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Lenin's Brother: The Origins of the October Revolution Hardcover – January 25, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1887, the future leader of the Russian revolution, Vladimir Ulyanov (later Lenin), was 17 when his 21-year-old brother was hanged for his role in a bungled attempt to assassinate Czar Alexander III. Historians consider this the seminal event that launched Lenin's career as a revolutionary. Wesleyan history professor Pomper (The Russian Intelligentsia) delivers an absorbing and surprisingly detailed account of Alexander Ulyanov's short life and even shorter career (four months) as a terrorist. Although a small minority among Russia's many reformers, violent revolutionaries hit the jackpot in 1881 by assassinating Czar Alexander II. This produced not the hoped-for reform but the opposite: mass arrests, informers, and oppressive laws. Yet plots to kill his successor flourished. Pomper describes half a dozen fanatic students at St. Petersburg University who recruited Alexander, assembled bombs, printed literature, and laid plans until the police, informed of the plot, arrived. Lenin never mentioned his brother, but others did, and Pomper delivers a spirited account of this obscure figure, skillfully interweaving a vivid portrait of 19th-century Russian culture and revolutionary ferment. 16 pages of illus. (Jan.)
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Implicated in a conspiracy to assassinate Czar Alexander III, Alexander Ulyanov was executed in 1887, which traumatized his family and ruined their name. In this fascinating portrait of the Ulyanovs, historian Pomper recounts the family’s social ascent amid the restlessness of nineteenth-century Russia that caused many socially privileged young men, such as Alexander and his younger brother, Vladimir (the future Lenin), to rebel. Outlining the actions and ideas of the period’s revolutionaries, such as the People’s Will terrorists who assassinated Alexander II in 1881, Pomper strives to discover why and when Alexander became convinced to pursue such drastic action himself. A stellar student, he was radicalized at St. Petersburg University, and Pomper reconstructs Alexander’s life and contacts in the capital city and his eventual plunge into the conspiracy. On the family crisis provoked by Alexander’s arrest, Pomper writes with great insight, sensitive to the psychological dynamics reflected in the mother’s plea for mercy, Alexander’s reluctance to beg for it, and Vladimir’s understanding of his older brother. Excellent historical work, Pomper’s family biography will inform all future Lenin biographies. --Gilbert Taylor
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Alexander's life - and death--had a great influence on his younger brother Vladimir, who was but seventeen at the time. And Vladimir was to lead the October Revolution of 1917 under the assumed name of "Lenin." Funny, I am what's known around New York as a "red diaper baby," that is, my parents, as was not unusual around that time and place, were Reds. I probably knew who Lenin was before I knew who Bing Crosby was; but I surely had never heard of Lenin's brother, and was very interested in this book.
Author Pomper is the William F. Armstrong Professor of History at Wesleyan University, Middleton, Connecticut. He has written and edited nine books, including The Russian Revolutionary Intelligentsia (European History Series). In writing "Lenin's Brother," he has explored recently opened archives of post-Soviet Russia, and the large array of published documents on the period. He gives us a great deal of background on Ulanov family history, the social mores of Russia, the university outlook, and Alexander's tragic little group of would-be terrorists. The writer really paints a very complete and interesting picture - and the book's illustrations are helpful, too. Mind you, I did sometimes find the Russian names heavy going, particularly those of some of the influential writers of the period, and the schools of thought they fathered, but this difficulty did not impede my understanding of the material.
The author mentions Oblomov, a book written in 1859 by Ivan Goncharov. Turns out Goncharov was from the Ulanovs' hometown, and they were much aware of his work. But,beyond that, "Oblomov" was apparently greatly influential at the time and "Oblomovism" was used as a term by those on the left to describe the paralysis of the Russian middle class intelligentsia. "Oblomov" was assigned reading in a European literature course at Cornell University, and I loved it - it's one funny book. For our term paper, we were required to write an essay on one of the assigned books: I chose "Oblomov." I was upbraided by the teacher for my choice;the book wasn't "important" enough. So there, Herr Grossvogel.
"Lenin's Brother," however, is a definitive book for those interested in Russian, or revolutionary, history. Strongly recommended.
His status as an intellectual who applied (selectively) Marx's theory to history made Lenin heroic to Western intellectuals despite the truly grave (and not unforeseeable) consequences of his applications...Most notably in Edmund Wilson's grandiloquent "To The Finland Station." To the Finland Station (New York Review Books Classics)
Nonetheless, despite the many brilliant historians of Lenin and the Bolsheviks including Adam Ulam, Richard Pipes, Dmitiri Volkogonov, (and Trotsky) the nature of Lenin's peculiar impetus and motivations have always remained just beyond the grasp of understanding.
In this modest but remarkable book Professor Pomper* tells the previously shrouded story of Lenin's preferred older brother, Alexander/Sasha, and how his failed revolutionary activities made his younger brother, the historical "Lenin." Out of Professor Pomper's deep grasp of the historical Lenin Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin: The Intelligentsia and Power, and the nature of the Revolutionary Russian intelligentsia before Lenin Russian Revolutionary Intelligentsia By Philip Pomparand his research into the failed activities of Sasha emerges a Lenin who is finally "real" and comprehensible as a human being. Much of Professor Pomper's research into Sasha's life and failed revolutionary activities is new. It was likely impossible throughout much of the 20th Century (at least until Glasnost).
I have read 1000's of pages about Lenin and how and why did what he did. It has long-fascinated me. After reading this (relatively) short book I finally seem to grasp his motivations and impetus. While the book focuses on Sasha as much as on Vladimir, the future "Lenin," and it ends long before the Finland Station, it shines new light into Lenin and the Soviet Union that was largely his brainchild.
If you want to understand Lenin -- who he was, why he was and how he was -- this book provides insights that no previous books have. The well-told story of Sasha, Lenin's brother, is truly integral to understanding Lenin and the USSR.
I recommend it not only for this reason but because, on its own, it provides a clear window into Imperial Russia in the 19th Century, and tells what would be a "small" fascinating story even if the protagonist didn't happen to be the older brother of Lenin.
* Disclosure: I was fortunate enough to be an undergraduate student of this professor's in the mid-1980s.