Soviet citizens. The sections on communism in other countries are much shorter and not as strong, particularly the discussion of Chile, in which Pipes fails to address the involvement of the United States in the 1973 coup that overthrew Socialist leader Salvador Allende. Throughout this volume, Pipes, a longtime Cold Warrior who served as Reagan's National Security Council adviser on Soviet and East European affairs, is on a mission to prove that communism's egalitarian impulses run contrary to human nature. Whether or not they agree with Pipes's views, students and general readers alike will benefit from this concise, insightful work. (Sept.)Forecast: The book is certain to be widely taught in its field and will be promoted in a brochure mailing to historians but a three-city author tour and series advertising in the New York Times Book Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Lingua Franca should help the book find a more general though learned readership as well.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles (Book 7)
  • Hardcover: 175 pages
  • Publisher: A Modern Library Chronicles Book; 1st edition (September 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679640509
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679640509
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,164,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anthony Bates on June 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I first read this fantastic little book back in 2003 and it never left my side throughout 4 years of university. That's my way of putting a disclaimer in that my review may be a little biased.

Over 161 pages Pipes charts the rise and fall of Communism from the very first intellectual musings by Plato and Aristole all the way through to John Locke and of course Karl Marx and Lennin. Pipes argues coherently and articulately coming to the conclusion that Communism failed not because of timing, or location, or implementation, but because the ideology of communism is fundamentally flawed. It wouldn't have mattered one jot if the time, place or manner of implementation changed (as the Neo-Marxist argue) because the ideology was so fundamentally anti-human that it would never have worked.

If you are interested in finding out how such a fundamentally flawed ideology could control the actions and reactions of the hundreds of millions of people and dictate the formation of the geo-political situation for 73 odd years then read this book - you won't regret it and it is quite simply a page turner that I found impossible to put down.
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Format: Hardcover
Communism was an amazing development in world history. A system of ideas took control of intellectuals and revolutionaries across the world, but in unindustrialized nations communism was able to achieve power and wrecked horrible suffering on those unlucky enough to be born within its grasp.
Richard Pipes does an excellent service by providing the reader with a concise history of Communism. Call it a 'Cliff Notes' if you will, yet it is brief and easy to follow.
Pipes spilts his book into three sections. The first details the history of communism from Marx to its rise and domination in Russie. The second is the reaction to communism and its influence on intellectual life in other industrialized nations. Finally Pipes explores communisms influence in the third world with an excellent examination of China and how Mao's style of communism contrasted with the USSR (which was caught between hoping to encourage communism abroad but unwilling to see communists abroad who achieved power drift from control by Moscow...result tension and hostility between Russia, China etc.).
While Communism has died, it is important that we remember its errors for two reasons. The first is so we do not repeat them, obviously. The second is so that we know where the modern world came from as we start our way into a new century.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In a succint 160 pages, Richard Pipes aptly lays down a history of Communism which is meant to serve both as an introduction to and an obituary for this "utopia" envisioned by Karl Marx and others.
The telling quotes and the refreshingly logical progression (from its starting point in the books of philosophers to the bloody ocean of victims it left behind) make this book arguably one of the best ever written on this grim subject. Although I cannot speak for everyone, the skill that Pipes displays while grounding his conclusions in the facts as well as his ability to pick the quotes that best exemplify each leader, make this the best that I personally have ever read on Communism--and thus my rating of five stars.
To be frank, if Communism does survive after this, the book will only prove its point--that Communism, in theory as well as in practice, has a reckless disregard for both the facts of reality and for human life.
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Format: Hardcover
A few reviewers of this book are horrified that Richard Pipes straightforwardly blames communism for the oceans of blood spilled by Soviet, Chinese, Cuban, Cambodian, and other noted communists tyrants. One reviewer even suggests that American capitalism has produced horrors of comparable magnitude. Hmmm.... What might these depredations of capitalism be? While capitalism has not and will not produce heaven on earth - no system ever will - the negative effects of capitalism that agitate its detractors are hardly comparable to the wholesale slaughtering of human freedom and human life achieved by every single communist regime.
Pipes argues eloquently and without a hint of hysteria that communism by its nature breeds tyranny. It is not the only breeder of tyranny, of course, but it is certainly the gold medallist of tyrannical forces.
Pipes' humanity, his skill with words, and his deep knowledge of history make this little book a true gem.
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Pipes does a good job pointing out the glaring inconsistencies within communist ideology in both practice and application. He maintains that it is a myth that communism was a good idea in the first place, maintaining that it is a utopian ideal that would never work without a subjugation of the masses and of individual liberties. His synopsis of the Russian Revolution is good, but he himself points out that many of his conclusions differ from Sheila Fitzpatrick, whose own The Russian Revolution provides a more nuanced but equally laconic approach to the subject. I am currently reading the Fitzpatrick, having finished Pipes'. I actually think they are both excellent works on the topic, and both have their merits. I do believe that Fitzpatrick's approach is more nuanced, but I do enjoy Pipes' hard-hitting and humorous style. He does not mince words. For those looking for a brief introduction to a complex subject, this book is a good place to start.
The focus is on Russia, but he does explore other Marxist states: Cambodia, China, Cuba, and so forth. I enjoyed the introduction most of all, as he explores Plato, Christianity, Thomas More, and other early influences behind the communist ideal. A solid and readable overview of an important subject.
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