- 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: 243 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gulag: A History
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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First Anchor Books Edition May 2004, numberline 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3. Gently used copy, Clean and unmarked. Not a remainder. Mild shelf and edge wear from normal handling. Satisfaction guaranteed!
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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.