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Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger Hardcover – November 1, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this excellent, well-crafted autobiography, Pipes (Communism: A History) emerges as an opinionated scholar committed to telling the truth as he sees it. A professor emeritus of history at Harvard who served on the National Security Council during the Reagan administration, he recollects the major events and considerable achievements of his very interesting life. Life as a 16-year-old Jewish teenager in Poland came to an abrupt halt when WWII broke out. With his parents, he fled Warsaw and escaped through Italy, arriving in the U.S. in 1940. After a tour in the American army, Pipes, having obtained a B.A. degree from Cornell, enrolled in Harvard as a graduate student. He successfully evokes the heady university atmosphere and recounts his successful scholarly career. Pipes became a specialist in Russian history, serving as a professor for nearly 40 years, during which time he earned a reputation as a "cold warrior" who sharply criticized the policy of d‚tente with the Soviet Union, a country he compared to Nazi Germany. This point of view, conveyed though publications and lectures, earned him a consulting position with the Stanford Research Institute, which eventually led to the NSC appointment. He provides sharply etched portraits of Ronald Reagan, Alexander Haig and others, in addition to engrossing accounts of the quixotic decision-making process of statesmen that are remarkable both for their penetrating analysis and disarming honesty. Pipes returned to Harvard in 1983; now retired from teaching, he is working on an intellectual history of Russia. Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The translation of the Latin title Vixi is "I have lived." And Pipes is fortunate to have done so. While a teenager in 1939, he and his parents undertook a perilous Gestapo-dogged escape from Poland. Pipes here recalls his deliverance, ultimately to America and his career as an eminent historian. The lives of academics don't usually garner much interest, but Pipes' life will be an exception for several reasons. His histories (e.g., Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, 1993), which sold well because they were written well, emphasized the factor of personality in history and expressed moral condemnation of communism. His success and outlook provoked envy and irritation in liberal circles but drew attention from conservatives who, like Pipes, believed the Soviet Union should not be managed a la detente but confronted, which Pipes duly effected as a National Security Council staffer in the 1980s. Conducted largely contrary to prevailing academic currents, Pipes' career of admirable intellectual independence will attract general-interest readers. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (November 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300101651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300101652
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,419,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David A. Caplan on January 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It might seem unlikely that the autobiography of a professor of Russian History should be of interest to the general reader. However, Professor Pipes has written a book that deserves to be read by a wide audience. In fact, I would especially recommend it to intelligent high school and college readers.
Pipes recounts three main stages of his life: His youth in and flight from prewar Poland; his education and building of a career in America; and his two-year service on President Reagan's National Security Council. The first section is like other Holocaust escape memoirs in having some excitement and danger, but the difference here is that Pipes minimizes these elements. Traveling through Germany and Italy on a phony passport, he is determined to visit art museums, seemingly placing his intellectual passion ahead of safety. Indeed, Professor Pipes's intellectual intensity is the main theme of this book. After his arrival in America his intellectual passion takes him from a backwater college to a professorship at Harvard. Pipes is frank about the careerism involved in academia, and scathing about the abuses to which scholarship is put. One example that stands out is his mentioning a well-known professor of Soviet political science who absurdly "found no significant difference between the way New Haven was administered and any city of similar size in the Soviet Union."
Pipes finds similar attitudes in government, where some of his superiors averted their eyes from unpleasant truths. I found that the most interesting aspect of his section on government service was his observations of his colleagues. For example, Pipes didn't hold then-Vice-President Bush in high regard, and perhaps the only instance of humor in this book is directed at Henry Kissinger.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union 'the evil empire', much of the western left stood up on its hind legs and howled in dismay - but today, after the Soviet Union had collapsed, people in Moscow commonly refer to their past as 'the evil empire'. Prof Pipes, a leading Russian expert, was one of few westerners who saw through the farce of communism and urged the hard and sensible line against the USSR, which ultimately led to its collapse. It is pathetic how some reviewers are still fighting an ideological fight they had lost - 'swinging their fists after the fight is over' to use a Russian expression - and viciously pan Prof. Pipes' beautifully written book.
The flaw of most memoirs is that they have a high point - usually the beginning or the middle, and then they trail off. Pipes is as alive and intellectually vigorous at 80 as he seems to have been in his youth and his autobiography is a pleasure to read to the last page.
His many asides are charming - on the academe, on the personalities in the Reagan White House, on the kaleidoscope of people he meets, works with, loves, hates. I wish I could have taken a course with him.
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Format: Hardcover
A wonderfully engaging autobiography of a man who, as a teenager. was present when the Germans entered Warsaw in 1939, and who, as an adult, was a close adviser of President Reagan and one of the very few people to understand the Soviet Union. A story told with wit and panache. The best autobiography to come out of Harvard since that of J.K. Galbraith. It will live.
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Richard Pipes is the most lucid writer I have ever had the pleasure to read—a clear thinker who expresses himself in crystal-clear prose. And what a remarkable life he has led: from a perilous and adventuresome escape from the Holocaust to a forty-year career teaching Russian history at Harvard, an advisor on Soviet and Eastern European affairs to President Reagan, and an acclaimed author of dozens of books and articles on communism and the Soviet Union. Reading these memoirs, I grew to admire Pipes: an introspective, fiercely independent and intensely intellectual man whose love for culture and scholarship, high moral principles, and unshakable faith in God saw him through many tribulations. Pipes' eloquence is of a sort not seen much among the younger generations, as is his bone-dry humor.

Here are some notable nuggets from this book:

On faith:

“When I was eight or nine, mother taught me a brief prayer in German....Neither then nor since have I experienced any doubts about God's existence or benevolent guidance. Nor did I ever feel the need to prove either. Indeed, God's existence is all that I was absolutely certain of for His presence was everywhere; all else seemed and still seems to me conditional and problematic.”

On old age:

“In time, you begin to feel like a foreigner in your native land even if the physical surroundings remain the same. It came as a shock to me, for instance, in the year 2000 to wander into a shopping mall near Washington, D.C., and realize that among the hundreds of milling people, I was the only one wearing a jacket and tie; a Frenchman must have felt like this during the post-Napoleonic Restoration era if he ventured in public dressed in knee breeches and a powdered wig.”
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Fascinating. Richard Pipes is an historian whose own history is entwined with the most significant events of the 20th century, WWII and the rise of the Stalinist Soviet Russia. Richard Pipes provides insights into the ideas that permeated the conventional thinkers and how he differed. Well written and fast moving, Richard Pipes' insights are useful as we fight the new totalitarian, expansionist, violent Islamist ideology that threatens the American Way of life and our Constitution. This historian has much to teach us about current events.
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