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Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 25, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A captivating account of the final years of Leon Trotsky, Lenin's former right-hand man, who was outmaneuvered by Stalin and driven into exile in 1929. Historian Patenaude (The Big Show in Bololand), a lecturer at Stanford, concentrates on the period from 1937, when Trotsky arrived in Mexico, to 1940, when a Soviet agent plunged an ice pick into his skull. The year 1937 marked the height of Stalin's purge trials during which a parade of great revolutionary figures confessed to being fascist saboteurs working for Trotsky. All were executed along with their families, friends and thousands of other innocent citizens. Some Western leftists were disgusted, but many couldn't believe the nation they admired could tolerate such injustice. Trotsky set to work, pouring out writing and speeches and testifying at international hearings, which concluded that the trials were a sham. Patenaude paints a vivid portrait of Trotsky, a flamboyant, Westernized intellectual; his stormy relations with his equally flamboyant Mexican champion (and later enemy), artist Diego Rivera; his dealings with his own largely American supporters; and the relentless efforts of Stalin's GPU to kill him. This is a dramatic, event-filled portrait of a turbulent, half-forgotten era. 14 b&w illus. (Sept.)
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“Bertrand Patenaude tells a masterly story, of a brilliant, cornered man and, along the way, of a misguided century.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“Excellent, exciting. . . . Trotsky charts, with novelistic flair and in archival detail, the progress of the plot that culminated in Trotsky being killed with an ice axe in 1940.” (Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Sunday Telegraph)

“This book deepens and enhances the sense of tragedy that always attends contemplation of ‘the Old Man’ and his last struggle.” (Christopher Hitchens)

“An absorbing reconstruction of Trotsky’s last years in Mexico. . . . Patenaude’s hyrbrid history and detective story grips from start to finish. With rare narrative verve, he chronicles the last years of a revolutionary’s life, with its sexual jealousies, paranoia, and finally murder.” (Ian Thomson, The Sunday Times)

“Well researched and vividly told.” (Robert Service, The Guardian)

“A captivating account. . . . Patenaude paints a vivid portrait of Trotsky, a flamboyant, Westernized intellectual. . . . This is a dramatic, event-filled portrait of a turbulent, half– forgotten era.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Fascinating. . . . A masterly account. . . . Patenaude applies his expert knowledge of early Soviet history in narrating the story of Leon Trotsky’s final years in exile in Mexico.” (Library Journal)

“This is an extraordinary, gripping piece of history that gets closer to Trotsky’s essential character than any of the vast tomes devoted to him in the past. Perhaps most extraordinary is the page-turning narrative drive which keeps the reader enthralled despite knowing how the story ends. Don’t miss it.” (—Misha Glenny)

“Bertrand Patenaude’s Trotsky is an epic character: fiery, vain, contentious, exacting, intellectually lively, ideologically blinded, seductive, even sexually aggressive—and a man keenly aware that the inherent tragedy behind human existence overshadows the petty mishaps of politics, assassination included.” (—Ken Kalfus)

“A haunting and dramatic reconstruction of Trotsky’s life and death in exile. The detail is fascinating, almost voyeuristic.” (Richard Overy, Literary Review)

“Gripping. . . . Patenaude has created both a compelling biography of the revolutionary leader and a thrilling account of the violent world of international socialist politics in the 1930s.” (The Financial Times)

“It is a tribute to Bertrand Patenaude’s narrative skill that although we always know how his book is going to end, it is none the less readable and utterly gripping. . . . The pace and tension are worthy of a Hollywood thriller.” (Dominic Sandbrook, The Daily Telegraph)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (August 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060820683
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060820688
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,244,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Patrick J. Brunet on February 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Patenaude's last book, Big Show in Bololand: the American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921, won the 2003 Marshall Shulman prize for outstanding work in Russian/Soviet history. His new book Trotsky, Downfall of a Revolutionary is equally well-written and carefully researched but, unlike Big Show in Bololand, is aimed at the informed general reader. It is a well-composed narrative of the former Lev Bronstein's exile and murder after being one of the most important players in the Russian Revolution. Despite Trotsky's brilliance and ability, he was easily out-maneuvered by Stalin in the politically charged atmosphere of 1920's Moscow and exiled. Stalin never forgave Trotsky for Trotsky's opposition and obsessed about destroying him because he symbolized all that Stalin despised. To be associated with Trotsky, even with the most tenuous or mythical ties, would eventually mean death. After one short chapter narrating this background, Patenaude directs the rest of the text on Trotsky's exile and Stalin's efforts to kill him. Patenaude bases his work primarily on the Trotsky archives at Harvard and at Patenaude's home institution of Stanford, as well as recent Russian and English language secondary material. Traditional footnotes are not used, rather, the reader must go to the endnotes for sourcing which are tied to the short but very strong bibliography. Many photographs are interspersed throughout the text to humanize a man portrayed by Stalin and his followers as the devil incarnate. Russian history is often a tough read, the long, ostensibly unpronounable words and unfamiliar places seemingly promise the wading into the topic will be real work.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I think this book deserves a wide readership. I'm not a scholar and I would like to preface the review by saying this book does not seem to have been written with the scholar in mind. I have no comment on the book's accuracy nor on Patenaude's conclusions as to the character of Trotsky, all I can say is that having read many biographical tome's on the topic of various famous men in history this one was a page turner. I found myself very interested in the people the author writes about, and he does it in a way that kept me wanting to read. He limited his book to a short period in Trotsky's life and that enabled him to go back and flesh out some of his history to give a better understanding to his character and to some of the quarrels Trotsky involved himself during the period covered without making the book overly long. Coincidentally I also read a novel called "Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver a good portion of the book covering the period of Trotsky's life when he lived in Mexico, the same period as Patenaude. The problem with Kingsolver's version of the events is that she fails to create an interesting character in her book. It seems odd that she a novelist could not present Trotsky as a real person. Admittedly Trotsky is not the protagonist but he is not a realized character, and to Patenaude's credit he brings to the reader a detailed portrait of Trotsky that is something besides the blandness that is achieved by Kingsolver. Kingsolver on the other hand has stated that she writes with a political purpose, and perhaps it fit her purpose to make Trotsky into a paternalistic fuzzy bear, even if she does admit that Trotsky was involved in an affair with Frieda Kahlo.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At the beginning of 1939,a man by the name of Pavel Sudoplatov was on his way to meet Stalin.The meeting between these two men sealed the fate of Trotsky, who was at that time living in Mexico.As Stalin put it then:"Trotsky should be eliminated within a year".
And so,the process towards the assassination of Stalin's arch-enemy has begun.
Trotsky was among many Jews who thought that Communism would deliver them and the world of all the social evils in the world.His real name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein and was born in the Ukraine in 1879.After his rise and quarrels in the Bolshevik party, he was exiled by Koba (aka Stalin )and was dispatched to Turkey, where he was doing all he could in order to get a visa which would enable him to live in another country.From Turkey he and his wife moved to Norway, where the much- awaited visa for Mexico has finally arrived.
After some days ,the couple has landed on the Mexican shores and it was there where they would spend the rest of their days, until the Spanish-born assassin Ramon Mercader had terminated the life of Trotsky.
In this biography, we get a panoramic description of Trotsky's final years in Mexico.Based on Trotsky's private correspondence and diaries as well as his archives and testimonies of his American bodyguards and many secretaries,Mt.Patenaude offers the reader a fascinating and thrilling story about Trotsky.
This is done in a series of flashbacks, in which Trotsky's various life episodes are brilliantly told and analyzed.The reader is informed about Trotsky the revolutionary, the lover, the husband and grandfather, the author and thinker,the paranoiac and the naive one.He had a brief affair with the painter Frida Kahlo, who was Diego Rivera's wife.
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