- Paperback: 736 pages
- Publisher: Anchor Books (April 9, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400034094
- ISBN-13: 978-1400034093
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 235 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gulag: A History
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From Publishers Weekly
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion. By the gulag's peak years in the early 1950s, there were camps in every part of the country, and slave labor was used not only for mining and heavy industries but for producing every kind of consumer product (chairs, lamps, toys, those ubiquitous fur hats) and some of the country's most important science and engineering (Sergei Korolev, the architect of the Soviet space program, began his work in a special prison laboratory). Applebaum details camp life, including strategies for survival; the experiences of women and children in the camps; sexual relationships and marriages between prisoners; and rebellions, strikes and escapes. There is almost too much dark irony to bear in this tragic, gripping account. Applebaum's lucid prose and painstaking consideration of the competing theories about aspects of camp life and policy are always compelling. She includes an appendix in which she discusses the various ways of calculating how many died in the camps, and throughout the book she thoughtfully reflects on why the gulag does not loom as large in the Western imagination as, for instance, the Holocaust.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
More than a full-scale history of the Soviet Gulag, this work by the Spectator's deputy editor asks why it is so little remembered in both Russia and the West.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Absolutely 5 stars; I give it infinite stars!
Such overwhelming numbers should make anyone pause for a moment and question why people were willing to tolerate such abuse. While there may not be an easy answer to this question, author Anne Applebaum poses an even more daring question: Why has the world paid so little attention to a system of oppression that destroyed the lives of millions of people? In her introduction, for example, Applebaum makes a compelling argument when she describes American and West European tourists purchasing t-shirts and memorabilia from the Stalinist Soviet era. Would those same tourists in their right mind be caught wearing a Nazi armband or a t-shirt with Hitler's image on it? We know that Hitler and the Nazis stood for racial superiority and Social Darwinism, but are the Communist crimes against humanity less tragic because their stated goal of a classless society was somehow nobler?
This question Applebaum poses is worth the price and time a reader will spend examining the history, the life, and the downfall of the Gulag in the former Soviet Union. In Part One: The Origins of the Gulag, 1917-1939 Applebaum briefly contrasts prison camps under the Czars to that of the Bolsheviks, where Lenin deemed those who were "class enemies" were to be sent to the camps initially to live in separate quarters from the criminals. There is the Great Turning Point of 1929 when Maxim Gorky, an author initially critical of Bolshevik power, visited and then wrote a glowing review of Solovetsky prison, even though the event was clearly staged. This was also the year that Joseph Stalin took a personal interest in the Gulag so that he could generate profits for the country's industrialization plan. His inane love affair with constructing the White Sea Canal using Gulag laborers would lead to the deaths of over 25,000 prisoners, a pyric victory considering that it was built so poorly that no ships have sailed on it since its completion. When I read that Stalin was using slavery as a means of generating wealth, the world should have recognized that Communism was not that different from Fascism.
What starts out as a macro analysis of a bygone prison system quickly becomes personal in Part Two: Life and Work in the Camps. There are many interesting chapters in this section, but two that stand out are the chapters on arrests and the prisoners. The decision to arrest people can at best be described as "nonsensical" and at its worst deliberate. Those who were deemed kulaks or "prosperous" peasants, those who somehow had contact with foreigners or were labeled foreigners, and those pegged as "socially dangerous elements" found themselves quickly arrested and either deported, shot, or sentenced to a prison camp, whose severity depended on their actions against the state. Of particular interest is the culture of the Gulag in terms of those deemed criminals or politicals. Those who were considered politically subversive were reviled more than criminals who had committed heinous crimes such as rape and murder.
Finally, there is the apex and rapid downfall of the Gulag, where Applebaum provides more statistics on life inside during World War II. In 1941, for example, over 352,000 prisoners died, and by the end of the war more than two million would perish. Near the end and right after the war, she also lists the thousands of foreign nationals and Soviet minorities who were deported or were arrested. Of particular interest are the thousands of ethnic Muslims such as Chechens and Tartars who were forced from their lands and were not allowed to return. Applebaum does not explicitly state this, but one can surmise that much of the terrorism we encounter today can be traced back to the decisions of Joseph Stalin. Surprisingly, in 1953, right after Stalin's death, there were close to 2.5 million prisoners in a Gulag, the highest at any point. While the Gulag officially ended after Stalin's death, there were still political dissidents in prison camps well into the 1980s under Gorbachev.
What is particularly incredible about Applebaum's book is her ability to capture the sentiments of former Soviet citizens during and after the era of the Gulag. In her travels in the former Soviet Union, Applebaum describes people's mostly distained reactions when they discovered her interest in the Gulag. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent and current president of Russia, reflects this unwillingness to own up to the past other than to mention that he sees no reason to dwell upon it. Right after World War II, West Germans underwent "de-Nazification" so that they could regain their humanity. Based on Applebaum's book, shouldn't the world expect the same from Russians? Last time I checked, actions speak louder than even the right words.
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