Cover image for Lenin--a biography
Lenin--a biography
Service, Robert.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xxv, 561 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


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DK254.L4 S4323 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Lenin's politics continue to reverberate around the world even after the end of the USSR. His name elicits revulsion and reverence, yet Lenin the man remains largely a mystery. This biography shows us Lenin as we have never seen him, in his full complexity as revolutionary, political leader, thinker, and private person.

Born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in 1870, the son of a schools inspector and a doctor's daughter, Lenin was to become the greatest single force in the Soviet revolution--and perhaps the most influential politician of the twentieth century. Drawing on sources only recently discovered, Robert Service explores the social, cultural, and political catalysts for Lenin's explosion into global prominence. His book gives us the vast panorama of Russia in that awesome vortex of change from tsarism's collapse to the establishment of the communist one-party state. Through the prism of Lenin's career, Service focuses on dictatorship, the Marxist revolutionary dream, civil war, and interwar European politics. And we are shown how Lenin, despite the hardships he inflicted, was widely mourned upon his death in 1924.

Service's Lenin is a political colossus but also a believable human being. This biography stresses the importance of his supportive family and of its ethnic and cultural background. The author examines his education, upbringing, and the troubles of his early life to explain the emergence of a rebel whose devotion to destruction proved greater than his love for the "proletariat" he supposedly served. We see how his intellectual preoccupations and inner rage underwent volatile interaction and propelled his career from young Marxist activist to founder of the communist party and the Soviet state--and how he bequeathed to Russia a legacy of political oppression and social intimidation that has yet to be expunged.

Author Notes

Robert Service was born on October 29, 1947. He received an MA in modern languages from the University of Cambridge and an MA and a PhD in government from the University of Essex. He is a Russian historian and political commentator. He has written numerous books including Comrades: A World History of Communism; Stalin: A Biography, Lenin: A Biography, and Spies and Commissars. He received the 2009 Duff Cooper Prize for Trotsky: A Biography.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

From the Soviet archives that were opened, briefly, after the disintegration of the Leninist state, spilled documents that confirmed impressions of Lenin's fanatical hatreds, such as his orders to hang, shoot, and imprison assorted class enemies. A respected historian of the Soviet period (A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, 1998), Service has incorporated the unflattering revelations into this significant addition to the train of biographies that have been produced ever since the revolutionary burst into world historical prominence in 1917. Without doubt, Service's life-of should answer all curiosities about Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin)--about his personality, attitudes, intellect, ruthlessness, and significance. Most successfully of all, Service comprehensively conveys the utter self-confidence the man had, which underlay his contempt for all opponents--and his absolute indifference, when in power, to killings (including that of his own cousin) "necessary" to force Russia, and ideally the entire world, to conform with the communist vision he carried in his head. As Service notes, but for contingencies that pushed history his way, Lenin might have remained an anonymous exile; why it was otherwise is adroitly argued throughout this superb biography. Gilbert Taylor

Choice Review

Service (history, St. Anthony's College, Oxford) endeavors to rehabilitate Lenin, whose fame in his own homeland since the collapse of the USSR has been badly bruised. Not only are there studies that portray Lenin as the architect of 20th-century violence, he is considered a failed state builder whose actions ultimately led to the 1991 debacle. On a conceptual level, the author will need to compete with the works of Martin Malia, Alexander Solzhenitsin, and Dmitri Volkoganov. Although Service contends that in Soviet hagiography Lenin's biographies were taboo, the author in some parts skirts the danger of falling into an overglorified Sovietlike portrait of the first Bolshevik. This is a full political biography that covers Lenin's life from birth in Simbirsk to the end at Gorki. Regardless of the pro-Leninist tilt, this is a good read, offering a great deal about a life that since the beginning of the USSR has been abused by partisans of both sides. Surprisingly there is no reference to Stefan Possony's biography (Lenin: The Compulsive Revolutionary, CH, Jul'64.) Well-footnoted and illustrated and containing a reasonably good bibliography and sufficient index, this book is recommended for all public and college libraries. A. Ezergailis Ithaca College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Note on Transliteration and Calendarsp. xiii
List of Illustrationsp. xv
Glossary of Names of Lenin and his Familyp. xvii
Mapsp. xix
Introductionp. 1
1 The Rebel Emerges
1. The Ulyanovs and the Blanksp. 13
2. Childhood in Simbirsk 1870-1885p. 31
3. Deaths in the Family 1886-1887p. 47
4. The Ploughing of the Mind 1887-1888p. 61
5. Paths to Revolution 1889-1893p. 74
6. St Petersburg 1893-1895p. 91
7. To Siberian Italy 1895-1900p. 107
2 Lenin and the Party
8. An Organisation of Revolutionaries 1900-1902p. 129
9. 'Holy Fire' 1902-1904p. 147
10. Russia From Far and Near 1905-1907p. 166
11. The Second Emigration 1908-1911p. 184
12. Almost Russia! 1912-1914p. 202
13. Fighting for Defeat 1914-1915p. 222
14. Lasting Out 1915-1916p. 235
3 Seizing Power
15. Another Country February to April 1917p. 253
16. The Russian Cockpit May to July 1917p. 270
17. Power for the Taking July to October 1917p. 287
18. The October Revolution October to December 1917p. 308
19. Dictatorship Under Siege Winter 1917-1918p. 324
20. Brest-Litovsk January to May 1918p. 338
21. At Gunpoint May to August 1918p. 356
4 Defence of the Revolution
22. War Leader 1918-1919p. 373
23. Expanding the Revolution April 1919 to April 1920p. 391
24. Defeat in the West 1920p. 406
25. The New Economic Policy January to June 1921p. 421
26. A Question of Survival July 1921 to July 1922p. 435
27. Disputing to the Last September to December 1922p. 451
28. Death in the Big House 1923-1924p. 464
Lenin: The Afterlifep. 481
Notesp. 495
Select Bibliographyp. 522
Indexp. 531